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What is meant by the 'uncanny'?

The term ‘uncanny’ refers to something that is strange and mysterious at the same time. Something that one is paradoxically familiar and unfamiliar with, at the same time. Because of this reason, something that is uncanny comes off as so strange that it becomes difficult to explain.

In literature especially the term refers to something familiar coming off with a strange and eerie context. It is mainly attributed to Sigmund Freud’s work named ‘The Uncanny’ (1919), in which he argued for a similar feeling stating:

that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”.

A lot of the gothic literature works, as well as the other ones, employ this idea of the familiar being strange and mysterious in difficult ways. For instance:

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley portrays the monster made by the person as having human and non-human qualities at the same time. So, it’d become difficult to put it into any camp conveniently. 

  • The idea of a vampire could also be uncanny as it’d very easily be construed as human, unless the person gets to know about the other non-human preferences of the creature.

  • The resemblance to someone or something could be uncanny as well if it’s a bit too real without any tangible bonds between the two persons or objects.

Usually the uncanny situations are added to the storyline by the writers to make their respective work not just interesting, but also full of suspense!

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