An Eye for an I: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Questions of Identity

Abstract

This paper sees Neil Gaiman’s Coraline as following a darker tradition in children’s literature, most commonly found in the fairy tale. It explores some of the existential issues that concern us all: to do with identity, sex, death, ontology, evil, desire and violence. The article takes a largely psychoanalytical approach, showing how Freud’s concept of the Uncanny is particularly helpful in explaining both the text’s appeal, and its creepy uneasiness. Namely, our fears about existence and identity as separate beings: our worry that we will either not be noticed (being invisible and isolated), or we will be completely consumed by the attention of another. Lacan’s concepts of the Symbolic and the Real provide the theoretical underpinning for this reading, together with Kristeva’s notion of the abject.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Information from the Harper Teen page http://www.harperteen.com/global_scripts/product_catalog/book_xml.asp?isbn=0060528850&tc=ae. The awards are too numerous to mention but, among others, the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novella, the School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Children’s Magazine Best Book awards, and the IRA/CBC Children’s Choice Winner.

  2. 2.

    In the American edition, the layout is different, with the letter ‘I’ more caught up in a swirl of the other letters, to capture the look of a mist. While this doesn’t seem to change the basic point about a loss of individuality, the English edition seems to make the point more emphatically.

  3. 3.

    Kimberley Reynolds (2007, pp. 148–150) should be given credit for first drawing on Freud’s uncanny in relation to this text. Just before going to press I also discovered a piece by Karen Coats (2008) that discusses this text, but more specifically in terms of the Gothic.

References

  1. Bettelheim, Bruno. (1976). The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. London: Thames & Hudson.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Coats, Karen. (2008). Between Horror, Humour, and Hope: Neil Gaiman and the Psychic Work of the Gothic. In Anna Jackson, Karen Coats, & Roderick McGillis (Eds.), The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Creed, Barbara. (1993). The Monstrous Feminine. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Derrida, Jacques. (1994). Spectres of Marx (Trans. Peggy Kamuf). New York: Routledge.

  5. Fink, Bruce. (1995). The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton: Princeton UP.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Freud, Sigmund. (1985). The Uncanny. In Art and Literature (Trans. Albert Dickson) (pp. 359–376). London: Penguin.

  7. Gaiman, Neil. (2003). Coraline. London: Bloomsbury, 2003; New York: Scholastic [orig. 2002].

  8. Gaiman, Neil. (2006). Absolute Sandman (Vol. 1). New York: Vertigo.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Kristeva, Julia. (1982). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (Trans. Leon S. Roudiez). New York: Columbia UP.

  10. Reynolds, Kimberley. (2007). Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Žižek, Slavoj. (1992). Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Rudd.

Additional information

Dr. David Rudd is Professor of Children’s Literature at the University of Bolton, UK. He has published about 100 articles in this and related areas and is currently working on the Routledge Companion to Children’s Literature. He is Co-editor (UK) of Children’s Literature in Education.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Rudd, D. An Eye for an I: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Questions of Identity. Child Lit Educ 39, 159–168 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-008-9067-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Uncanny
  • Lacan
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Abject
  • Kristeva
  • Freud