The Uncanny In Rod Sterling's The Dummy

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Rod Sterling’s classic show The Twilight Zone has long elicited feelings of deep-seeded eeriness in its viewers. From its familiar, daunting music to its obscure, often sinister plot lines, the program holistically embodies the Freudian principle of “the uncanny.” In other words, the show depicts what psychologist Sigmund Freud calls “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar” (2). One specific episode, “The Dummy,” exemplifies this definition of the uncanny through the story of small-time ventriloquist Jerry Henderson and his inexorable descent into madness at the hands of his dummy, Willie. Through these characters, canniness is portrayed through animism, the idea of Heimlich and Heimlich…show more content…
From the opening sequence, the episode presents this scenario to the viewer: after finishing his comedy routine, Jerry, carrying the now silent dummy of Willie, exits backstage where he is promptly bitten by the puppet. The ventriloquist’s astonished face confirms the unsettling notion that Willie himself possibly bit his owner. Evidence pointing to his supposed animation continues to grow: throughout the episode, Willie’s head and body are often found in different positions from those which he was left in and he seemingly moves about the room on his own accord, actions observed by Jerry. However, the logic of the audience and Jerry’s agent present the…show more content…
Freud writes, “On the one hand [Heimlich] means that which is familiar and congenial, and on the other, that which is concealed and kept out of sight” (4). The underlying relationship between ventriloquist and dummy mirrors precisely this: to the audience and the outside world, there is a unique, intimate bond shared between the two--in reality, there is nothing but a continual struggle for power fed by animosity and paranoia. Jerry and Willie themselves also exhibit the qualities of Heimlich and Heimlich: the former pretends to be charismatic for the sake of his audience, a stark contrast to his emotionally compromised state, while the later appears to be harmless and playful, yet is nefarious and calculating. In this manner, Freud’s explanation of Sanders’ concept that “everything is uncanny that ought to have remained hidden and secret, and yet comes to light” ( 4) is evident in both of their behaviors towards each other in the dressing room, the place where they expose themselves for who they truly are. Canniness is felt by Jerry due to Willy, which in turn causes Jerry to exhibit canniness as well, creating a paradoxical situation that Jerry cannot escape from: as he tries in vain to flee from Willie’s horrifying canniness, he realizes that he must will never be free from his own

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