The indistinct image of the Golem: an aspect of the uncanny

  • Shelley Fowles

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Golem is a creature formed by a rabbi out of mud or clay (although it can be made of wood). It is an enduring and favourite subject in Jewish folklore, and it has proved invaluable in its power to reflect the vicissitudes of history. The Golem can take many forms, but is always powered by a magic or holy word. The tale usually ends with the destruction of the creature, but hints of its probable return usually haunt and disrupt any sense of finality. The most famous and enduring version of the story was set in the Prague Ghetto, and was a favourite subject for German Expressionist artists. This is because it reflected a time when the old and the new combined in uncanny and disturbing ways. The Golem story was popular with Romantic writers like E.T.A. Hoffmann, who were similarly reacting to a world that was changing under the influence of Enlightenment thinking and war. Sigmund Freud’s famous essay, ‘The Uncanny’, (‘Das Unheimliche’) of 1919, used Hoffmann’s classic Golem tale, The Sandman, as its central focus, though Freud was never to acknowledge its Jewish origins.
Date of AwardOct 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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