Doppelgangers in Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, and Fight Club
Master of Arts (MA)
People have always been both frightened and fascinated by the unknown, and themes touching on the existence of things beyond human understanding have longevity in the literary arena as well as in popular culture. One such theme is that of the doppelgänger, or double, which has been around for centuries but was first made popular by Jean-Paul’s (Johann Paul Friedrich Richter) work Hesperus in 1795. Due to a resurgence in the nineteenth century in the popularity of Gothic literature, doppelgängers, or variations of this double motif, found their way into some of the most famous works of literature by the most notable writers of the century, including Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” (1839), Feodor Dostoevsky’s “The Double” (1846), Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Shadow” (1847), and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). The theme has persisted through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, recent examples being the popular films Secret Window (2004) starring Johnny Depp, Shutter Island (2010) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Black Swan (2010) starring Natalie Portman.
Although the popularity of the double has remained constant over the past few centuries, the presentation and interpretation of doubles have not. Prior to the Romantic period, the appearance of a doppelgänger was almost always seen as an evil portent, often foretelling disaster and the death of the protagonist. The character of the double, in manifest form, was represented as something outside of the person plagued by it, part of the realm of the supernatural, and certainly something to be feared. But with the growing interest in the human mind, and especially the unconscious, in the Romantic Period, people started viewing the double as something that could possibly come from within an individual. This new way of looking at the theme of the double fit the interests and feelings of the times, especially the idea that there were parts of ourselves over which we had no conscious control. The evolution of the double as a literary motif thus reflected the changing attitudes of the times, its horror lying now not outside of the human psyche but secretly locked within it. As Rosemary Jackson observes, there was “an explicit shift from a presentation of a demonic ‘other’ as supernaturally evil, the devil in a conventional iconography, toward something much more disturbing because equivocal, ambiguous in its nature and origins. . . . The double then comes to be seen as an aspect of the psyche, externalized in the shape of another in the world” (44).
Gamache, Christine M., "An Opposing Self" (2012). Master's Theses, Dissertations, Graduate Research and Major Papers Overview. 58.
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