Dual Personality As a Method of Social Commentary

A common theme among Victorians was that of a dual character, a person who was two people at once.  The duality was often born of a kind of repression mixed with desire brought about by the strict social expectations of the time.  This led many men, particularly those of upper and middle class origin, to put up a façade of virtue and purity during the day, as was expected of them, before heading out in the evening to the streets in search of bars and prostitutes in the less reputable part of town.

A particularly impactful and dramatic example of this is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which, at the time of its writing, unsettled more than a few Victorians by hitting far too close to home.  A less violent example would be Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest which, while considerably more comedic, still focused on a pair of men who were leading double lives.  Rather ironically, it was at the premiere of this play that the scandal that would lead to Wilde’s fall as a result of his rampant homosexual excursions began to unfold.

This mechanic of people living dual lives caused through repression and desire remains relevant in the twentieth century, as is evident in the case of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.  Patrick Bateman is a wealthy young New York investment banker who desperately tries to fit in with his peers while, at the same time, fantasizing about killing those he does not like and about picking up prostitutes and subsequently killing them.  It is all in his mind, but it shows what the repression of his desires does to him as his murderous rampages continue to escalate in nature.  In another case, a novel which is much like Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, the story again features a man, Jack or his alter ego Tyler Durden, who rather unwillingly creates an alter ego to do all the evil things his subconscious wants but his conscious has repressed.

 

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