The Double motif in literature using the example of Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Term Paper 2009 18 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. The Double motif

3. The Double motif in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
3.1. The puzzling description of Dr. Jekyll’s drives
3.2. The realization of Jekyll’s drives
3.3. Psychological approaches to The Strange Case

4. Summary

5. Bibliography.

1. Introduction

Since the early beginning of literature the double motif serves in its different models to trace the features of the ego, individuality and perception. The double plays an important role in literature: it pictures confusion and transformation, reflects inner desires and spreads anxiety. But the phenomenon is not just an invention of literature. Again and again people claim to see oneself like some famous persons as Catharine the Great and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

This term paper will analyze the Double-motif in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with regard to psychoanalysis. While sighting secondary literature it became obvious that a good portion of these examinations use psychological criteria which offer a wider range of insight into the oddly logic of Stevenson’s text which he to no purpose named The Strange Case.

Three texts from Freud lend themselves to work with the novel: “Die ‘kulturelle’ Sexualmoral und die moderne Nervosität” (1908), “Das Unheimliche” (1919) and “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur” (1930). In “Das Unheimliche” Freud deals with the background of the double motif. He interprets the phenomenon from its probable beginning in mythology till the masterly usage of it in E.T.A Hoffmann’s “Sandman”.

In chapter two of this term paper I will give an overview of the double motif in literature. For this, I will explain the development of the term and its psychological implications. The third chapter will constitute the main part of the paper: I will first discuss two moments which can be interpreted with the help of psychology and then I will try to apply Freud’s theorems to the primary source which is full of repressed drives and desires.

2. The Double motif

The Double motif is a prominent theme in world literature. A Doppelganger is “a physical ‘Abbild’ of a primary ego, whether in the form of a mirror image, artistic representation, imaginative-poetic vision, or a discrete corporeal Double.”[1]

The Double motif is not an invention of the 19th century. It can already be found in the works of antique authors as well as in mythology.[2] The Roman playwright Plautus laid the foundations for literature about the Double at about 200 B.C. with his comedies of mistaken identities Menaechmi and Amphitruo. But also the works about the heroes Gilgamesch and Enkidu as well as Kastor and Polydeukes are early literary testimonies of the Double.

From these predecessors a first of three levels of development of the Double motif which can be recognized can be deduced.[3] This first level is expressed by the appearance of visually identical twins that are components of such a comedy of mistaken identities and form the centre of confusion. This comedy develops traces of tragedy because the characters are forced to the edge of insanity because of the emotional mix-up. But in the end the pair(s) of twins face each other which helps to dissolve these confusions and there is an happy ending. The motif of this level had been used by many authors, for example, William Shakespeare and his “Comedy of Errors”.

In the second level of development[4] there is a dramatic change in the Double motif: Out of one single person arise two characters. One person splits into two characters, which look alike like in the first level, during the plot. But the Double is just a part of the original and they are both complementary to each other. The Double points at a split personality in this case. Examples are E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Die Doppeltgänger in which the Double is a mirror image, and Dostojewski’s The Double in which the Double is a real person.

The persons of the third level[5] mostly do not look alike but it still belongs to the Double motif within research literature. In this temporarily last level of development the two characters are one person but they never appear at the same time in the same scenery. The second self can be recognized as weird and disconcerting as it fulfils depressed desires of the ego. It embodies the shady side, the part of life which the ego avoided to realize. The most famous literary example of this level is Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde.

In conclusion it can be said that in all of these three levels of development there is an endangerment of the identity of a person. The alter ego is the opponent of the ego with its existence and personal living conditions. Especially in the third level the double changes the values of the main character and turns his live upside down.

The German writer Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, better known as Jean Paul, was the first to use the neologism Doppelgänger in his novel Siebenkäs 1796.[6] In a footnote he defined Doppelganger as “[…] Leute, die sich selber sehen“[7]. This motif did not only find its place in modern European literature. The term also entered common use and is an element of the cultural vocabulary up to today.[8] Many authors, especially the German authors of the Romanticism, used the motif. But Jean Paul was not only the first to coin the term as such. He also offered a first implicit definition which already refers to a psychological aspect: A person who sees himself out of someone else’s eyes, who he is himself, cannot be a person with a rational and realistic perception. This person is hallucinating because of some reasons or he/ she is suffering from temporary or permanent delusional self-perception. Psychiatry as a special branch of science for these kinds of phenomena defines those persons as people who suffer from a psychotic reality distortion.[9]

But the phenomenon underwent an extension of meaning. In several literary works of the 19th century the doppelganger is defined as “Tat des Gedankens”.[10] Since then the Double has been seen as the personalized fantasy that fulfils secret and banned desires. Also a change of perspectives came forward: instead of seeing oneself, an outsider thinks that one person can be at two different places at one time. In 1889 Max Dessoir advanced the opinion that “jeder Mensch birgt in sich die Keime einer zweiten Persönlichkeit”[11]. With the help of many true examples he demonstrates the existence of two simultaneously acting personalities as well as the split into two temporally apart individuals who both have their own consciousness and memory. At the beginning of the 20th century people thought that the Double phenomenon is a supernatural event. It has been seen “als eine vage Vision oder Halluzination des Individuums, […] als eine bloß innere Angelegenheit“[12].

In 1919 Sigmund Freud wrote his essay Das Unheimliche[13] in which he is in search of the anthropological roots of the Double motif. Already in 1911 he wrote a letter to his friend C.C. Jung[14] in which he writes about his interpretations of the appearance of pairs of twins in some mythologies. So, in Freud’s opinion the ancestors of the Doppelganger motif can be traced back till the mythical thinking in antiquity. The archaic appearance of the Double was originally a “Versicherung gegen den Untergang des Ichs” with the help of the powers of nature and at the same time it was an “energische Dementierung der Macht des Todes”.[15] This is one origin of the faith in the immortality of the soul and some of these beliefs can still be found in some European superstitions. So, people thought that the Double embodies the immortal imaginary soul of the human individual. In a phylogenetic and ontogenetic way these contents of faith mark an early stage of a primary narcissism of humanity, “und mit der Überwindung dieser Phase ändert sich das Vorzeichen des Doppelgängers, aus einer Versicherung des Fortlebens wird er zum unheimlichen Vorboten des Todes.”[16] Out of the positive phenomenon develops an eerie revenant; the old familiar, homelike Double evolves an “unheimlicher” daemon. But between the “ehemals Heimische, Altvertraute” and the “Unheimliche” is a direct connection: “Die Vorsilbe >>un<< an diesem Worte ist aber die Marke des Verdrängung.”[17] Because of this, the eerie that is recognized as overcome and kept in darkness still comes to daylight. S. Freud expresses it as the following:

Der Charakter des Unheimlichen kann doch nur daher rühren, dass der Doppelgänger eine den überwundenen seelischen Urzeiten angehörige Bildung ist, die damals allerdings einen freundlicheren Sinn hatte.[18] […]dies Unheimliche ist wirklich nichts Neues oder Fremdes, sondern etwas dem Seelenleben von alters her Vertrautes, das ihm durch den Prozess der Verdrängung entfremdet worden ist.[19]

According to Freud the doppelganger marks in his appearance in a phylogenetic way the eerie repetition of stages of development that seemed be overcome and in an ontogenetic way the depressed psychic parts of the individual. The double embodies the weird return of the suppressed. In psychoanalysis it is the displaced dreams, fantasies and indefinite plans of the ego which are hindered to be fulfilled by the tasks a person has to handle in everyday life because they are not close to reality. So, they embody “[…] alle Ich-Strebungen, die sich infolge äußerer Ungunst nicht durchsetzen konnten.”[20] Furthermore, the phenomenon bundles every deliberately retained stimuli of drives which are facing the illusion of the unrestricted decision of the ego’s will. But in any case the appearance of a double announces an existential threat to the psychic integrity of a literary person when you look at it from the perspective of psychoanalysis.

It would definitely be inappropriate to convey psychiatric expressions and explanatory models indiscriminately on literary phenomena without reflecting the deductive process. Besides, a literary product has to be seen as a cultural accomplishment, as the result of artful work. It cannot be put into the same category as the psychiatric diagnosis of abnormal conditions. However, such an interdisciplinary access on to a literary phenomenon is, in my view, acceptable yet because of the motivation to strive for awareness. The usage of psychiatric and psychological results of research for understanding a literary phenomenon is a justifiable way and should not be seen as a non-literary approach.


[1] Pizer 1998, p. 2

[2] See for the following paragraph: Forderer 1999, p. 20

[3] See for the following paragraph: Schwarcz in Fichtner 2000, p. 3

[4] See for the following paragraph: Derjanecz 2003, p. 83/84

[5] See for the following paragraph: Derjanecz 2003, p. 84

[6] Pizer 1998, p. 3

[7] Jean Paul quoted in: Panagl in Fichtner 2000, p. 159

[8] Panagl in Fichtner 2000, p. 160

[9] Mentzos 1989, p. 62 f.

[10] See for the following paragraph: Bär 2005, p. 15 ff.

[11] Dessoir quoted in Bär 2005, p. 16

[12] Bär 2005, p. 19

[13] Freud, Sigmund (1919): Das Unheimliche. In: Freud, Siegmund (1989): Psychologische Schriften. Studienausgabe, Band IV, Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, p. 241-274

[14] The letter is printed in Jones 1982, p. 527

[15] See for the rest of this paragraph: Freud 1919, p. 258 ff.

[16] Freud 1919, p. 258

[17] Freud 1919, p. 267

[18] Freud 1919, p. 259

[19] Freud 1919, p. 264

[20] Freud 1919, p. 259


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Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald – Anglistik/Amerikanistik
Double Stevenson Strange Case Jekyll Hyde




Title: The Double motif in literature using the example of Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"