Alter ego: definition, features and examples


Alter ego refers to a second self or a distinct persona that exists within an individual. It is a term commonly used in psychology and literature to describe a character or aspect of a person’s personality that contrasts with their dominant or public self. The alter ego embodies different traits, behaviors, or characteristics that are distinct from the individual’s usual identity. Alternatively, it can be an outlet for hidden desires, repressed emotions, or socially unacceptable impulses that are not openly expressed in the person’s primary identity.

Features of Alter Ego:

  1. Dual Nature: An alter ego represents a division within a person, revealing contrasting qualities or aspects of their character. It can serve as a counterbalance to the individual’s dominant self, embodying traits that are suppressed or hidden.
  2. Symbolic Representation: The alter ego often symbolizes desires, fears, or fantasies that are not fully expressed in the individual’s everyday life. It can act as a conduit for exploring different facets of one’s personality or as a means of escaping societal expectations.
  3. Enhanced Attributes: In some cases, the alter ego embodies qualities or abilities that the individual lacks in their primary self. It may be characterized by confidence, assertiveness, or skills that the person aspires to possess, offering a sense of empowerment or liberation.
  4. Creative Expression: Many artists, writers, or performers adopt an alter ego as a means of artistic expression or to differentiate their public persona from their private life. The alter ego allows them to explore different artistic styles, experiment with new identities, or push boundaries that they may not feel comfortable doing under their own name.

Examples of Alter Ego:

  1. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Henry Jekyll creates an alter ego named Edward Hyde through a scientific experiment. Hyde represents Jekyll’s darker, immoral side, allowing him to indulge in his repressed desires without consequence.
  2. “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Roger Chillingworth, the vengeful husband of Hester Prynne, can be seen as an alter ego. He assumes a false identity as a physician and secretly plots to torment Hester’s lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, revealing his vengeful and sinister side.
  3. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: The creature created by Victor Frankenstein can be seen as an alter ego of sorts. It embodies his repressed desires, fears, and ambitions, ultimately becoming a dark reflection of himself.
  4. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde: Dorian Gray’s alter ego is represented by his portrait, which ages and shows the physical effects of his immoral actions while Dorian himself remains youthful and unblemished. The portrait serves as a visual representation of his hidden, corrupt self.
  5. “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien: Gollum, also known as Sméagol, can be considered an alter ego to Frodo Baggins. Gollum represents the dark and corrupted side of Frodo’s journey, constantly tempting him and struggling for control over the Ring.

Also read; Discuss the concepts of inscape and instress by Gerard Manley Hopkins