The Life of a Shadow

“When we have to change our opinion about someone we hold the inconvenience he has therewith caused us greatly to his discredit.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

In the second chapter of Atwood’s In Other Worlds (of which I’ve previously mentioned), she speaks on the subject of the double identity of super heroes. Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Clark Kent are two of the more famous examples she mentions. Atwood makes use of the Carl Jung’s psychological concept of the Shadow, or the idea that there are (at least) two sides to every person: the side that the person shows to the world and the darker, or shadowy, self that he keeps to himself. As such, Atwood explains, “Batman is almost a perfect case study” with his rich, playboy outward self hiding the dark vigilante that only comes out at night. Atwood goes on to posit Batman’s enemies as projects of his self that he hasn’t quite dealt with. So, for example, the Joker is Batman’s “own interest in dress up and jokes turned malicious.”

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

The idea of the Jungian Shadow within oneself certainly holds some truth. We all have aspects of ourselves that we’re not overtly proud of nor wish others to see. Those feelings then manifest themselves as as insecurities or low self-esteem.

It’s the idea of the projected shadow that really interests me, and started me wondering if it is possible to identify our own shadows in our lives. While Batman and the Joker are fantastical and extreme examples, is it within the realm of possibility to think that I might have people around me that carry characteristics of some of my own latent feelings? Granted, this is a very egocentric view of the world, as it requires that all things relate to me. 

Which brings me to the quote that starts off this post from a famed egocentric in his own right, Nietzsche.

Talk about shadows. Nietzsche's mustache must have had one of its own.

Talk about shadows. Nietzsche’s mustache must have had one of its own.

I think there is more than a little truth in his statement regarding not only a human’s reaction to change, but a human’s reaction to a change in judgment.  After all, I only know the world from my very limited and myopic perspective, and, empathy aside, can only guess at how others see things. When asked to change a predetermined judgement of someone, there is a certain internal struggle that has to manifest itself somehow; more often than not that manifestation arises as frustration or annoyance with the catalyst of the change, the other. The other person carries no blame for my feelings of frustration, yet has unwittingly been a part of an otherwise internal cycle; up to the point that the internal becomes external as I vent my anger.

Perhaps that explains why we tend to surround ourselves with those that we feel can identify with. Whether it be similar values, sense of humor, or outward appearance, the more we can know from the outset of a friendship, the better. If our judgments remain safely unchallenged, everything tends to go much smoother. The difficult thought experiment, for me at least, is coming at this from the other side. While I certainly think of myself as a, well, self, I’m finding it tough to consider myself a shadow for anyone else. But I surly must be, right?

It creates an odd view of the world: a legion of individuals playing both the self and the shadow. On one hand so eager to create of view of the world that makes some sort of sense and on the other merely fulfilling a role of a projected fear or insecurity. It’s nice, in a certain slant. We’re all here for ourselves, yet all playing a vital role for others.


  1. magnocrat · October 23, 2014

    All the worlds a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players.

  2. Pingback: Margaret Atwood: Backdrop addresses cowboy | The Ultimate Penultimate

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