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Double Consciousness

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"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

People sometimes have trouble defining who they truly are. Factors such as race, gender, culture, country origin, sexuality, class, and occupation can all play a role in a person's identity. But when these things come into conflict with one another, a person may feel as if they are torn inside. They may feel as if they have two separate identities, or that their identity is divided into multiple facets.

Characters in fiction are no different. They too can sometimes suffer from a clash of identities. The superhero for example that must live double lives; one as a hero and the other as a normal citizen. Often leads into an Identity Breakdown when maintaining the delicate balance between these identities becomes too difficult to bear.

This might also result from usage of certain Applied Phlebotinum. If you've got Brain Uploading, Brain Washing, Mind Control, Alternate Universes or Time Travel, it can cause a lot of different thoughts, people, and even lives washing through your head. It can be difficult to sort out.

This term was coined by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (1903). He used it in reference to African-Americans who struggle between the identities of being both American and Black in a country built off of their enslavement and dehumanization.

Compare Secret-Identity Identity, Living a Double Life, The Whitest Black Guy, Conflicting Loyalty. In extreme cases this can lead to Split Personality. See also Double Think.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass:
    • Lelouch's relationship with Nunnally means that he doesn't suffer from this as much as other characters with dual identities, since he had decided right from the start that his role as Zero was only a means to an end, (that end being Nunnally's happiness,) and so even though it was difficult to juggle both his lives, he did not suffer from too many emotional conflicts at first. This starts to change when he finds out that Zero killed his love interest's father, and he considers giving up but ultimately keeps going, and gets tested even more severely when Nunnally becomes viceroy of Japan, putting Zero in direct opposition to her, but by this point he can't bring himself to abandon everyone depending on Zero, and is seriously internally conflicted as a result.
    • Rolo and Viletta have a few brief problems with this. Rolo spent most of his life as a dirty tactics assassin, but also spent one year with Lelouch as a normal person. The feedback during the Asian Embassy fiasco (disobeying Britannian orders to kill Lelouch) leaves him a wreck until Lelouch offers him a job. Viletta also has to deal with the fact that she still loves Oghi but she has finally been given noble status, and yet said nobility and even some of the royal family have had their titles rescinded by Lelouch and are subsequently punished for mass corruption. It takes her a while to forget about her obsession with nobility (though for other reasons, that ironically ends up a moot point).
  • Please Save My Earth has the scientists watching the earth being reincarnated into Japanese students. They all worry at some point about their previous actions or what will become of their now-selves. Issei is the reborn Enju who was in love with Jinpachi and falls in love with his best friend again, Alice is so afraid that she'll lose herself that she blocks her memories as Mokuren for most of the manga, Daisuke still feels responsible for his actions on the moon and Rin has to fight with the awakened Shion inside of him.
  • Reiner Braun from Attack on Titan. The conflict between his cover as a human soldier, and his true mission as a Titan spy leave him so guilty that he begins to suffer dissociate episodes where he genuinely believes his cover is real.
  • Usopp's Sogeking/Sniper King persona in One Piece is his attempt to bury his cowardice and insecurity as one of the physically weakest of the Straw Hats behind a boisterous superhero persona, becoming the fearless warrior that Usopp wants to be but rarely sees himself as.
  • Hotaru Tomoe from Sailor Moon suffered from a literal case of this in the third arc. She not only had to share her body with Mistress 9, an alien parasite that was possessing her, but also Sailor Saturn, the consciousness of her past incarnation.

    Comic Books 
  • Is Superman a superhero who disguises himself as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent? Is he Clark Kent the farmboy who moved to the big city, who secretly dresses as a superhero and fights crime? Is he Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton, who had to make a home for himself on a world not his own? The answer depends on who you ask. Grant Morrison stated that they believe Superman's three identities are The World's Greatest Hero, The Mild Mannered Reporter and the simple farm boy, with the latter being his real personality.
  • Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is a completely different identity than crime fighting Badass Normal Batman. Which one is the real identity and which is the facade, however, depends from writer to writer. Then there's the suggestion that, like Superman, Batman has three identities: the Playboy, the Dark Knight, and the "real" Bruce.
  • A unique meta version occurs in the graphic novel American Born Chinese. The story begins with separate plot threads for Chinese Jin and American Danny. When Jin wishes to become Americanized, he turns into Danny, causing the reader to re-evaluate Danny's earlier exploits.
  • Shade, the Changing Man described this after the Angels returned him to Earth unpredictably deranged, claiming they had "stolen his ballast", and that he no longer knew who he was from moment to moment. The rebirth had integrated multiple facets of his personality, some previously repressed, and some that weren't even his to begin with.
  • The Transformers (Marvel):
    • Early on in the series, the Autobot Skids is injured and goes MIA. He's tempted to stay missing so that he won't have to keep on fighting as a warrior and can go back to his true love, anthropology. In a later issue ("The Monstercon From Mars"), the Decepticon Pretender Skullgrin somehow winds up a genuine movie star thanks to using his monstrous appearance to play the role of a monster in an upcoming blockbuster. Despite the average Decepticon's opinion of humans tending to either be "target practice" or "totally irrelevant", Skullgrin actually quite enjoys the attention.
    • The best example is likely Lord Zarak during the Headmasters limited series. He initially allied with the Decepticons in order to drive the Autobots off his homeworld of Nebulous, going so far as to become the Headmaster partner of Decepticon commander Scorponok. However, by the end of the limited series he is horrified that he's starting to lose his sense of where Zarak ends and Scorponok begins. In fact, by the time of his death in battle against Unicron, Zarak actually refers to himself as "Scorponok".

    Fan Works 

  • Child of the Storm:
    • Steve, typically, has his 'Captain America' persona, of the indomitable Sentinel of Liberty, a timeless Living Legend and a modern King Arthur, who's wise, genial, and always, always in control. He also has 'Steve', the scrappy kid from Brooklyn who could never back down from a fight, an aspiring artist who just wanted to do his bit, and above all, a very decent young man. It's hinted that the former is sometimes a burden for him, as it brings with it a whole lot of expectations he struggles with. This is most sharply displayed when he discovers that Carol is his great-granddaughter and doesn't - for understandable reasons - handle it very well.
    • Harry struggles with his identity in the sequel, with multiple facets to his nature, each informing each other. He even elaborates on them to Ron, to demonstrate just how much he's changed: there's Harry Thorson, Prince of Asgard, hero, warrior, and Living Legend; there's the Red Son, the Red Room's consummate cold-blooded assassin; there's Harry, host of the Phoenix, healer and restorer of balance (or, as the Dark Phoenix, Chaos-Bringer and Destroyer); and finally, there's Harry Potter, the teenage wizard who happens to also be the Boy Who Lived and unable to stay out of trouble. Different aspects appear to different people, at different times. However, while Ron sees him as Harry Potter, the truth is that he's a mix of all of them (and isn't entirely happy about it) - though it's strongly indicated that 'Harry Potter' is the core of who he is.
    • Clark Kent spends much of the second book caught between being Clark Kent of Smallville, an awkward Farm Boy, and Kal-El of Krypton, while also stubbornly ignoring his Kryptonian heritage. When he finally comes to accept it in chapter 58, the inevitable result is Superman, who is both.
    • Bucky has his own personality and the robotic Winter Soldier. This complicated by the fact his own personality, which answers just as easily to 'James', developed under the influence of the Winter Soldier and the Red Room from remnants of the Bucky persona. The two personas struggle for dominance in the first book, and after his Heel–Face Turn, it merged with the memories of the original Bucky persona to create the current Bucky. The Winter Soldier remains deep inside, and can be unleashed when brutal efficiency is most needed.
    • Maddie is caught between her programmed from birth nature as Sinister's Hound, bodyguard, and enforcer, and her own developing personality. When it's revealed that she's actually Jean's twin sister, Rachel Grey, stolen at birth and replaced with corpse, she sadly says that she's keeping her current name because she doesn't know how to be Rachel.
  • Subverted to a great extent in Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light in that fighting crime as Spider-Woman actually helps Mary Jane Watson come to terms with a lot of her personal issues, and grow as a person. It's Lampshaded when Mary Jane gets a tarot reading that mentions that she keeps a lot of things hidden from the world, but they complement what she does show, and everything is part of a larger whole.
  • Roanapur Connection: Oboro Shinozaki/Kirihara shows this in her internal thoughts throughout Father, Son and the Mother Hen. States her belief in the Japanese concept of everyone having three Consciousnesses - one for the public, one for friends and family, and one that's private (and that she fears what her father in law's private identity might be like). Her POV chapter shows her struggle in maintaining her second one and not letting her own slip through because of the patriarchal structure of Japanese society.

  • Dana in Octavia Butler's Kindred is a 1970s black woman transported back to the antebellum south, where she has to masquerade as a slave, causing a lot of conflict between her 'liberated' self and the demeanor she has to adopt to survive as a slave.
  • Tobias from Animorphs, who is trapped in hawk morph for good, often feels a clash between his identity as a human boy and as a bird. It gets even more complicated when he discovers that his father is Elfangor, an Andalite in natural form.
    • Also, morphing causes a natural clash of identities, as the morpher must struggle to maintain their identity against the animal's instincts. The only time the team ever morphed into termites, they immediately lost themselves in the termite Hive Mind, and only broke free when Cassie managed to take control long enough to kill the queen.
    • Since the main villains of the series are Puppeteer Parasites, this also comes up with Visser One and Taylor. The former was the first long-term Human-Controller, along with an assistant, and discovered that Humanity Is Infectious, especially when the two had twins through their human hosts. Meanwhile, Taylor the Yeerk cannot differentiate between herself and her human host as easily as most Controllers, causing (or caused by?) her and possibly both of them becoming insane.
    • Another notable example is Cassie/Aldrea in "The Prophecy", although that involved phebotinum in the form of Aldrea's ghost or ixcilla being put into Cassie.
    • The kids wonder about the morality of morphing, as controlling the animal's natural mind is similar to what Yeerks do to humans and the kids decide early on to never morph sapient species without the permission of the person. Near the end of the series, some missions become impossible to accomplish without morphing human or Hork-Bajir, so the kids compromise their morals. By the end of the series morphing Hork-Bajir is commonplace and Tobias uses it as a battle morph.
      • The big problem with morphing sapients was always closer to identity theft than slavery: running around as a specific person had too big a potential for misuse, not to mention racking up consequences for the poor bastards they had borrowed. They had no problem with Ax creating a gestalt human form for himself very early in the series.
  • Dexter: Possibly Dexter Morgan, who for obvious reasons must keep his more squishy hobbies out of the public eye. He also works for the cops as a crime scene analyst.
  • This trope is all over Invisible Man, in which the main character is an African-American. However, he's not torn between African and American, but between acting out white stereotypes and rebelling against those stereotypes.
  • X-Wing Series: Gara Petothel, when she becomes Lara Notsil, starts to feel this. Previously she'd become many roles and shed them, as she was trained to do, without a qualm. But this time she had no handler, and she cracked, realizing that something was very, very wrong with her.
  • New Jedi Order: Tahiri Veila also had a bad case of this: not during her time as an experimental test subject of a Yuuzhan Vong Mad Scientist, when the implanted Riina personality was in control, or immediately thereafter when her own personality reasserted itself, but years later. The two personalities fight for control, resulting in blackouts and causing Tahiri and Riina to fight a literal duel amid a mindscape made up of Tahiri's painful memories. She ends up having the epiphany that the two halves of her are just that — inextricably linked to each other, they will have to merge lest they wind up killing each other. Although she continues using the name Tahiri, she isn't quite the same person afterwards (she sometimes even thinks of "old Tahiri" as a distinct person in her own right), and her beliefs are a synthesis of both Jedi and Vong thought.
  • Nearly every character in The Regeneration Trilogy experiences this trope. Rivers is a psychologist who also trained as an ethnologist, and he often finds himself stepping beyond the role of a therapist into the role of a father for his patients. Sassoon is a brave, charismatic lieutenant who does a great job getting his men to kill Germans. He also strongly opposes the war and has many pacifist friends, although he doesn't consider himself one. Prior is bisexual, with all the attendant conflicts in a paranoid wartime society. He's also a lieutenant and government worker from a working-class background, who probably wouldn't have risen that far in peacetime, and he knows it. And that's without getting into the Split Personality.
  • Young Garak in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch in Time, caught between two cultures; the mainstream disciplined Cardassia (which is promoted by his mother and Enabran Tain), and an ancient Hebitian religion, the Oralian Way, represented by Tolan. Garak feels drawn to the latter, but cannot escape entanglement in the former. His attempt to resolve his Double Consciousness will last him the rest of his life. Mila acknowledges the struggle in the quote below, when attempting to keep Garak focused on the realities of modern Cardassia:
    "You are my son and you are a Cardassian. Not a Hebitian!"
  • Another Cardassian in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch: Rugal Pa'Dar. He's a Cardassian who is Bajoran who is a Cardassian who is part of the Federation. After being raised on Bajor, he's returned to his original home on Cardassia in his mid-teens (as seen in the TV episode "Cardassians"). While insisting at first he's still Bajoran, he comes to accept his Cardassian identity too, and ends up taking on a third when he joins the Federation. In the end, he's just concerned with being himself - whatever that may be.
  • Miles Vorkosigan, split between his identities as Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar and Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries.
  • Happens quite a bit to George Orr, protagonist of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, because he can re-shape reality by dreaming. He remembers all the old versions of reality that have accumulated, and sometimes has trouble keeping them straight.
  • The main character of Newshound, Heather Stone, is a werewolf who struggles with balancing the conflicting demands of her human and lupine identities. Although it's not quite a case of Split Personality, since both sides are always present at all times, there's a very clear distinction between the two; Heather exclusively refers to the wolf half in the third person, regarding it as a separate entity.
  • In The Story of Valentine and His Brother, Val is raised from infancy to age seven by his vagabond mother, and from age seven to adulthood by his wealthy grandparents. He feels a conflict between his current life as a pampered aristocrat at Rosscraig House and his fading childhood memories of homelessness.
  • In Two Worlds: After Anthony learns to type, he feels out of place both as the only nonspeaking kid in his mainstream classes and the only verbal kid in the autism classroom.
  • Mightily Oats in Carpe Jugulum doesn't quite have the Split Personality of Agnes/Perdita, but is both a faithful Omnian priest, and a rationalist who questions everything. At one point Granny Weatherwax returns to the land of the living by focusing on his prayers ... and the undercurrent of commentary about how much good praying's going to do.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel:
    • Connor, after Wesley inadvertently restores his old memories.
    • Fred's personality and memories (which, in a very real sense, is what humans are) are part of Illyria's "shell" as Illyria comments several times.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy has the superhero split. She says to her date when duty calls (paraphrased) "You know how I said I felt like two different people. Well one of them has to go, but the other is having a wonderful time and will be right back". Later, when a demon plots to split her into separate human and slayer versions, she asks boyfriend Riley if he wishes he could be rid of Slayer Buffy and just have Buffy Buffy. His reply is comforting but not convincing to her: "I have Buffy Buffy... There's no part of you I'm not in love with".
  • Doctor Who:
    • Amy Pond remembers two different versions of her life; although having two incompatible lives in her head at once doesn't really bother her, it seems like it should. In series 6, she has a triple consciousness, where she remembers the collapsing timeline stuck on 5:02pm, where Amy was an agent that killed Kovarian.
    • Her husband, Rory Williams, also has a Double Consciousness, having memories of being both the ordinary nurse Rory Williams, and the 2,000-year-old Last Centurion from the universe of the Total Event Collapse. He has worked out how to keep the latter set of memories locked away in his mind most of the time, however, and only lets them out when he needs them. To terrify Cybermen.
  • Played for Laughs in the third episode of Sun Trap. Woody is hypnotized by two different people, both trying to persuade him to kill the other. Fortunately, Woody has so many different personas and has integrated them all so well into himself, that his alter-egos are able to snap the "real" Woody out of it.

  • In The Transformers, the Autobot Punch has the unique ability to transform into two robot modes, adopting an identity as the Decepticon warrior Counter-Punch (his cover story being that Punch and Counter-Punch are brothers fighting on opposite sides). However, due to the stress of being so deep undercover, Punch has sometimes suffered blackouts, leading him to wonder whether Punch or Counter-Punch are the real persona... and being terrified that it'll turn out he's the fake and Counter-Punch has been a Decepticon spy all this time.

    Video Games 
  • Diligent student. Loyal friend. Composed advisor. Tsubaki of BlazBlue was destined to develop a Double Consciousness the moment a certain character ordered her to execute her best friends for the crime of treason. While the series is ongoing, she seems to be slowly Becoming the Mask, burying all the sensitivity she exhibited in the first game under a frantic fighting style at odds with her personality.
  • The entire Persona series has this as a game mechanic and a theme.
    • Tatsuya Suou of Persona 2 stands out, as in Eternal Punishment he pulls a Grand Theft Me with a version of himself from an alternative reality. The result is that he has memories of both realities and hints of PTSD.
    • The idol singer Rise from Persona 4 goes through a bit of an identity crisis in her social link about finding a genuine personality outside of her stage name. By the end, she concludes that none of her fronts are inauthentic, and they are all her.
  • In Tales of Vesperia, goofball slacker Guild member Raven is also the cold, competent Imperial Knight Captain Schwann. He is aware of what he says and does no matter the persona, and refers to them as different people. However, while it looks like a case of split personalities, it's heavily implied that the change is conscious and deliberate on his part, and after he fully makes the switch to "Raven", one of the party members calls him out on this.
  • Niko Bellic, protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, is a veteran of The Yugoslav Wars who immigrated to America, and is thus possessed of conflicting worldviews. On the one hand, he cares about his family and friends from Serbia, but is too traumatized by war to live a normal life. On the other, he wants to build a new life in America, but is also hungry for wealth and believes he can only achieve it through crime. This can explain the Moral Dilemmas the game presents and even some instances of Gameplay and Story Segregation.
  • Aiden Pearce suffers this in Watch_Dogs as he is a former Fixer who has become 'The Vigilante' to cope with his guilt over his niece's death. The thing is that Aiden still makes the majority of his money through crime and most of his solutions are coming at problems from a criminal mindset. It gets worse when his desire for revenge results in moving from non-lethal methods to lethal ones. Aiden's desire to a hero is constantly contrasted against the reality that he is still, and fundamentally, a criminal.
  • This trope turns Huey into a complete psychopath in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain; he's still a genius who cures parapalegism in the MGS universe 30 years before mass-implemented cyborg augmentations, but due to his paranoia and hatred causes the deaths of hundreds (in ways that boggle the mind) and is completely unrepentant in his role of developing mass-produced infantry-assisting murder machines. And yet he has an unviolated conscience. Whenever he says anything contradicting within ten seconds, no lie detector that Diamond Dogs has can see anything; he's telling the truth that he remembers. The secret to his psychosis is his ability to restructure his memory in milliseconds, allowing him to lie to EVERYONE, especially HIMSELF, leaving him more deranged as he gets questioned and retaliates destructively in turn. The only saving grace he has in this game is that his boss is even more evil and pushed him to become a sociopath, and even said boss is disgusted by the cowardly monster that he has become.
  • The M.M.O.,The Secret World, brings us it's closest thing to a Big Bad, Lilith. She has lived since "Before the histories, before the histories, that your histories, forgot!", she also exists on multiple dimensions, and all of said alternate selves are aware of each-other. As a result Lilith frequently loses herself... to herself. She's had various different roles through-out history and across the multi-verse, and as such, she frequently drifts from one to the other when she is not paying attention. One moment she is a mad-scientist, the next she is a Hell goddess, the next she is a nostalgic Mother of a Thousand Young, and the next she is a Bond villain. These are not alternate personalities, she just loses track of her precise role in a world at any given moment.

  • Brelvis from Magellan — Brian Lonsdale, genetically blended with his pet dog Elvis in a Teleporter Accident, now refers to himself as Brelvis Lonsdog and has melded behaviors and combined human/dog words for certain people, objects and actions.
  • A magic mirror in Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic showcases the true self of whoever looks at it. But it changes every time someone looks at it. That is because the true self can be defined in many different and distinct ways.

    Western Animation 
  • Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender feels this way. On the one hand, he craves the attention and validation of his abusive and distant father, the Firelord, and tries to be like him. On the other, his target, the Avatar, would rather be friends than enemies, and Zuko witnesses firsthand the damage that the One Hundred Years' War has caused. It is amplified when he discovers he is the grandson of both Fire Lord Sozin and Roku, the Avatar's previous incarnation.
  • Dinobot and Tigatron from Beast Wars. The former struggles with his Predacon ideals versus his alliance with the Maximals. The latter identifies a little too much with his tiger side, which is purely artificial.
  • Shades of this trope appear in Geri's Game, one of the first Pixar Shorts. Playing chess with himself, the old man's personality seems to shift as he goes from playing white to playing black, and he reacts just as if he really were two people.
  • In Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne reveals that even decades after retiring from crimefighting, in his internal monologue he still thinks of himself as Batman, not his birth name.
  • In the Sunbow Transformers cartoon, this is part of the reason Rodimus Prime comes off as such a inferior successor to the deceased Optimus Prime in the 3rd Season. At heart, Rodimus is still the hot-headed, impetuous young 'bot of action Hot Rod... but he's also the leader of the Autobots, with all the responsibility and stresses that position brings. He'd love to just run off and blast Decepticons on the front line like he used to, but he's the Supreme Commander now. He can't, and he's painfully aware of this.
  • The Batman: The Brave and the Bold version of Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle, is a rare example of a superhero who has double consciousness without it overlapping with Secret-Identity Identity: when he's working with Batman he's a tech-minded Science Hero, when he's with Booster Gold, he's a fun-loving goof. When the three of them end up on an adventure together, he's visibly uncomfortable, since he doesn't know what register he's supposed to be in.

    Real Life 
  • Many intellectuals have suggested that African-Americans and other minorities, immigrants, transgender people and many others often feel a double consciousness.
  • Post-colonial philosophers like Frantz Fanon, Edward Said and authors like Salman Rushdie often note that individuals from ex-colonies experience this, especially the middle-class who work with the colonizers and speak their language. These individuals, they note, see the colonizers as the people see them while they also absorb and ape the colonialist perspective and learn to see their fellow people, their country and themselves as the "colonizers" see them. The Urdu critic, Muḥammad Ḥusain Āzād, writing in the late 19th Century, noted that the new English speaking Middle-Class Indians, socially-engineered by The Raj learned to loathe Indian culture and its traditions
    The important thing is that the glory of the winners’ ascendant fortune gives everything of theirs — even their dress, their gait, their conversationa radiance that makes them desirable. And people do not merely adopt them, but are proud to adopt them. Then they bring forth, by means of intellectual arguments, many benefits of this.
  • Likewise with the rise of American mass media and Eagleland Osmosis, you have people around the world identifying with American culture and their perspective while at the same time living within their own culture, in some cases more traditional than what they see on TV, and seeing America from a different light on a day-to-day basis.
  • There's a movement among those with multiple personalities who identify not as one fractured person, but as several Sharing a Body (AKA a "multiple system").
  • There is a theory that everyone has three consciousness: their public identity, their family /friend identity, and their private identity.
    • And some report even more, due to, among other things, associating and dealing with heavily diverse social circles.
  • Karl Marx's "Character Mask", the carefully-calculated false faces people adopt to interact with others in society, such as finding employment, being obedient laborers, or convincing potential customers to buy a product. Later adapted by Jean-Paul Sartre into the Existentialist philosophical concept of "Bad Faith".

Alternative Title(s): Multi Faceted Identity