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While the search for uniqueness is certainly not new, it is only recently that the field of psychology has devoted any attention to this topic. However, the theme was explored heavily in literature for many years prior. The fact that the search for individuality kept cropping up in the works of a wide variety of writers shows just how important being unique is to people.
Many authors view individuality as a badge of pride. While others conform to the rules imposed on them by society, the individual stands out like a revolutionary figure. Consider this quote from Emerson: “I must be myself. I will not hide any taste or aversions.” In two sentences, Emerson summarizes the individual’s defiance. If he likes something despised by most, or vice versa, it is of no concern to him; he MUST be himself, no matter how much this puts him at odds with society.
Many writers focused on the positive side of individuality, but there were some who explored the negative connotations. Known as “der doppleganger,” there were several German writers in the 18th and 19th century who used the idea of the “dark double” to explore the struggle between good and evil that can occur inside people (known as the conflict of “human versus self”). For these early writers, the double was a signal that the soul had left the body, and death was soon to follow. Some authors use the doppleganger to force a character to face their own negative qualities and actions.
An interesting take on the theme of uniqueness that was not mentioned in this chapter is Eugene Ionesco’s play RHINOCEROS. Everyone in the protagonist’s hometown transforms into the titular animal. In the end, the protagonist has remained defiantly human. However, the cost is that he is now completely alone.