Themes and Meanings
The Second Man has for its central idea pluralism in personality. There is a word in German that conveys this notion of duality—Doppelgänger. This “double” functions as a kind of observer that can stand aside and judge the actions of the other, public self. It is objective, truthful, ironic; it suffers from no illusions. Clark Storey is its epitome: Though he longs to be a good writer, he admits to having a second-rate talent; though he is fond of Kendall, he acknowledges that her wealth weighs more heavily with him than her charm. When he is tempted briefly by Monica because of her beauty, her youth, and her flattering opinion of him as a man and an artist, even then the “second man” mocks him for aspiring to be more than he is.
Austin Lowe, while far less complicated, also discovers a “second man” within himself. As a scientist, he has always believed in logic, common sense, and self-control; now, made helpless by his first experience with love, he finds himself uncharacteristically humble, jealous, and maddened enough to attempt murder. When the fit passes, he is appalled by this stranger whose presence he had never before suspected.