by Edgar Allan Poe
William Wilson Theme of Identity
“William Wilson” explores the theme of the doppelganger, or ghostly double. Poe’s inspiration for the story was the horror one feels when discovering another person shares your name. In this story, this horror is magnified by the exact identical appearance, age, and manner of the double. The horror comes from a feeling of lost individuality and a self-doubt; again, these feelings are magnified in “William Wilson” through the exaggerated effects of gothic fiction.
Questions About Identity
- Why does William make such a big deal out of the fact that he is a noble personage? Isn’t that a minor detail considering he believes he is dying and going to hell?
- The common reading of “William Wilson” is that the two Williams are really the same person. But is it possible to read this as a supernatural tale, rather than a psychological one? That is, might William Wilson actually be a second, distinct person?
- Why is William unable to see his double’s face in the second half of the story?
- William at first feels affection for his double; why? How does the nature of his feelings change and why does it change?
Chew on This
The narrator masks his identity from the reader because he doesn’t want to face it himself.
The narrator fully understands his own dual identity.