© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
William Wilson

William Wilson


by Edgar Allan Poe

Light, Darkness, and The Doppelganger's Shielded Face

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

William Wilson takes an up-close-and-personal look at his double’s features while at Dr. Bransby’s school. And it is not a pleasant experience. “When the bright rays fell vividly upon the sleeper, and my eyes, at the same moment, upon his countenance. I looked;—and a numbness, an iciness of feeling instantly pervaded my frame,” he tells us (26). This is the last time he gets a good look at his nemesis’s features. (Nemesis means enemy.) For the rest of the text, William Wilson #2 lurks in the shadows or hides his face.

When he surfaces at Eton, the narrator writes that “[because of] the faint light […], the features of his face I could not distinguish” (29). At Oxford, the lights magically go out when the doppelganger enters the room. At the masquerade, the double’s face is hidden by a mask of black silk. You get the picture.

If you buy the theory that the doppelganger is a product of the narrator’s overactive imagination, then his face is hidden because William subconsciously wants it to be hidden. This makes sense; he was horrified the last time he looked at his double up close – why would he want to do it again? For one reason or another, William’s subconscious doesn’t want his conscious self to know that his doppelganger is really his alter ego.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...