by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Central Narrator)
Unreliable narrators are one of Poe’s trademarks, and William Wilson – or should we say, the man who pretends to be called William Wilson – is no different. For starters, he’s willingly masking his identity. Then you have to remember that he himself doesn’t really understand what’s going on in his story; his imagination has convinced him that his conscience/alter ego actually is a totally different person. How are we supposed to trust a man with what is basically a split-personality disorder?
That’s just it – we’re probably not supposed to trust him. Much of the suspense of “William Wilson” and much of the fun of unraveling this mystery comes from the fact that the storyteller might not be telling the truth. It leaves us trying to sort out reality much the same way that our narrator is, which just might be the point – or at least one of many points.
One way to look at this story is to argue that we begin trusting the narrator and then slowly become suspicious of him. After all, he proposes a confession to us – what could be more honest than that? As the story progresses, however, we begin to see that William is self-deceiving to the point where he can’t be telling us the truth, because he doesn’t even face the truth himself. And that’s where we get all mistrusting.