by Edgar Allan Poe
William Wilson Summary
How It All Goes Down
“William Wilson” begins with a distraught narrator introducing himself with a fake name: William Wilson. He doesn’t want to tell you his real name. He would like you to sit and listen to his story, the story of his fall into true and terrible evil, and if you wouldn’t mind, try to feel some sympathy for him, as he was the victim of fated circumstances beyond his control.
William’s story begins in his childhood; he always had an overactive imagination and a strong will and a propensity for vice. When he was in school, he dominated all of the other boys – except for one, another young lad who also had the name William Wilson, who was the same age and looked exactly the same as our narrator. The two boys competed in every way, and the second William Wilson often stopped the first from doing anything immoral. One night, truly horrified by the identical nature of this other boy to himself, our narrator flees the schoolhouse.
He ends up next at Eton, but before long finds himself tormented by a masked and cloaked figure whom he knows to be the second William Wilson. He goes on to Oxford and engages in vice to no end, only to find that the masked double is behind him once again. One night, after winning an exorbitant amount at cards, William’s double shows up and reveals that he has been cheating.
William travels all over the world but cannot escape the second William Wilson. One night, at a masquerade ball, he decides to finally put an end to this. He takes his double into a private room and stabs him fatally – only to find that, rather than facing a second William Wilson, he faces only his own reflection in a mirror. His reflection tells him that he only lived through his double, and that now he has murdered himself.