Study Guide

William Wilson Versions of Reality

By Edgar Allan Poe

Versions of Reality

Lies, imagination, subconscious-driven fantasy, wishful thinking, alter egos: this story has more versions of reality than an onion has layers. Not only is the narrator unsure of what is really happening, but we the reader are unsure of his story and even of his character. The gothic nature of this fiction adds a supernatural element to the tale that makes it even harder to distinguish reality from madness. “William Wilson” reminds us that the imagination has the power to create its own reality, and that all but the keenest minds can be distorted by it.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. Does William Wilson learn anything by telling us this tale? Is the narrator changed by the act of narrating?
  2. The narrator claims at the beginning that death is approaching. Does he mean literal or figurative death?
  3. What other cases of doubling – besides the two William Wilsons – can you find in this text? How do they support the central doppelganger? Doppelganger means ghostly double.

Chew on This

Reality is entirely subjective in “William Wilson.”

The narrator uses fiction to mask reality.