Study Guide

The Woman in White Identity

By Wilkie Collins

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If you've ever watched a daytime soap opera, you're probably familiar with plotlines like amnesia, mistaken identity, and long-lost secret twins (possibly with amnesia). Melodramatic identity crises aren't anything new—they were all the rage in Victorian fiction. Those Victorians were obsessed with identity issues, especially the threat of mistaken identity and the dream of reinventing your identity. Why? Well, the mid-19th century was a time of rapid change, which caused people to ask lots of questions about who they were and who they could become.

The Woman in White tapped into the issues of its day. In the book, issues of identity, and especially mistaken and hidden identities, become metaphors for the struggle to define the self and to know and be known by others.

Questions About Identity

  1. The fact that Laura and Anne end up switching places (and not in a fun Parent Trap or Freaky Friday kind of way) is one of the biggest plot points in the novel. How does their swap play into the novel's theme of identity?
  2. How does the idea of recognition play a major role in the book? What are some of the most significant scenes of recognition?
  3. How does the overall narrative style reinforce the book's theme of identity?
  4. Is the restoration of Laura's identity effective or ultimately hollow? What's notable about the tone and details of the scenes where her identity is restored?

Chew on This

All identities in the novel are in constant flux; no one has a stable identity.

It's notable that all the villains in the novel have false identities, a trend that hints at the dangerous and unstable nature of identity.

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