Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most recognized geniuses of literature worldwide; and not only for his work, but also for his turbulent life, his death and the mysterious visits of a possible admirer to his tomb. In short, in addition to giving us memorable works, he has also become a figure closely linked to mystery; a character, without a doubt, very attractive and interesting. Among all his literary production, I would like to highlight a special story, William Wilson, a brief narrative that will bring us closer to the subconscious of the author and a subject that is very much dealt with in literature: the theme of the double or Doppelgänger.
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19 in Boston, United States; he is considered the creator of the detective story, the renovator of the Gothic novel and, without a doubt, a great master of terror. Of psychological terror, of that which investigates the human mind, that disturbs and bothers us.
Perhaps, if Poe’s life had been a quiet, balanced life and had not had problems with alcohol or family problems, it would not have been the literary genius we know today. Poe’s life was, without a doubt, stormy; and that restlessness and mental torture that we lived we see reflected in his works.
William Wilson is one of the most interesting stories of E.A. Poe It is a story that supposes a renewal of the idea of the double that was had in the literature; It is a before and after. William Wilson is a story in the first person, where the “author” presents himself as William Wilson, although he warns us that it is a false name; The story focuses on the life of this character and a companion with the same name and last name that will pursue him his whole life.
These two characters have no kinship, but in addition to sharing a name, they share a physical appearance; the William Wilson “double” will be the only character that manages to face the “original” William Wilson, the only one who can overshadow him and overcome him.
Subconscious, double and literature
Psychoanalysis, despite what may seem, can be very useful in the analysis of literary texts, especially those that present a greater symbolic burden. Psychoanalysis can be a very useful tool in literature, in the interpretation of dreams and psychopathy of Freud’s daily life the idea is exposed that dreams suppose a release / expression of traumas in relation to the famous psychic structure: unconscious , preconscious and conscious. The unconscious tries to bring out the traumas and Freud interpreted the dreams as a vehicle for this journey towards consciousness.
Literature and art have been seen as a mechanism similar to that of dreams, where authors through metaphors and symbols reveal possible traumas. Freud groups a series of phenomena that we see in literature: the appearance of the double, the dismembered body, the magical thought, etc.
Throughout the history of literature, we find a large number of symbols and metaphors that we can interpret thanks to psychoanalysis. One of the most studied cases is, perhaps, the Oedipus complex; we can find infinity of phallic symbols, forms of symbolic death of the figure of the father (elimination of the rival) … in infinity of poems and literary works. A good example of this would be the poem La Madre de Dámaso Alonso; and in art, Saturn devouring his son Goya, a work that has been interpreted from psychoanalysis and is related to cannibalism, melancholy, destruction and sexual problems.
Literature supposes a way of entrance towards the unconscious, and this is not something that is born with Freud, but that has been present throughout all the history. For example, Aristotle said that by attending shows of Greek tragedies where real brutalities are observed, the purge and purification of emotions is given free rein. In literature and art we can observe all kinds of internal conflicts that are most unpleasant, but that suppose a liberation.
The theme of the double is associated with the ideation of the soul, establishes a structure of duplicity and manifests itself through mirrors, reflections (water), etc. Therefore, when analyzing a literary or artistic work, it is interesting to pay attention to these small details, which can give us clues to the true meaning of the work.
Already in Antiquity, we find the mythological character of Narcissus, who falls in love with his reflection in the water, one of the first examples of the double theme; We also see this in some of Plauto’s comedies. In origin, the double had been seen as an element of comedy: confusing twins and telling something to the wrong twin, confusing situations that produce laughter, etc. However, especially with the arrival of Romanticism, the idea of the evil double appears, of the “evil twin” and will receive a dramatic treatment, leaving aside the comic.
William Wilson goes a step beyond this drama, William Wilson’s double is not the classic evil twin, but is a character “superior” to him in some aspects, a character that will be a kind of voice of his conscience, is an improved version and, as a consequence, a threat to the protagonist’s pride.
The double theme in William Wilson
The first person narration and the birth date of William Wilson (January 19, like Poe), invite us to sorrow in a work with autobiographical tendencies. Something that really does not surprise us taking into account the turbulent life of the author, William Wilson would be a kind of awareness for Poe, a kind of sample of the internal struggle that the author was living at that time.
The unfolding of the personality is evident from the beginning, not only by the appearance of the double, but also by the chosen name: William Wilson. The initial, “W”, by itself implies duplicity and, in addition, is repeated both in name and surname; something that, taking into account the plot of the work, has not been chosen at random.
William Wilson and his double become inseparable companions; something invites him to hate and attack him because he is a threat, but at the same time, he feels a certain appreciation for his double, because it is reflected in him. The similarities are becoming more and more evident, with the double coming to copy his way of dressing and walking. In this sense, William Wilson is a daring character, who overcomes the barriers of legality and the “socially correct”, likes excesses and alcohol; his double, on the other hand, will try to sabotage Wilson’s plans.
The double problem is approached in a daring and profound way in this work, the double becomes a real nightmare for the protagonist, in a clear reflection of the author’s personal conflicts. The unfolding of the personality will lead to an overwhelming situation, full of anxiety for the protagonist and, as expected in a work of this style, leads to a spectacular outcome where, of course, the figure of the mirror will not be absent.
In short, a narrative worthy of analysis, full of symbolic elements that deserves more than one reading and that brings us closer to the problems of Poe himself. William Wilson is a story in autobiographical key, where the author questions his own lifestyle and engages in a dialogue with his own conscience.
“During the hour of reading, the soul of the reader is subject to the will of the writer.”
-Edgar Allan Poe-