“William Wilson” is a short story written by Edgar Alan Poe, best known as the first and most noticeable writer of fantastic poetry and prose. The story of W. Wilson is no exception; in this story Poe is using surreal motifs, i.e. introducing to elements of mystique and occult by creating a character with split personality. The story is first published in 1839. in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, later to become a part of Poe’s collection of previously published short stories “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”, first published in 1840.
It is said that “William Wilson” is a semi-autobiographical story because it has some elements similar to writer’s real life, e.g. main characters birthday.
The plot is about a boy named William Wilson who slightly arrogant and bossy. All boys from boarding school are afraid of him, except one and that boy has the same name as William, same birthday and even physical appearance. William hated the boy seeing how defiant he was. He would meet the boy here and there later in life, especially in the situations where the double would see trough his bad intentions thus belittling and endangering him. This leads to when given the chance, Wilson killing his double only to see reflection of his wounded body in the mirror.
Exactly this motif of split personality is the most prominent fantastic element of the story. It is unknown trough the whole story-line whether the double is real, making him surreal as it is impossible for someone to have a double with identical looks, names and same birthdays (and not being twins). He may be a reflection of Williams’s divided consciousness which no one is aware of but himself. That would be the most probable solution of this fantastic element, otherwise, it would mean that W. Wilson is psychologically unstable or possibly ill.
Anyhow, the double “flows” trough the whole plot as Wilson’s consciousness, which he either does not have or completely ignores given the lifestyle he has chosen. This short story slightly differs from Poe’s other work. His stories often remind us of his songs. They are rather poetic and full of imagery.
On the other hand, words and sentences in this particular story are very carefully picked. They are short with some adjectives here and there leading to not thinking outside of what has already been said.
“William Wilson” is not poetic but rather logical and rationalized. Even Poe has said it himself that this is one of the stories in which he invested a lot of effort, and it can be seen since it was well critically acclaimed. The story has gone through many adaptations in literature, theater, and movies.
Genre: short story
Time: 19th century
Place: London and it’s surroundings
Main theme: Double of main hero acting like his consciousness
Main idea: punishment will catch anyone, no matter how arrogant one is
Novel’s main theme is the subject of split personality. Unlike other Poe’s stories, this one is full of descriptions of buildings, spaces, and characters. The plot is narrated by the storyteller named William Wilson.
He wants to hide his real name, being ashamed of all the bad things she had done in life. He blames circumstances and temptations for all the evils he could not fight against. He is convinced that genes took part in his wrong doings.
His parents were unable to stop his malicious behavior, even at a young age, he has become usurper in their home.He went to school in an old building which reminds him of jail. In that school rules
In that school rules order and discipline. His pastor, Dr. Bransby was also a headmaster of the school. William, being bossy, has forced himself upon other classmates. Everyone bows down to his will, except one boy – his namesake.
“Coincidentally” they share the same birth date, same height and looks also. William’s double becomes leader between the boys. William was annoyed by this fact so he starts competing with the double.Eventually, resentment towards the boy grows into extreme hate. W. Wilson is sometimes convinced that he knew him in some distant past.
After five years of education, Williams becomes a student at Eaton. The memory of the double slowly faded away. As a student, he lives a dissipated life. On one gray morning, after the crazy night, he sees his double who warns him that the life he is leading is not good.
His wealthy parents are able to send him to attend at Oxford. But he there lives profusely and starts gambling. He uses various tricks thus damaging rich lord Glendening who by merely looking at him would cause compassion in one.
William could feel contemptible looks given from the young men present in the room.Then something odd happens: heavy door opens, candles put out and a stranger enters. This stranger exposes Wilson as a fraud and publicly shames him.
He is also the one who shows where Williams is hiding his cards which he uses to win games. Crushed and humiliated he then left Oxford and starts his wandering through the world.But escaping is worthless.
Stranger follows him wherever he goes; and at that moment, the main character realizes that his tormentor is, in fact, his double. He does not want to have anything with him anymore so he challenges him to duel. This event happened at the time of Carnival in Rome.
He pushes the double against the fence and pierces him through the chest with a sword.Surprisingly, he looks in the mirror his pale and bloodied face. While dying he hears himself saying:
“You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead – dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exists – and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.”
A character with a split personality. He was an imaginative child but often stubborn, freakish and bossy. His parents are to blame for his bad upbringing. As a pupil and a student, he became very aware of his bad traits thus creating the double as a part of his consciousness.
But he does not give in, he goes as far as fighting with the double. He lives a stormy life; he drinks, he becomes crooked and does evil to others. He does not want to listen to his consciousness warning him, instead he wants to kill it and get rid of it forever. At the very end, he becomes aware
At the very end, he becomes aware that instead of killing his consciousness he killed himself.
Edgar Allan Poe Biography
Edgar Allan Poe (1809. – 1849.) was an American author, poet, editor and a critic of the American realism. He lost his parents two years after birth and was adopted by a tobacco merchant who sent him to a school in England.
He was expelled due to his gambling debt and because tobacco merchant did not want anything to do with him anymore. Under a false name, he joined the army but got kicked out since he disobeyed their orders.
Poe married the 13 years old Virginia who died of tuberculosis and it is considered to be the cause of his alcoholism and opium addiction. He dedicated the song “Annabel Lee” to her.
He first became famous for his poems “The Raven” and “The murders in Rue Morgue”. “The Purloined Letter” are considered to be his most famous crime novels.
He tried to kill himself, he then disappeared for three days. When he came back he died in a strange condition in 1849.He wrote mystical works, e.g. “The Black Cat”. He wrote songs in a mystical romantic mood with bizarre motives.