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William Wilson

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “William Wilson” (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809- 1849) was an American writer and poet. He is considered the father of the modern detective story, and is also widely acknowledged as an innovator of the science fiction genre. He is best known, however, for his horror stories, which often involve supernatural elements, and which have redefined the genre. The story “William Wilson” was first published in 1839 and included in the 1840 collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.

Extract

Here you can find an extract from our study guide:

Symbols

The most important symbols in the story are that of the transformation of the room in the final scene, and the mirror. After William corners and stabs his double, he goes to close the door, and when he turns again, he sees “a great change (…) at the far end of the room” (p. 21, ll. 2-3). This symbolizes a shift in William’s perspective. It could be that the approaching death has given him a clarity of mind which he did not have before. He now sees “a large mirror” (p. 21, l. 3) and himself in it, bloody and pale. This symbolizes his awareness – even if it is only for an instant - that his double only exists as a part of himself, and therefore, he has hurt himself. It is a symbolic awareness of himself as a complete person, with both his good, and his bad side, and a momentary acceptance of his dual nature.

The coat mentioned in the scene where William is exposed for cheating at cards is another interesting symbol. By searching in the pockets of his coat, his friends realize his true character as a cheater. When arriving to expose William, the double wears an identical coat, which he leaves behind. The coat is later picked up by Mr. Preston, who gives it to William as he believes it belongs to him. William sees the coat as identical to his own, even though he knows his own was custom-made. Moreover, he sees his own coat as already on his arm, when he places double’s coat there as well. The coat is therefore used to illustrate William’s unreliable perspective. It is a symbol of the hallucinations and delusions which have taken over his life, and his complete descent into madness. The fact that the two coats are identical is yet another hint that William and his double are one and the same person. 

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William Wilson

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