Poe's Stories

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The name that the narrator assigns himself, knowing that his real name is detestable. The narrator was once a confident, sociable child, able to dominate the playground. But over the course of the story he loses his confidence, turns to drinking, then to gambling, attempts to financially ruin a man who considers him a friend, and to having affairs with married women. He blames his fall on a mysterious double, who shares nearly every attribute with him—name, birthday, appearance—with the exception of their voice. His doppelganger speaks only in a whisper. The narrator ultimately runs from his doppelganger, and in his flight stoops to ever greater levels of degradation. The doppelganger appears at these lowest moments, revealing the narrator's weaknesses, crimes, and sins, and the seemingly supernatural doppelganger begins to seem like perhaps the narrator's own conscience. Ultimately, the narrator attacks his doppelganger, and in doing so kills himself.

William Wilson Quotes in Poe's Stories

The Poe's Stories quotes below are all either spoken by William Wilson or refer to William Wilson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Poe's Stories published in 2006.
William Wilson Quotes

Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn – for the horror – for the detestation of my race.

Related Characters: William Wilson (speaker)
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Poe introduces us to William Wilson--a man who's taken on his current, fake name because his real name has become associated with too much scandal and evil. Right away, Poe creates a mood of suspense and excitement--we want to know what, exactly, Wilson did that was so awful. The story also reveals itself to be another "retelling" from memory, as many of the stories in this collection are--and so Wilson is immediately made somewhat unreliable in that he's telling his own story, and may be misremembering or falsifying information.

We should note that William Wilson is the first named narrator in Poe's collection of short stories. And yet the name "William Wilson" is obviously fake--in other words, the fact that we've got the narrator's name doesn't mean that we know anything more about him than we did about the unnamed narrators in the previous stories. And just like the other narrators in the book, William Wilson is an unlikely everyman--even if we can't relate to all of his experiences, we're meant to identify with his point of view, and his horror becomes our own.

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A large mirror, – so at first it seemed to me in my confusion – now stood where none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait.

Related Characters: William Wilson (speaker)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

In the finale of "William Wilson," Wilson realizes that he's killed himself. Wilson has spent his entire life fighting with a mysterious doppelgänger (double of himself), who undermines everything that Wilson tries to do. At the end of Wilson's life, however, the truth becomes clear: Wilson's doppelgänger isn't another person; it's Wilson himself.

To appreciate the full power of the story, one shouldn't take the ending too literally. One could say for example, that Wilson is schizophrenic, or that he has some other mental disorder that's caused him to hallucinate another person who looks and sounds just like him. But the more powerful and symbolic interpretation of the story is that William Wilson--as his bland, everyman name would suggest--represents the dual nature of all human beings. Like the titular characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all people have a good side and a bad side. William Wilson has fought a constant war with his own soul and conscience, and in the end, he's the first and only casualty of that war.

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William Wilson Character Timeline in Poe's Stories

The timeline below shows where the character William Wilson appears in Poe's Stories. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
William Wilson
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
The narrator introduces himself to the reader, asking us to use the name William Wilson instead of his real name, which cannot be uttered because it's too heinous. The... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
William wishes that people would pity him. If no man has ever been tempted so awfully,... (full context)
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
William recalls his school, in a misty, Gothic village with shadowy avenues and a haunting church... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
...were permitted beyond the wall on Saturday and Sunday, when they paraded to church. Young William watches with wonder each time the reverend, who is also the principal of the school,... (full context)
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
This is where William spent his youth. His youth, he says, didn’t need grand events. Even the monotony of... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
William’s energetic character sets him apart from his school mates and he finds himself able to... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Outwardly, William treats this rebellion with bravado, but he is scared of it, fearing that the ease... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The narrator reveals that he shares so many details of life with the other William that some schoolmates, even older boys, talked about them, and gossiped that they were brothers.... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
This troublesome relationship is the focus of William’s antics and the outlet of his wits. He plays practical jokes on his double that... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
William’s double has also found William's weakness, though how the other boy discovered it is beyond... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
William is worried that the older boys at school are talking about this relationship between the... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Another thing William hates is the way his double talks down to him, offering condescending advice, although he... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The doppelganger William notices this change and starts to avoid William. On one occasion around this time, the... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
...and crannies. Some of these little alcoves were turned into dormitories, and this is where William’s double lives. One night, William gets up when everyone is asleep – he has been... (full context)
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After a few months, William starts studying at Eton instead and the strength of the horrible memory fades – he... (full context)
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The Gothic Style Theme Icon
At the height of the party, William is about to make a toast when he is interrupted by the announcement that someone... (full context)
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The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Though the event remains vivid to William afterwards, it also has a paranormal quality that makes him more curious than frightened. He... (full context)
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Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
William introduces a new character, a wealthy young man called Glendinning, whose “weak intellect” makes him... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
William ensures that Glendinning is the only opponent left in the game, and has been, at... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Embarrassment and sadness comes over everybody. William is relieved by an unexpected interruption – the doors open suddenly, blowing out all the... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
William tries to escape his alter ego, but even on the continent, he finds signs of... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
William hurries to the final stage of the story. He admits that through all these encounters,... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
At Carnival time in Rome, William has been drinking and moves, frustrated, through the crowd. He is even more impatient because... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Now, William throws him into the room and shuts the door and draws his sword. The other... (full context)