The "Self and the Other" in the Tale "William Wilson", by Edgar Allan Poe
Figure 1: RACKHAM, A. (1935). William Wilson [Illustration].
Since ancient times, the phenomenon of the double - a psychic phenomenon in which an individual can split into two or more different personalities - has been explored in many stories. The first appearance probably occurred in the myth in which Zeus takes the form of Amphitryon to lie with the Greek's wife; an argument taken up again in the 17th century by Molière, in the play Amphitryon, and to the biblical twins Esau and Jacob, physically alike but morally different, recreated by Machado de Assis in the 18th century.
This phenomenon, however, reaches its apogee in literature in the 19th century, in the middle of Romanticism. Preceded by a period of strong dehumanization caused by the Industrial Revolution (LIMA, 2008), it is at that time that the term doppelgänger appears, created by Jean-Paul Richter in 1796, to designate the double as a "second self", or even "people who can see themselves" (RICHTER, 1959, quoted by ŽIVKOVI, 2000). Moreover, according to Ralph Tymms, the phenomenon still usually implied the existence and development of a spiritual affinity that connected the Identical pairs (TYMMS, 1949).
By placing the individual at the center of its issues, the 19th century favored the development of the theme of the duplicity of the self and this caught the attention of writers of the time. According to Nébias (2011, p. 13), other phenomena contributed concomitantly to the evolution of the theme: the study of provoked sleepwalking, hypnosis, second personalities, and hysteria, which illustrate the possibility of man manifesting himself in different aspects - when not multiple ones. Therefore, according to Ana Maria de Mello, even though the theme is old, it gains a special coloring and emphasis from Romanticism, a moment in which the inquiries about the subject become acute and are projected in the artistic creation, at the same time that they become the object of studies undertaken in the area of Psychology (MELLO, 2000, p. 120).
This was followed by the publication of works of the Fantastic genre such as The Devil's Elixir, a text by the German E. T. A. Hoffmann, in 1815; the short story William Wilson, by Edgar Allan Poe, in 1839; The Double, by Dostoyevsky, in 1846; Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, in 1886; The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, in 1890, among others.
According to Tzvetan Todorov (2012), the Fantastic is present when an event that is impossible to explain by the laws of our world as we know it, occurs. When someone perceives this episode, this person must choose one of the two possible solutions: either it is an illusion of the senses, a product of imagination, and the laws of the world remain as they are, or the event has really occurred, it is part of reality, and then this reality is governed by laws that we do not know. (TODOROV, 2012, p. 30-31)
Returning to the term of Germanic origin (doppelgänger), it is interesting to point out that it, although conceived in the 18th century, refers to a monster or a fantastic being from ancient Teutonic legends that would have the ability to reveal itself to be a copy of the person it will accompany; working, according to Carlos Ceia, as "a kind of soul mate or even a ghost that haunts an individual, confusing itself with its own personality" (DOPPELGÄNGER