By: Alex Olivero




According to literary critic Dawn Sova, Edgar Allan Poe achieved many things in the world of literature; these being his contribution to contemporary culture as well as the creation of a unique, American form of literature (Sova). The style that Sova speaks of is none other than Dark Romanticism. This is one of the branches of American Romanticism that entails a much deeper level of thought about the philosophy of man. Many of the works of Poe, specifically “William Wilson” display the characteristics of this form of Romanticism. In this story, personality of William Wilson and the events that happen to him are parallel to those of the author Edgar Allan Poe. Many of Poe’s works are similar in style and representation of Dark Romanticism, and this short story is no different. The story of “William Wilson” entails many of the characteristics of American Romanticism, more specifically Dark Romanticism while at the same time keeping the eerie, spine chilling style of Edgar Allan Poe.

There are many characteristics of Romanticism portrayed in the short story “William Wilson;” some of these being: a strong basis around human emotion, a belief in the supernatural, and focus on the imagination of man (Strickland). A use of symbolism in the style of Poe displays the characteristic of the genre that is Dark Romanticism. The entire concept of this novel is of one man’s counterpart that is antagonizing him all throughout his life (Poe). This plays into a belief in the supernatural, as the second William Wilson is described as having the same physical characteristics, same date of birth, as well as the obvious identical name. Even though this seems to be absurd, the narrator still allows himself to believe that his namesake is indeed another person that is torturing him. The narrator says the actions of his namesake are “a riddle I could not resolve” (Poe).

As an author, Poe was not the first, but still one of the best to use a doppelganger (D'Ammassa). The simple fact that there is a use of two characters representing one shows there is a basis around human emotion. A person must have a powerful emotional issue of sorts that causes the brain to create an alter ego, such as something to hide from or repressed emotions about an occurrence of their lives. This then ties into the Romanticism characteristic of the strong imagination of man, since the narrator is actually able to create another person to represent himself (Strickland).

Another part of this work by Poe, the use of powerful symbolism to represent many different aspects of the story, is evidence to the belonging to the genre of Dark Romanticism. Edgar Allan Poe is famous for his use of symbols and vivid, deep depictions of what he is trying to represent. The conclusion of this short story itself can be seen a symbol for the self-destruction of man. As the story ends, the narrator finds that after “killing” his namesake, he has actually inflicted the wounds onto himself (Poe). Dark Romantics had a belief that all people are evil, and prone to become the demise of them, and this is portrayed in how the story draws to a close.

In many ways, the life of Edgar Allan Poe influenced the writing of the short story “William Wilson.” Early in his life, Poe’s parents died, and his family was split up to live in different places (Sova). This alone would be enough to cause pent up emotions, which would in turn relate to how the narrator of the story created an alter ego. Along with this, during his career, Poe actually obtained a strong rival in the workplace as William found a rival in his schooling (Sova). In the short story, William Wilson is known for his vice of gambling; although it is not that he is addicted and losing money but rather he hustles many his opponents only to be later exposed by his namesake (Poe). Edgar Allan Poe was infamous for his addiction to not only gambling as his character has, but also is addiction to drinking and opiates (Sova). All of these vices very well could have served as influence of the vice held by the narrator of the story. With these examples, it is evident that the life of Edgar Allan Poe served as a great influence on his literature, even if it was found through his many corruptions.

The many works of Edgar Allan Poe are extremely distinguishable for the unique stories told as well as for the style in which they were written. The story of William Wilson is no different, as it is very similar to many of the other works written by Poe. One of the most important similarities in some of Poe’s work is that they are left open to interpretation by the reader. In Poe’s “The Raven,” many critics struggle to determine what exactly the bird in the poem represents. Many also try to find the meaning of the William Wilsons namesake and the significance of his death. Stated by Leland Parsons, Poe has actually said it is the job of the reader to create a meaning for the symbols in his works (Parsons). As well as this similarity, many times Poe’s works represent the Romantic’s belief of the self destruction of man. In both “The Raven” and William Wilson,” the protagonist meets their demise from the actions of a single, simple action. In “The Raven” this is the bird’s repetition of the word “nevermore”, while in “William Wilson” it is in the final battle between the narrator and his namesake ending with his death (Poe).

While maintaining his own eerie and almost creepy style, Edgar Allan Poe is able to represent characteristics of American Romanticism with his story of “William Wilson.” His symbolism, focus on human emotion, and belief in the supernatural are all characteristics of this American literary style (Strickland). At the same time, the character and his namesake, being identical in nature, show many qualities that can be seen in the life of Edgar Allan Poe, which creates a relatable and very human character. All of these things come together to create one of Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest short stories that represents the genre of American Romanticism that he revolutionized with his works like this one.




Works Cited

D'Ammassa, Don. "'William Wilson'." Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Horror Fiction. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= EFHF0574&SingleRecord=True (accessed December 8, 2010).
Poe, Edgar Allan. "William Wilson." The Literature Network. 1839. Jalic Inc. Online. 8 Dec. 2010. <http://www.online-literature.com/poe/47/>.
Person, Leland S., Jr. "Poe's Composition of Philosophy: Reading and Writing 'The Raven,'" Arizona Quarterly 46, no. 3 (Autumn 1990): pp. 1-2, 8, 12. Quoted as "The Self-Deconstruction of 'The Raven'" in Harold Bloom, ed. Edgar Allan Poe, Bloom's Major Poets. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1999. (Updated 2007.) Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= BMPEAP25&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 22, 2010).
Sova, Dawn B. "Poe, Edgar Allan." Critical Companion to Edgar Allan Poe: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Critical Companion. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2007. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= ffazpoe0957&SingleRecord=True (accessed December 8, 2010).
Strickland, Dr. Brad. "American Romanticism Overview." Department of English. Gainseville College. Gainsville, GA. 1997. Online. http://www.westga.edu/~mmcfar/AMERICAN%20ROMANTICISM%20overview.htm