Re: RARA-AVIS: The Doppleganger (was Oh, Kanada)

From: George Upper (
Date: 21 Feb 2002

--- Michael Robison <> wrote:
> >somebody said this:
> > Believe it or not, I'm in the process of writing a
> > thesis on the doppleganger in southern (U.S.)
> > hard-boiled detective fiction.

That would be me.

> what's a doppleganger?

Ah, that's the question, isn't it? Here, miker, and for anyone else who cares (and I have to believe that's a short list) are the first few paragraphs of my thesis (unedited as of yet, so I apologize in advance for any errors). I hope this answers your question; if it doesn't, I have some serious re-writing to do.


The theme of the doppelganger, or double, in myth and legend may date back to the first sighting of a reflection in a calm lake or the first hearing of an echoed utterance in a troglodytic cavern. In fact, Clifford Hallam traces the original sources of this concept to the oldest folk tales and myths, including
"Egyptian narrative," "ancient Babylonian" folklore, and the Bible (5-9); and Robert Rogers finds evidence of the theme in Norse mythology, Samoan culture, and the timeless oral traditions of the Huron Indians, Aborigines and the natives of Southern Celedes-as well as Chinese cosmology (7-10).

In literature, critics have discussed the concept of doubling in works as diverse as Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist (e.g., Stephen Bernstein), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (William Patrick Day, qtd. in Kilgour 41), and Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs (Kilgore 43). However, critics often disagree regarding the author's purpose in the inclusion of doubles in literature-often disagreeing even to the point of arguing whether such inclusion occurs with or without the conscious volition of the author. Moreover, critics even disagree regarding the possible definitions or categories of double, despite (or perhaps because of) a number of scholarly treatments of just that question.

Clifford Hallam traces a number of early definitions of "Doppelg䮧er […] which literally means
'double-goer'" (5). According to Hallam, the German novelist Jean Paul Richter apparently coined the phrase in the late eighteenth century, but defined it in the least definite of terms: "so people who see themselves are called." Hallam further notes the fact that doppelg䮧er once referred to the seer of what modern critics would today call the doppelganger, that is, the second or created vision (25). This is only appropriate in light of the moral complexity that this technique is used to portray, as described later in the paper.

Unfortunately, by 1967, Albert Guerard could shamefully state that "[t]he word double is embarrassingly vague, as used in literary criticism"
(qtd. in Hallam 5). Three years later, in 1970, Richard Rogers set out to provide "a broad, generic definition of the psychological double and a taxonomy of the numerous subtypes" (2). Despite Rogers's efforts, however, C. F. Keppler discovered in 1972 that he "could find nothing to serve as a guide or starting point" in his attempt to define the double, and in fact that he and other scholars "were trying to use the Double of creative literature as an interpretive tool before knowing very much about who and what he is and how he functions, or before examining in a very comprehensive way the literature of the world in which he appears" (ix). Nonetheless, Hallam can still state in 1980 that no significant agreement exists among scholars regarding the definition of the term, owing in large part, to "the fact that, in the broadest sense of the idea, 'double' can mean almost any dual, and in some cases even multiple, structure in a text (5).

Hallam finally arrives at a working definition of the double, stating that it "results when this inner being
[as described by Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough] has in fact made its escape and exists without" (7). A more narrow definition that this may be impossible due to the fact that this construct "lends itself quite well, when treated in literature, to virtually all genres, literary periods, and styles" (9). Furthermore, Rogers, Keppler and Hallam all bring to their studies preconceptions of the occurrence of the double which require certain inclusive definitions-that is, having previously labeled certain texts as including doubling, these critics must find a definition of the term which applies to these texts. Nonetheless, Hallam's definition serves to include the examples of doubling that we shall examine here: John D. MacDonald's The Deep Blue Good-By and James Lee Burke's Heaven's Prisoners, two examples of hard-boiled detective novels set in the South.


Hope that helps.


===== George C. Upper III, Editor The Lightning Bell Poetry Journal

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