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

From: George Upper (
Date: 22 Feb 2002

--- "Anderson, Erick (ETW)" <> wrote:
> Does the doppleganger question extend to cloning as
> well?

I don't see why it wouldn't. I imagine the recent Arnold flick THE SIXTH DAY or whatever it was probably had some of this sort of thing in it, but I didn't see it. With cloning being in the news so much lately, I suspect we'll see more of this sort of thing, at least in the sci-fi mags (unless it's been done to death already, which wouldn't surprise me).

I'm more interested in the double that doesn't jump out at the reader as a double. JDM is a good example of this--McGee and the antagonist, Junior Allen, have very similar backgrounds and take very similar actions throughout the novel (fight in the war, live on boats, visit the same cities, sleep with the same women, etc.) but these scenes are not juxtaposed in the novel, so you have to stop and think about it, or be looking for examples of doubling, or you're likely to miss it. The fight scene at the end of the novel has McGee practically looking into a mirror, but you have to get that from the description--JDM is never going to tell you that Travis is looking in a mirror.

This is, obviously, subtler, and I think it makes a more sophisticated vehicle for points like "there but for the grace of God go Travis" without having to have Travis say "There but for the grace of God go I." This, to me, is the most important distinguishing mark of great fiction--the ability to be read on multiple levels. The best example of this, IMHO, is Poe, who has generated volumes--libraries, probably--of serious literary criticism and scholarship, but still shows up in middle school "ghost story" anthologies. To a slightly lesser degree, I include JDM in this catagory--you can just enjoy the story, or you can pick up the "preachy" morals he throws out, or you can read between the lines and find even more.

Back to the doppelganger: The best example of the doppelganger in literature that I know of is Poe's
"William Wilson," which anyone who wants to can read online at

I cite this as the "best" because it is purposefully very ambiguous, which I consider to be in keeping with the ambiguous nature of the double itself. Poe doesn't really answer any of the important questions in the tale--like who the double really is, is the 1st person narrator just insane, etc. IMHO, that's an important aspect of doubling in literature--a pat
"eveyone has a double out there somewhere" just seems, well, silly.

And, to anyone completely uninterested in doubles, I recommend you read Poe's "William Wilson" anyway. The man could tell a story.


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

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