A doppelganger is a German term, literally meaning a “double-goer,” an apparition or double of a living person. As a literary device, a doppelganger is used to show two different distinct, often opposite, personalities or personality traits. This literary device is used in stories to show internal conflict and the multifaceted nature of a character. Such a figure haunts the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge’s narrative poem (the one quoted by Mary Shelley in Frank.):
Like one, that on a lonesome road,
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head,
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread. (lines 445-51)
Interestingly, on July 8, 1822, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in the Bay of Spezia. On August 15, while staying at Pisa, Percy's wife Mary Shelley wrote a letter to Maria Gisborne in which she relayed Percy's claims to her that he had met his own doppelgänger. She writes that, in the early hours of June 23, Percy had had a nightmare about the house collapsing in a flood, and:
... talking it over the next morning he told me that he had had many visions lately — he had seen the figure of himself which met him as he walked on the terrace and said to him — "How long do you mean to be content" — Not very terrific words and certainly not prophetic of what has occurred. But Shelley had often seen these figures when ill.
Obviously, Mary Shelley was interested in the idea of a doppelganger and used it as a literary motif in Frankenstein. This idea of the literary doppelganger can be interpreted in a number of ways:
- It can be seen simply as a double, an alternative version of the individual
- It can be seen as a complement, a version of
the individual that possesses different qualities and thus completes the
- It can be seen as an opposite, a being that
possesses all the qualities that the individual lacks and most abhors.
By the way: An important literary form employing the Doppelganger motif is the psychomachia (we'll discuss this when we read Dr. Faustus), originated by the Greek poet Prudentius to depict "conflict within the soul" or the struggle between virtue and vice within an individual. The psychomachia was particularly important in medieval art and drama, where separate characters were perceived a representing different aspects of a single human personality, so that conflict within the drama depicted the struggle of conscience or the need for integration of the personality.
For Friday (A)/Monday(B)
Complete LRJ#3 (Option A only!) on “The Doppelganger Motif”
Quiz over Frankenstein, Chapters 13-18
Significant Quotations -- II
Although you are not required to dropbox the following eWorksheet, you will be working on it in class and you will likely find it helpful as a way to review this section of the novel and to help you study for the Frankenstein unit exam.
DOWNLOAD: eWorksheet -- Part Two (Ch. 7-12) -- Significant quotations