By Natalie Lopez and Adreesh Roy

What is a Doppelgänger?

Doppelgänger is a German word that refers to a look-alike or double of a person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon. In some cultures, it is believed that a doppelgänger brings bad luck.
*Doppel (double) + Gänger (walker or goer)
In stories, a “double-goer” is recognized as an evil twin. Doppelgänger can also be a second version of self this haunts the first self (Dual opposite to someone’s “good counterpart”).
When a doppelgänger is seen by someone’s friends or relatives, it is believed to foreshadow danger or illness that is soon to come. Similarly, it’s believed that seeing your own doppelgänger is a sign of your own soon to come death.

It is a well known motif in myth, folklore, and literature.
Recently and in everyday casual talk, it’s referred to just as someone that physically looks similar to another person.

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Origin/Use of word

The word was introduced in a novel Siebenkäs in 1796 by author Jean Paul.

Catherine Crowe's book about paranormal phenomena, The Night-Side of Nature in 1848 helped make the German word more well known in the English language.

This concept of alter egos and double spirits was popular in Ancient Egyptian, Norse, and Breton mythology. In these mythological stories, the doppelgänger is the double of a person’s spirit but has the same internal memories and feelings of the original person.

It's most commonly seen in literature in The Picture of Dorian Gray, William Wilson by Edgar Allen Poe, Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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"Double Life" in Victorian Society

In the Victorian society, people followed the concept of living a “double life”.

People believed that appearance was the most important thing so they valued the wealthy people valued preserving that image in their lives almost more than anything else.

Many members of high society would appear as respectable and high class additions to the community, but in reality many committed various crimes and would lie with a clean face to the police about the truth of their lives.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

It can be believed that the double life of characters in his books, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, serve as a parallel to his own possible double life.

Oscar Wilde lived during a time when homosexuality was unacceptable and punished with extreme measures. He was imprisoned for his homosexuality and had to live a double life in order to maintain his respect and be a normal member of the Victorian Society.

This conflict between his true and double self can be seen in the character Basil who didn't want to show the picture because it could reveal his inner feelings for Dorian Gray, which could lead to his punishment.

The Picture of Dorian Gray and Doppelgänger motif

The picture of Dorian, painted by Basil serves as a symbol of his conscience, serving as a portrayal of his second self, which seeing it leads to his internal torment and eventual destruction. This idea that Dorian “seeing” his own doppelgänger in the form of the picture is will lead to his demise, comes from the legends of paranormal phenomena regarding a doppelgänger’s effect.

Oscar Wilde used a variation of the Doppelgänger motif to convey the message in the book that superficial, worldly views are meaningless and corruption comes from what’s behind that superficial “beauty”, especially in the handsome Dorian’s case

“Enemy within” portrayed in the picture on the wall, while he deceived others with his external image. Throughout the entire book, Dorian Gray must struggle with his inner conflict between keeping his morals and following his carnal desires. The painting prevents his external image from ever suffering the consequences of following his carnal desires.


"The Picture of Dorian Grey - Doppleganger Trio: Dorian, Painting, and Knife." Mrmullen /. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. < Picture of Dorian Grey - Doppleganger Trio: Dorian, Painting, and Knife>.

"The Doppelgänger in Dorian Gray." Web. 9 Nov. 2015. < 2.docx>.