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The theme of the 'double' has been very thoroughly treated by Otto Rank (1914). He has gone into the connections which the 'double' has with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, with guardian spirits, with the belief in the soul and with the fear of death; but he also lets in a flood of light on the surprising evolution of the idea. For the 'double' was originally an insurance against the destruction of the ego, an 'energetic denial of the power of death' --The Uncanny (Freud), 1919

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A doppelgänger or fetch is the ghostly double of a living person, a sinister form of bilocation.

In the vernacular, "Doppelgänger" has come to refer (as in German) to any double or look-alike of a person—most commonly an "evil twin".

The word is also used to describe the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection.

They are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one's own doppelgänger is an omen of death. In Norse mythology, a vardøgr is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance.

The doppelgänger trope is explored by Hoffmann in his tale of Erasmus Spikher and by Poe in William Wilson.



The word doppelgänger is a loanword from German Doppelgänger, consisting of the two substantives Doppel (double) Gänger (walker or goer). The singular and plural form are the same in German, but English usually prefers the plural "doppelgängers." It was first used by Jean Paul in the novel Siebenkäs (1796), and his newly coined word is explained by a footnote.

In popular culture

Doppelgängers, as dark doubles of individual identities, appear in a variety of fictional works from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Double" to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. In its simplest incarnation, mistaken identity is a classic trope used in literature, from Twelfth Night to A Tale of Two Cities. But in these cases, the characters look similar for perfectly normal reasons, such as being siblings or simple coincidence.

Some stories offer supernatural explanations for doubles. These doppelgängers are typically, but not always, evil in some way. The double will often impersonate the victim and go about ruining them, for instance through committing crimes or insulting the victim's friends. Sometimes, the double even tries to kill the original. In José Saramago's 2001 novel The Double (original Portuguese title O Homem Duplicado), both men's baser instincts come to the surface and they attempt to take advantage of each other. The torment is occasionally earned; for instance, in Edgar Allan Poe's short story "William Wilson", the protagonist of questionable morality is dogged by his doppelgänger most tenaciously when his morals fail. A similar device is employed in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's short story "The Double: A Petersburg Poem". When doppelgängers are used as harbingers of impending destruction, they are almost always supernaturally based. Some works of fantasy include shapeshifters, as either talented individuals or as a separate race, who can mimic any person.

In some myths, the doppelgänger is a version of the Ankou, a personification of death; in a tradition of the Talmud, to meet oneself means to meet God.

Another variant, usually seen in science fiction, involves clones, which creates a genetically identical new being without the memories and experiences of the original. Some futuristic variants in fiction duplicate living beings in their entirety, albeit sometimes with modified memories and motives. Doubles are also seen in fiction involving time travel and parallel universes, as in the motion picture Back to the Future Part II. In this case, the doppelgänger really is the doubled person, but from a different point in time along the same timeline. In the TV series The Vampire Diaries Elena Gilbert is a doppelgänger of her ancestor Katherine Pierce (Katerina Petrova). And in the feature film, Black Swan, Natalie Portman's character experiences crossing paths with her doppelgänger several times, as well as confusing a similar looking girl with her doppelgänger throughout the film.

See also

In fiction


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Doppelgänger" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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