What is a Doppelganger?

Doppelganger Definition: a character who is the double or twin of another character, represents the alter-ego of a character, or hides a secret identity

In the simplest of terms, a doppelgänger is someone’s twin, or double. Doppelgängers are sometimes used to reference celebrity lookalikes, or recent interesting news stories where people who look like twins meet on a plane. Sometimes, a doppelgänger can be the "evil twin"; it can also be representative of a double-life. Doppelgängers are intriguing because they explore the duality of human nature – the two sides of people that coexist, but sometimes clash with each other.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide Summary | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Lesson Plans

Examples of Doppelgangers in Literature

The most obvious example of a doppelgänger in literature is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Dr. Henry Jekyll is a man conflicted with his inner, darker self, and decides through a series of experiments to let that side run free in the form of Edward Hyde, a sinister creature who is barely a man, and fully evil. Eventually, Hyde becomes so strong that Dr. Jekyll is unable to control his transitions, so he poisons himself to prevent Hyde from committing any more murders in the city.

Another example of a doppelgänger can be found in Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson.” The narrator recounts his time in school where he came in contact with another student, also named William Wilson, whose identical appearance and abilities create a rivalry and a deep-seated hatred within the narrator. The only difference between the two boys is that the narrator’s doppelgänger can’t speak above a whisper. This double becomes a nightmare for the narrator, who is visited by the dark and mysterious William Wilson no matter where he goes. The doppelgänger forces the narrator to run to Italy, where he is confronted once again by the mysterious character. This time, however, in an effort to destroy him once and for all with his sword, the narrator finds himself facing a mirror, bleeding, and realizes that the doppelgänger was within himself all along.

Both stories highlight instances of the alter-ego, the psychological doubles that exist within all people’s minds. In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, however, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are physically similar, but psychologically different. Charles is successful and good, while Sydney is depressed and in despair. Sydney views Charles as what he could be if he rose to his potential, but he knows he is not capable of doing so.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the use of a doppelgänger is found in Roger Chillingworth’s hidden identity. Chillingworth is actually Hester Prynne’s long-lost husband, but on seeing his wife bring shame to his name by committing adultery, he vows to hide his identity while he seeks his revenge on the man whom Hester dared to love in Roger’s absence.

The example and template below is a useful method for teachers who want students to keep track of the differences between doppelgänger characters.

In history, doppelgängers could sometimes be seen as a foreshadowing of death, and may have served as the basis for some pretty terrifying ghost stories. Check out this list of famous historical doppelgänger sightings.

Students will be able to grasp these aspects of doppelgängers when they compare them to modern examples, such as superheroes who hide their true identities, movies such as Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind, TV shows with alternate universes like Fringe, historical stories such as Romulus and Remus, and comparisons of physical resemblances between people they may know, or between celebrities.

Example Project for Doppelgangers

Although this activity can be used for multiple grade levels, below are Common Core State Standards for Grades 9-10. Please see your Common Core State Standards for the correct grade-appropriate strands.

  • ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences

  • ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically

  • ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task

A great way to activate students’ understanding of doppelgängers is by creating their own “Evil Twin”. Using the Storyboard Creator, have students imagine that they have entered an alternate universe, and they’ve met their doppelgänger. Of course, this doppelgänger is evil. What makes them “evil”: was it an experience, bad luck, a supernatural encounter that turned them bad? How are they different from the student, physically and in their personality? How are they the same? Have students create their alter-universe evil twin in a storyboard, and have them list out the traits of their twin that makes him or her so completely opposite. Then, have students present their projects to the class to generate discussion and analysis.

Example Doppelganger Rubricänger-assignment

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