2. “In me didst thou exist—and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.”
In “William Wilson,” the rivalrous double William Wilson utters these final words to the narrator, the man who has just stabbed him. This quotation, spoken with reference to an image in a mirror, points to the indistinguishability between the victim, William Wilson, and the narrator, William Wilson. The speaker uses the image of the mirror to represent his own death, but the mirror eerily reflects the image of the narrator, not the speaker. The quotation highlights the inseparability of the self and the rivalrous double, for the murder of the rival also produces the suicide of the self. The second William Wilson constitutes the narrator’s alter ego, the part of his own being that he has externalized in the figure of his competitor. Although the narrator believes he can use violence to curtail the power of his alter ego, he discovers that he owes his life to the person he most despises.
This quotation also points to the fine line between love and hate. The second William Wilson’s final words are not bitter or vengeful. Their compassionate insight precisely contrasts with the narrator’s act of violence that has triggered the quotation. William Wilson uses these words not only to convey his intimate knowledge about the narrator, but also to redeem the narrator from the paranoia that has taken his life. The quotation discloses the rivals’ indistinguishability so that the narrator might recognize that his own mental pathology has killed him. Whereas the narrator has construed their similarity as grounds for jealousy and violence, his rival alternatively uses their doubling to convey difficult, and potentially redemptive, knowledge to the narrator. In this way, William Wilson, until his final breath, plays right into the narrator’s jealousy by rejecting the very lust for vengeance that the narrator has been unable to escape. In the end, the narrator’s suicide proves a tragic alternative to William Wilson’s compassionate self-knowledge.