The Phenomenon Of Doppelganger And Types Of Doubles In Literature


The article is devoted to the study of doppelganger phenomenon and revealing the types of doubles in literature. The theoretical basis of the study is constructed on the assumption that the forms of interpreting the world are changeable and conditional. Archaic forms of interpreting the world are mythological in nature. They gave rise to the idea of configuration of positive and negative characteristics in depicting a fiction character. The romantic and postmodern periods abound in fiction writings with double characters. The literary analysis of fiction prose of this period gives opportunity to make conclusions concerning the phenomenon of Doppelganger and describe the types of doubles in literature. We argue that a double character is a significant element of the fiction writing. Early fiction writings were connected with twin myths revealing the balance of forces in the universe. The forms of duplicity vibrate between dividing and unifying. The main revealed types of doubles are doubles - antagonists, carnival pairs and twins. This study makes a significant contribution to the general theory of Literature.

Keywords: Doublingdoppelgangerliteratureculturereligion


There is a considerable amount of literature devoted to a problem of duplicity (Kozlova, 1999; Bolshakov, 2001; Grudkina, 2004; Sineva, 2004; Karupchanov, 2005; Mikhaleva, 2006; Komova, 2013). Though there are many terms for this problem, like duality, ambivalence, ambiguity, ambivalence, dichotomy, bifurcation, the study sticks to a Doppelganger term to highlight the literary approach to the problem.

To begin with, it’s essential to mention that the belief in the existence of the mysterious twins of humans and animals has concerned humanity for a long time. The image of the double usually assumes the duality of the forming elements, the dynamic balance of opposing forces and the harmonious symmetry (Ivanov, 2008). The concept of "duality" is wide enough and used in many fields of science and art, particularly in linguistics, physics, psychiatry, cultural studies and Comparative Literature. Each science uses it in a special, only its characteristic meaning and understanding. There are mythological, philosophical, psychological and social roots of the phenomenon of duality. We believe that this problem contains issues that require consideration and analysis from the point of view of literary criticism.

Problem Statement

The phenomenon of Doppelganger takes a special place in literature. It is expressed through the categories of duality. The doppelganger phenomenon begins to assert itself most clearly in the romantic and postmodern periods (19th-20th centuries) (Larrissy, 1999).

From the literary history point of view, the phenomenon traces its roots back to the age of ancient mythological systems (Lotman, 2004). It is closely connected with the dual structure of ancient societies, as well as with the widespread myths about the twins. The doppelganger phenomenon reveals itself essentially opposite in the world literature: firstly, as a soul twin, guardian and protector, and secondly, completely opposite, the protagonist, the embodiment of evil and a sign of impending disaster. The opposition and contrast of the main characters in literature may be observed in absolutely different spheres: psychological, moral, social, age or metaphysical.

In a broader sense the doppelganger phenomenon is the archetype of culture and structure of the artistic language where the human image is adjusted by one of the historical variants of binary (dual) model of the world. This phenomenon is realized in the narrative and reveals itself not only on the level of the plot in the form of a certain system “doubles – characters”, but also on the level of genre, forming a unique "minimal" model of society – “one – the other”, capturing both the similarities and differences. The researchers consider the doppelganger phenomenon in connection with the characters system. Duality in literature is an important element of poetics. It is an ancient universal model of artistic research of human's place in the society, which is based on the binarity as a fundamental principle of designing the world by the person’s consciousness.

From an aesthetic point of view, duality realizes itself in the deep inconsistency, the contradiction of the ideal and the reality (Fuko, 1994). The psychological basis of duality is realized in literature by the presence of mental disorder and mental illness of the protagonist, which represents in language in the stative form of linguistic cognition (Pavlova, 2018). The social manifestation of the phenomenon of duality in literature is the statement of the eternal problem of loneliness, isolation and alienation from each other. A person feels a state not only of discord with himself and his soul but also with the external environment. Thus, the phenomenon of duality is associated not only with categories of discord, separation and dualism. The highest goal for an individual is to overcome duality, to acquire a single integrity (Meletinskiy, 2001).

Research Questions

Among the main research question are the following:

  • How can the notion of ‘Doppelganger’ or ‘Duality’ be defined within the framework of literary criticism?

  • What are the main criteria for constructing the typology of doubles?

  • What is the set of fiction mechanisms used to present the phenomenon of doppelganger in literature?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is revealing the peculiarities of realizing the phenomenon of doppelganger in literature.

Research Methods

The theoretical analysis of scientific literature on the problem of defining the phenomenon of doppelganger is in the base of the research. The method of literary analysis gives opportunity to construct the typology of doubles and find out fiction mechanisms used to present the phenomenon of doppelganger in literature.


The results of our analysis give us opportunity to agree with Agranovich and Samorukova (2001), who identifie three types of doubles, which differ in terms of origin (genesis), the model of representing society, the relationship of double characters with each other, the structure of plot development and genre models in which this or that type of dualism is predominantly embodied.

The three highlighted types of doubles are as follows

doubles - antagonists;

carnival pairs;

twins (the "Russian type").

Double - antagonist is the most common and most obvious type of duality. The relations connecting the antagonists are confrontation and competition. The structure in which they are implemented is a model of contrasting society. Doubles - antagonists exist throughout the history of verbal art from the mythological archaic to our days, but there are periods of their special actualization and genres in which this structure is rather common. In particular, antagonists are quite common in moralistic genres, which are trying to comprehend different social types. In this regard, doubles - antagonists include such textbook pairs as Onegin and Lensky, Oblomov and Stolz.

The stories about carnival pairs go back to the European carnival consciousness and very often have a game character. The carnival pair models the unity, the victory of freedom and fullness of life over medieval asceticism and the semi-official culture of the total regulation of human existence.

Duality that structured according to the principle of the carnival pair is actualized in the literature of the epoch of turning points. Doubles do not oppose each other, but complement, realize the idea of the unity. Carnival pairs always balance on the verge of worlds. From the point of view of social characteristics, carnival pair agents are very often marginalized. The public role of each of them is ambivalent. Otherwise, they are kings - jesters, masters – servants.

Unlike antagonistic doubles which have common roots, carnival pair characters are never in close relationships, so they always have different social status, different origins. From the other hand, the members of the carnival pairs always unite the special space in which they exist and beyond which they are simply inconceivable. The presence of a special space, as if delimited from the rest of the world, is the most important structural feature of the carnival pair as a special type of duality. If such a space collapses, the carnival pair also disappears.

The selection of the third type of duality seems the most difficult. The fact is that this type is rarely found in the literature in the so-called "pure" form and more often acts latently. Nevertheless, the type of "twins", the most important characteristic of which is the functional identity of characters with their mandatory belonging to one world, is quite common, especially in Russian literature (Agranovich & Samorukova, 2001, p. 135).

Like other types of twins, the twin pair has a mythological origin. Meletinskiy (2001) writes about the class of stories in which twins, most often brothers, perform the function of ancestors and cultural heroes. Twins may be antagonists but may embody different origins (e.g. the Moon and the Sun) (Meletinskiy, 2001).

Unlike the other two types of duality, the twin model often remains hidden. The characters exist as a pair of conflicting, but in the course of the plot always reveal the imaginary conflict and the identity of the characters. Almost all the examples of the twin type that have been identified belong to Russian literature. Doubles become not so much an embodiment of the individual, but a socially-typical one. In fact, their existence in the text is interpreted as a symptom of the general ill-being in the world (Eliade, 2017).


Thus, the mythological basis of doppelganger phenomenon usually manifests itself in such literary features as the mystical nature of the narrative and the indispensable connection of the characters with the other world, tragic pathos of the existence of the hero who has a double, the actualization of initiation theme, the motive of spiritual rebirth or the frequent use of the image of a mirror or any other object with a reflecting surface as a sign of some mystical connection with its counterpart. The philosophical basis of binarism is reflected in the literary phenomenon of duality as so-called "binary models": good - evil, health - disease, genius - mediocrity, etc. After studying and comparing three types of twins in the literature, we can conclude that pure forms of duality in real art practice are relatively rare. Any work is a cultural dialogue with the preceding, and subsequent culture.


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20 April 2020

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Discourse analysis, translation, linguistics, interpretation, cognition, cognitive psychology

Cite this article as:

Ena, E. V., & Temkina, V. L. (2020). The Phenomenon Of Doppelganger And Types Of Doubles In Literature. In & A. Pavlova (Ed.), Philological Readings, vol 83. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 694-698). European Publisher.