English 40 - Winter, 2023

Introductory Topics in Literature

Topic: Literary Doubles: Twins, Doppelgängers, and Shadow Selves in Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Burgess, Alexandra
CRN: 23304
Time: MWF 2:10-3:00pm
Location: 1116 Hart Hall


In 2019, Jordan Peele’s horror film, Us, portrayed the gruesome war between a nation of unsuspecting Americans and their evil doppelgängers. In a 2019 interview with The Guardian, Peele stated the movie is based on the idea that “[w]e are our own worst enemy; not just as individuals but more importantly as a group, as a family, as a society, as a country, as a world.” Jordan Peele’s take on the way bodily doubles represent the darkest parts of ourselves (both individually and collectively) is the inspiration for this course. We will think through the ways twins, doppelgängers, impersonators, and other manifestations of look-alikes appear across a range of American literature and pop culture. How has the literary trope of the double been used to index a range of psycho-social experiences since the nineteenth century? To address this question, we will examine the double’s relationship to psychology and secrecy in Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic stories and consider how themes about miscegenation and racial passing were frequently represented by twins, long-lost siblings, and impersonators in works by a range of nineteenth-century fiction writers.