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What Is a Doppelganger? Definition and Examples

I am an English teacher who teaches at a state university. I also teach classes online.

Do we all have a doppelgänger or double?

Do we all have a doppelgänger or double?

Do You Have a Doppelganger?

A doppelganger can have several variations in meaning. Coming from the German for "double goer" (Websters) it is literally a double of someone else. Very often it can either be ghostly, an apparition, or an evil twin.

Doppelgangers are used commonly in literature, movies, and even popular TV shows. Think about shows where one character has an evil brother, an evil twin, or even an alter ego. All these are doppelgangers.

Let's examine a few more examples from popular literature and culture.

Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In this very famous novel, the main character is both a benign and good doctor and an evil grave robber. He makes the transformation via a potion. While technically both the good and the evil are the same person, Mr. Hyde can be seen as the doppelganger of Doctor Jekyll. His good and evil sides are fighting and causing conflict within himself and wreaking havoc.

So in this way, doppelgangers don't always inhabit different bodies. They must, however, be clearly distinctive in their personalities in order to truly be a doppelganger.

"A Christmas Carol": Scrooge

The character of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol sees his ghostly past and future self via the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. At some point, the future Scrooge becomes a Doppelganger of the current Scrooge, a ghostly apparition of himself and the evil version that he has decided to renounce.

So the future Scrooge is a doppelganger of the actual Scrooge and also has apparitional qualities.

Confused yet? Let's look at some modern examples of doppelgangers.

Harry Potter and Voldemort

Even the wildly popular Harry Potter series utilized doppelgangers to help tell the story. From the first book, we begin to see the similarities between Harry and Voldemort, from the wands that they possess to their skills and habits at Hogwarts.

As the series progresses, evidence of Harry's deep connections, via the scar Voldemort gave him as a baby, emerges.

Finally, in true doppelganger style, Voldemort emerges as the true evil one and threat to Harry's existence. He is the other and the opposite of Harry's goodness and there is ultimately room in their world for only one of them. To save himself and his world, he must defeat his double.

So the theme of defeating the double also emerges when trying to understand doppelgangers---one must win. There is usually no room for a peaceful world when they are both there.

Does Jay Z have a 1939 Doppelganger?

Does Jay Z have a 1939 Doppelganger?

"Friends": Phoebe and Ursula

In the popular nineties sitcom "Friends," the character Phoebe, played by Lisa Kudrow, has an evil twin sister, Ursula (also played by Kudrow) who shows up at various times in the show to wreak havoc on Phoebe's life and reputation.

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Ursula is not only an evil twin, she is a Doppelganger of the good sister, Phoebe.

Ultimately, Ursula can't be a part of the "Friends" world and must leave in order for peace to return.

Nicholas Cage and John Travolta and Jay Z Doppelgänger

Over the years, the word doppelganger has also embraced a double that is an apparition or linked to the supernatural. It can also apply to actual, living people.

Both actors John Travolta and Nicholas Cage have been said to have Doppelgangers from history---people from the past that bear an uncanny resemblance to their current selves. Some have even claimed that the existence of their doppelgangers proves that they are vampires, time travelers, or in some way related to the supernatural.

Other mysterious photographs have recently emerged linking Jay Z to a 1939 photograph of his possible doppelganger,

Does everyone have a double? Well maybe they do, they are just not living at the same time.

See the video at the end for more great celebrity doppelganger photos from the past!

What's Fascinating About Doppelgangers?

Doppelgangers, doubles, and evil twins have been in existence since we started telling stories.

Why doppelgangers?

Doppelgangers provide balance, good and evil, and create a familiar path for a story to follow. In order to have a compelling story, you need to have some kind of villain. What better villain than one that exists as an extension of yourself?

Doubles have likely been an early way to explain the struggle between good and evil that mankind in particular has always struggled with. While each of us may not have a physical doppelganger, the struggle within us is always there. Art and literature took that idea and created a physical representation of our inner, dual personalities.

Are There "Real Life" Doppelgangers?

While our evil twin may not physically exist, there is evidence of the existence of the metaphorical doppelgangers within ourselves. Think about the old cartoon images of a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other---this is the conflict of good and evil within ourselves.

There are theories that we all also have someone, somewhere in the world that looks a lot like us. Some people have met their double (one that had no known relation) and others remind someone of someone else.

Some people bear uncanny resemblances to famous actors, politicians, or public figures. But is there a logical and easy explanation for this?

Perhaps the gene pool only has so many variations in regards to physical resemblance. Or perhaps there is something else going on!

Finding Doppelgangers in TV and Literature

To locate a doppelganger in literature or television, you need to not only look for a villain. You must also look for traits that link him or her to the hero. Are there similarities between the good guy and the bad guy? Is there a past history or action that binds them together?

Not all stories or shows have doubles, but with practice and examples, they are relatively easy to spot.

Can you think of a doppelganger in your favorite movie, TV show, or book?


Ian Spike from Cebu, Philippines on November 29, 2016:

I never considered Voldemort as Harry's Doppelganger before, but it's nice. The video is awesome, I've seen them in various websites except for Brad Pitt's.

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on June 04, 2015:

Excellent piece. Your idea is focused and well developed. My students would love to read this. It is quite creepy though.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 07, 2013:

Very thought provoking discussion. I like how you explored the use of doppelgangers in literature and the media. If I had a doppelganger he would be organized and neat, something I am definitely not. Something to think about. Interesting hub.

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