Clara: The Unreliable Narrator

August 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a narrator is: “one who tells a story. In a work of fiction the narrator determines the story’s point of view.” If the narrator is the person that determines the story’s point of view, then what happens when the narrator is unreliable? Ariell Cacciola explains the following: “Untrustworthy narrators twist and turn throughout literature. There are myriad reasons for their lack of reliability. Some are inherently withholding, while others carry on with their lives as we follow them blindly on their wobbly journeys. And it is not necessarily the strict narration that can be ultimately untrustworthy but the narrative structure itself. The stories can be opaque and out of order, with reveals being delayed.” (Cacciola 8)Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist by Charles Brocken Brown is narrated by Clara Wieland, a girl that both witnesses and experiences traumatic experiences throughout the work. The reader depends on her understanding and perception of these experiences to comprehend what is happening to the characters in the novel, but Clara demonstrates unreliability in her narration numerous times. She shows unnatural changing in emotions, sexual attraction to disgusting characters, distress over the events, and she openly admits that the details she shares may be faulty. Clara Wieland is clearly an unreliable narrator.

One of the first moments that Clara demonstrates faulty narration is on page 22 when she explains the death of her mother. She says: “The shock which this disastrous occurrence occasioned to my mother, was the foundation of a disease which carried her, in a few months, to the grave. My brother and myself were children at this time, and were now reduced to the condition of orphans. The property which our parents left was by no means inconsiderable.” (Brown 22) Clara’s nonchalant way of speaking about the death of her loved one is rather shocking and unsettling. After telling the reader that she was but a child when her mother died, left as an orphan, she explained that the property left to her was of good worth. Rather than focusing on the pain of losing her mother, Clara focuses on the materialistic gain of the deaths of her parents. She provides details and fact rather than human emotion. The reason for this could be explained by P. Aries: “The cause of [death and grief denial] is at once apparent: the need for happiness- the moral duty and the social obligation to contribute to the collective happiness by avoiding any cause for sadness or boredom, by appearing to be always happy, even if in the depths of despair. By showing the least sign of sadness, one sins against happiness, threatens it, and society then resists losing its raison d’etre.” (Aries 94) Aries explains that to show sadness is to sin against happiness: to mourn is to limit progression. In this situation, Clara’s progression is the fact that she now owns property which is very uncommon for a girl during her time. This idea of the need for constant progression in America is supported by K. J. Gergen in The Social Constructionist Movement in Modern Psychology: “These cultural messages about grief originated because of several interlocking discursive movements in the last 150 years. The first contextual factor had to do with the shift toward a modernist society in which the emphasis is on productivity, efficiency, science, logic, and most importantly individualism”. Clara’s demonstrated need for progression also demonstrates a lack of ability to focus on the emotional side of issues rather than always maintaining efficiency. The absence of emotion concerning the death of her mother and father illuminates the fact that she has not learned the tools to cope with the events in her life, therefore there is a sense of instability in her character. Clara further exhibits this instability on page 98 after she hears a strange voice: “I cannot describe the state of my thoughts at that moment. Surprise had mastered my faculties. My frame shook, and the vital current was congealed. I was conscious only to the vehemence of my sensations. This condition could not be lasting. Like a tide, which suddenly mounts to an overwhelming height, and then gradually subsides, my confusion slowly gave place to order, and my tumults to a calm.” (Brown 98) Clara’s emotions escalate and deescalate quickly and without logical reason: it appears as though she is not in control of her emotional state. The unnatural lack of emotion spent on the death of her mother is contrasted by this passage about a sudden surge of emotional stability. The issue with this reality is that it shows the reader that the events that she shares are told by emotion, not logic. The only perspective of the story that the readers are privy to is from the perspective of an illogical narrator.

Clara’s sexual attraction to Carwin is another reason for her unreliability as narrator. This is her reaction to seeing him for the first time: “I had snatched a view of the stranger’s countenance. The impression that it made was vivid and delible. His cheeks were pallid and lank, his eyes sunken, his forehead overshadowed by coarse straggling hairs, his teeth large and irregular” (60). She then finishes her description by saying: “Every feature was wide of beauty, and the outline of his face reminded you of an inverted cone.” (61) By this description alone is it clear that Carwin is in no way attractive nor appealing. The description creates a sense of repulsion and disgust towards Carwin, and it also creates a sense of distrust of his character. However, Clara proves her unreliability as narrator when she allows her own personal feelings to alter the readers’ view of Carwin. She allows her repressed sexual desire to determine how Carwin will be portrayed. She says: “And yet his forehead, so far as shaggy locks would allow it to be seen, his eyes lustrously black, and possessing, in the midst of haggardness, a radiance inexpressibly serene and potent, and something in the rest of his features, which it would be vain to describe, but which served to betoken a mind of the highest order, were essential ingredients in the portrait. This, in the effects which immediately flowed from it, I count among the most extraordinary incidences of my life.” (61) Despite considering his face as being comparable to an inverted cone, Clara now feels a sense of attachment and attraction to Carwin. How can the readers trust a narrator that changes her mind about a character based solely on sexual attraction? Attraction is fleeting and not based on fact, therefore the perception of a character cannot be consistent with fact. By allowing her emotions and sense of attraction to characters mold her description of them, Clara is demonstrating that her view of the happenings around her are inconsistent and unreliable. Clara is an unreliable narrator because she is no longer strictly an observer: she is now focused on her own phantoms. She explains this on page 95: “Thus was I distressed by opposite conjectures: thus was I tormented by phantoms of my own creation. It was not always thus. I can ascertain the date when my mind became the victim of this imbecility; perhaps it was coeval with the inroad of a fatal passion; a passion that will never rank me in the number of its eulogists; it was alone sufficient to the extermination of my peace” (95). Clara can no longer provide a thorough explanation of what goes on around her because she now struggles with her own personal trials. On page 267 she explains a lack of interest in her life: “Surely I had reason to be weary of existence, to be impatient of every tie which held me from the grave. I experienced this impatience in its fullest extent. I was not only enamoured of death, but conceived, from the condition of my frame, that to shun it was impossible” (267). Her focus is not on the activities around her, but rather the issues she faces in her head. These issues can also affect her view of the events that are happening because she views them with a bias. This idea is proved when she speaks about her changing beliefs on page 104: “I used to suppose that certain evils could never befall a being in possession of a sound mind; that true virtue supplies us with energy which vice can never resist; that it was always in our power to obstruct, by his own death, the designs of an enemy who aim at less than our life. How was it that a sentiment like despair had now invaded me, and that I trusted to the protection of chance, or to the pity of my persecutor?” The events that are happening in Clara’s life are changing her views and beliefs: this demonstrates that she is not narrating the story with an unbiased mind. The novel is limited to her personal beliefs and understanding. Clara’s understanding of life has limitations: her life experience, her interests, and her ability to comprehend events. In her description of Carwin she showed her lacking ability to understand situations beyond her comprehension limitations: her perception of him was based solely on her attraction to him, and not on the facts that were obvious to those around her. This alone creates unreliability, but the added reality that she is affected by the mystery to the point that she changes her beliefs means that there is no consistency for the readers to follow.

Clara herself admits that her narrative will be faulty. On page 167 she explains the following: “My narrative may be invaded by inaccuracy and confusion; but if I live no longer, I will, at least, live to complete it. What but ambiguities, abruptnesses, and dark transitions, can be expected from the historian who is, at the same time, the sufferer of these disasters?” (167) First, Clara admits that she may share inaccurate details that were affected by confusion: this begs the question of how much will be inaccurate? To what extent is it even believable? Then, Clara supports the previous argument made by explaining that her explanation of events are completely biased because she was a sufferer in these events. All of the facts and details are from her memory: some facts are too painful to share, and some are completely subjective based solely on her understanding and feelings about what happened. There are some facts that she was not even privy to: for example, in a conversation with Wieland she said the following: “After a silence and a conflict which I could not interpret, he lifted his eyes to heaven” (174). Clara can only share her thoughts and the words of others: she cannot share the thoughts of those around her. The words of the other characters that she shares are still filtered by her understanding or her interpretation of what they are saying. Another example of this comes from when Wieland was explaining one of his supernatural experiences: “I opened my eyes and found all about my luminous and glowing. It was the element of heaven that flowed around. Nothing but a fiery stream was at first visible; but, anon, a shrill voice from behind called upon me to attend. I turned: it is forbidden to describe what I saw” (190). Clara is only privy to certain details of the story, but not to the ones most important. How can she be a reliable narrator if she only has certain parts of the story but not others?

Finally, she admits that her human nature causes her to not be a reliable narrator: “Such is man. Time will obliterate the deepest impressions.” (267) This entire story is written from her memory: every detail and circumstance comes from her remembrance, and can only be as accurate as her memory is accurate. She has admitted that her details may be inaccurate and that they are based on her perception and memory: Clara is not a reliable narrator.

Clara demonstrates several times throughout this work that she is an unreliable narrator. Her narrative is dictated by her ever changing emotions which forces inconsistency into her explanations of the story. Her attraction to Carwin forces the reader to view this gaunt, dark, and sickly man as appealing and attractive. She proves multiple times that she is not an unbiased observer, but that she is overcome with the phantoms in her own head. Lastly, Clara admits herself as having an inaccurate and confused narrative. The facts all demonstrate that Clara Wieland is an unreliable narrator.

Works Cited

Aries, P. (1974). Western attitudes towards death: From the middle ages to the present. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. New York: Penguin, 1991. Print. Cacciola, Ariell. “Untrustworthy Narrators.” World Literature Today, vol. 90, no. 1, 2016, p. 8 Gergen, K. J. (1992). The social constructionist movement in modern psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association “Narrator.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 2016-11-19. https://www.britannica.com/art/narrator

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Development of Mystery in Wieland

March 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

Lonely mansions, ghostly apparitions, and magic are some of the elements that create the atmosphere in Gothic stories. In his novel Wieland, Charles Brockden Brown uses most of these to create an aura of mystery and suspense. Brown once said that the Gothic novel was a literary form that could “engage, and transport, and chain down the attention, and sway the passions of the spectator or reader” (qtd. In Voloshin 344). In Wieland, Brown accomplishes this feat by using mystery as a literary technique to thrill the reader and develop the plot of the novel. Brown sets up mystery as an omnipresent force through the use of characterization, supernaturalism, narration, and structure. Brown establishes Clara Wieland as the first-person narrator of the novel, thus her knowledge of the action and the thoughts of other characters is limited to her own experience. Brown focuses consistently on the sensation of Clara, emphasizing her perceptions and feelings (Voloshin 344). It is through her senses and thoughts that the audience is submerged into the novel and storyline. If Brown had chosen an omnipresent narrator the sense of mystery would be lost, since in this type of narration the narrator is usually aware of more information. By Brown choosing Clara as the narrator he purposely limits the audience’s viewpoint and knowledge. Just as Clara is unaware of how the story will develop until something happens, so is the audience held in suspense. Brown did not randomly select the narration style and the novel’s structure, he selected these characteristics with the purpose of developing the element of mystery. Brown wrote the novel in the form of epistolarity, a literary form that involves using letters. In Wieland the end of every letter represents the end of a chapter. The author takes advantage of this literary form by putting important details he wants to emphasize at the end of certain letters. Be doing this Brown is able to foreshadow and point out certain details to the reader. Furthermore, Brown creates a sense of suspense by leaving some questions unanswered until the beginning of the next letter. Such is the case at the end of chapter 15, when Clara finds Wieland’s home empty; here Brown leaves the audience wondering what happened to the family. Brown further creates a sense of mystery and suspense at the end of this chapter, by creating anticipation about the mysterious meeting that is to take place between Clara and Carwin. The end of this chapter/letter is just an example of the numerous times Brown leaves the audience in wonder and wanting to keep on reading. Clara is not only important to the novel as the narrator, but Brown also selects her to be the heroine of the story. Brown creates the characters of Clara and Carwin to further develop the sense of mystery through characterization. Even though Clara is one of the main characters, the readers do not learn her name until several pages into the novel. Likewise Brown limits the audience’s personal knowledge of Clara until about the third chapter. Previous to this point the main focus is on Clara’s father and his death, limiting the reader’s personal knowledge of Clara and her current life. The novel reaches its zenith of mystery through the characterization of Carwin. From the moment he is introduced there is an eerie atmosphere surrounding him. When Clara begins the chapter that will introduce the reader’s to Carwin, she states that she has “now come to the mention of a person with whose name the most turbulent sensations are connected” (Brown 45). Yet the readers are unaware of why these “sensation” are connected with Carwin until almost the end of the novel. When Carwin is introduced to the readers he is described as a “clown” in rags with an awkward walk, whom Clara happens to see strolling by her house. Just as Carwin mysteriously appears he suddenly and mysteriously disappears, until the chapter where he is reintroduced by Pleyel as an acquaintance he met in Europe. Rather than clear up the confusion, Pleyel’s description of Carwin adds to the sense of mystery surrounding this particular character. The scarce knowledge available concerning him is not helpful, but rather deceiving. The main source of Carwin’s mystery arises from the fact that he vehemently refuses to talk about his past: “of his own history, previous to his transformation into a Spaniard, he was invariably silent” (Brown 63). From his observations Pleyel mistakes him for an Englishmen, but that is all the characters and readers learn about Carwin. Carwin might be a mystery, but he is an influential force when it comes to plot development and the intensifying sense of mystery. At the end of the novel Carwin will be revealed as the source of the mysterious voices that make the characters question their senses. The “disembodied voices” that the characters hear do not fit into the order of nature of the novel, therefore they must be explained at some point (Voloshin 345). Towards the end of the novel, the voices are explained as Carwin’s use of his talent as a ventriloquist, but for the majority of the story the “voices” are the foremost source of mystery and supernatural activity. Nevertheless it is important to note that the “voices” are not the first or only supernatural incident to occur in the novel. Within the first few chapters of the novel Wieland and Clara’s father suffers from an unexplainable accident – his clothes suddenly catch on fire without any reason for combustion. Through the history of the Wieland family Brown introduces a series of supernatural incidents. In regard to the voices the blurring of reality and the confusion of the senses create the sense of mystery within the novel. The voices influence the actions of two important characters, Pleyel and Wieland. By far the worst effects are those experienced by Wieland, whose belief in the voices alter his perception to the point of destruction. Through the character of Wieland, Brown uses Gothic conventions to explore psychological themes (Rosenthal). When Wieland first hears the mysterious voices, different characters have different explanations for what he heard. The mystery is in the rise as Clara wonders whether the voices are an element of the supernatural or if Wieland is the victim of delusions of the senses (Voloshin 346). Just as she is unsure, so are the readers perplexed by this new mystery. The mystery grows when Clara also hears voices plotting to kill her. The voices turn her house, in particularly her closet, into a place of mystery and dread. Who are the voices in Clara’s closets and why do they want to kill her? For a long time this question agonizes not only Clara, but also the readers. Them the voices are heard by a third character, Pleyel. He hears Carwin faking a romantic meeting between him and Clara during which Clara supposedly declares her love for him. This deeply affects Pleyel to the point where he wants nothing to do with Clara, viewing her as a disgraceful individual.The voices that Carwin fakes create all the mystery and conflicts between the characters of the novel. However, for the majority of the novel both the readers and Clara are unaware of his responsibility as the source of trouble. The mystery does not end once we learn that Carwin is accountable for the voices. On the contrary more questions are raised as the reason for Carwin’s behavior are not explained. Is he in love with Clara? Why does is he want to destroy the Wieland family? Where does he really come from and why is he in their town? Most of these questions are eventually answered as Carwin confesses his intents and guilt to Clara. Yet, just as some of these mysteries are solved a new one is created, the murder of Catherine and her children. To Clara’s dismay, she soon learns that Wieland was the murderer, but that does not answer the question of why he did it. Did he really hear the voice of God or has he gone mad? In the end the answer seems to be a combination of both, for once Wieland is convinced he can hear voices his psychological state becomes unstable. Even by the end of the novel, Wieland’s actions and thoughts remain a major mystery to Clara since she never fully understands what occurred to her brother.In Wieland, the atmosphere of mystery is a by-product of the confusion between reality and the supernatural elements that fill the pages of this novel. All events that appeared to be supernatural or irrational are at the end of the text explained rationally, but the read has nonetheless enjoyed a novel full of skillfully rendered mystery.BIBLIOGRAPHYBrown, Charles Brockden. Wieland, or the Transformation. Oxford University Press. Oxford, England. 1994. Longueil, Alfred. The Word “Gothic” in Eighteenth Century Criticism. Modern Language Notes, Vol. 38, No. 8. (Dec., 1923), pp. 453-460. Rosenthal, Bernard. Charles Brockden Brown. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 37: American Writers of the Early Republic. The Gale Group, 1985. Pp. 69-81.Voloshin, Beverly. Wieland: “Accounting for Appearances.” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 3. September 1986. Pgs. 341-357

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Consider the Source

March 5, 2019 by Essay Writer

As the narrator of Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, Clara is unreliable. The fantastic events she recounts are unbelievable and unexplained, leading readers to question the validity of her tale. For example, she introduces the theory of empiricism, which claims that all humans are born with a blank slate, completely dependent upon their senses for the knowledge they attain. However, Clara reveals the altered state of her own senses, leading readers to doubt her credibility as a narrator. Through this theory, Clara is exposed as an untrustworthy source for the novel, indicating that the events that she narrates are false. Clara introduces the theory of empiricism early in the story. She states, “the will is the tool of the understanding, which must fashion its conclusions on the notices of sense” (39). Thus, human beings are born with a blank slate, and all knowledge attained since birth is gained through their senses. However, she admits that “if the senses be depraved, it is impossible to calculate the evils that may flow from the consequent deductions of the understanding” (39). Through this theory we can infer that, if Clara’s senses have been impaired through her emotional trauma, then her understanding of her surroundings have been impaired as a result. However, what if one’s senses have been depraved by madness? Clara’s own senses have been altered due to her emotional trauma, impairing her mental status. Therefore, her ability to understand the events occurring around her have been impaired, and she, as a narrator, is proven unreliable.Clara’s state of mind has been impaired by her emotional trauma and condition, making her an unreliable witness to the events she describes. She admits that nothing “but ambiguities, abruptnesses, and dark transitions can be expected from the historian who is, at the same time, the sufferer of these disasters” (167). Clara acknowledges that in her present state of mind, she is not to be fully trusted, and her account of the past events is prone to mistakes and uncertainty. She claims that, as one who has endured and suffered through tragic events, her ability to relate all of these tragic events may not be completely accurate. Meanwhile, she is struggling to complete her letter of the events that had transpired, but declares that she “will persist to the end”, at least living long enough to finish telling her story (167). However, as she rushes to complete recounting her narrative, she says that, in her hurried state, the history she has recorded may be at risk of mistakes. Her tone in this passage is frantic and harried-the voice of desperation. She fears that she may be killed at any moment. This desperation exposes her present mental status, belying her credibility as a narrator, as she herself admits to the “inaccuracy and confusion” that litter her entire narrative (167).Due to the mental trauma and emotional turmoil that has impaired Clara’s rationality, her narrative is filled with numerous faults, leading readers to doubt the legitimacy of the rest of her account. When giving the “imperfect account” of her father’s death, she concludes it as “the sum of the information which [he] chose to give”, implying that there is yet information concerning his death that is unspoken or unknown (20). When reflecting upon the same incident, she offers two explanations as to the cause of her father’s demise-divine interference or a medical irregularity of the heart (21). However, she leaves the conclusion open-ended, indicating that she is unsure of the cause as well. Upon her account of Carwin’s introduction, she states that her “fancy had conjured up a very different image” from his true appearance (60). When only hearing his voice, Clara imagines a far different vision of Carwin, expecting someone “worthy to accompany such elocution” (60). The vast difference in the image she had drawn from her expectation and the truth suggests that the rest of her narrative may be subject to her “fancy” as well. She later comments that “ideas exist in our minds that can be accounted for by no established laws” (100), signifying that her “ideas” and “fancies” are not subject to rationality or reason, but rather to her senses and mental status. Those being impaired further establishes that her narrative is untrue. Clara’s emotional and mental state is erratic and confirms her as an untrustworthy source for the events that occurred in Wieland. Due to the trauma she has suffered as well as her emotional state when writing this piece, her understanding of reality at the time was tenuous, at best, and so her narrative is not to be fully trusted. She declares that the senses control one’s perception and understanding. Yet in her admittance of not being of sound mind and sense, Clara invalidates her ability to perceive the events around her, making her an unreliable source as narrator. Of course, if her account is not to be trusted, one can doubt the validity of the entire narrative.

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