Caleb Williams And Robinson Crusoe Essay, Research Paper
The Progression of the Eighteenth Century Novel Shows How Society Takes Over the Role of God
The progression of the Eighteenth Century novel charts the transformation of the role of God into the role of society. In Daniel Defoe?s early Eighteenth Century novel, Robinson Crusoe, God makes the laws, gives out the punishments, and creates the terror. By the end of the century, the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror announce to the world that society is taking over the role of God and now people will make laws, give out punishments, and incite terror.
Early Eighteenth Century novel, Robinson Crusoe, shows the development of a new self, one conflicted with the idea of both relying on God?s Providence while also realizing their own power to make things happen. The novel shows the development of Homo Economico, the economic man. With the voyages to the new colonies, many lower and middle class men prove able to create their own fortunes overnight. The concept of the Great Chain of Being becomes lost when members of the lower classes become wealthier than many of the upper class aristocrats. Now many men from the lower classes buy land and/or titles. When lower class members become landowners, the idea of Divine Right to rule over the land no longer proves valid.
Defoe illustrates society?s changes through Crusoe, who battles with the notion of God?s Providence. At certain moments he thanks God for His Providence, but then later conceives that actually God did not cause the miracle but he did. For example, when the English barley sprung up from the ground on Crusoe?s remote desert island with improper climate for growing corn, Crusoe thought ?these the pure Production of Providence? and ?this touch?d [his] Heart a little, and brought tears to [his] Eyes and he began to bless? (58) God. He believed so fervently that the sprouting of the corn was an act of God that he walked all over the island ?peering into every Corner, and under every Rock, to see for more of it? (58). However, once he realizes that he ?had shook a Bag of Chickens Meat out in that Place? he says, ?the Wonder began to cease; And I must confess, my religious Thankfulness to God?s Providence began to abate? (58). Throughout the novel, Crusoe vacillates between trusting in God?s Providence and relying on himself for his subsistence.
While the early Eighteenth century novel shows a man losing faith in God and beginning to rely more on the ability of human actions, William Godwin?s late Eighteenth Century novel, Caleb Williams, shows a society that replaces God with society. The aristocrats now play the role of God. Mr. Tyrrel inflicts terror when he announces to Mr. Hawkins, ?I made you what you are; and if I please, can make you more miserable than you were when I found you? (73). The aristocrats take over the role that God once played. Before, if crops flourished or declines, farmers believed that their crops production represented the will of God. Mr. Tyrrel now takes over the role of God, when he declares to Mr. Hawkins that he can make Mr. Hawkins? life good or miserable. Mr. Tyrrel proves he is a man of his word when Mr. Hawkins does not obey Mr. Tyrrel?s request by ruining Hawkins? crops and livestock.
In Robinson Crusoe when a tragedy or a ?notice of Danger? occurs, Crusoe believes ?such Hints and Notices are certain Discoveries of an invisible World and a Converse of Spirits, we cannot doubt? (180-181). Caleb Williams, on the other hand, shows that man creates tragedy and notices of danger.
Later in Godwin?s novel, the trial scene shows another example of men playing the role of God. The aristocrats sit in court and both make the laws and pronounce judgments on others. The role of lawmaker and judge once belonged to God, but as Caleb William shows, these positions now belong to the aristocrats.
Godwin sees the transformation from God to society thus causing him to write the novel Caleb Williams so that he may ?expose the evils which arise out of the present system of civilised (sic) society, to disengage the minds of men from presupposition, and launch them upon the sea of moral and political enquiry? (xi). Godwin sees no reason as to why either God or the aristocrats should behave as a tyrant, and he uses Caleb Williams as a voice to support his beliefs in French Revolutionary ideas.
As the history of the Eighteenth Century novel progresses, it reflects the secular movement occurring in British society. As the world becomes more secularized, so do novels. Primarily, novels held the purpose of giving moral instruction, but as Caleb William shows, by the end of the century, the purpose of the novel changes. Godwin turns the novel into a means for making political statements accessible to the lower classes and eliminates all aspect of religious instruction. From Defoe to Godwin, the novel, in both its purpose and content, show dramatic change in a short amount of time.