Chapter 5 begins with Clara discussing Pleyel’s discovery that Wieland, through the law of primogeniture, has the most valid claim to large tracts of land in Lusatia, a part of Saxony. No one but Pleyel and Wieland knew of this at the time; Pleyel diligently and passionately tried to convince Wieland that he should return to Saxony and accept this claim. His own fondness for Europe was clear, but Wieland was loath to go and told Pleyel that he did not wish for this wealth and its power. Wieland was content with his own life in Pennsylvania. Pleyel was also desirous to return to Europe because of a romantic interest.
One day Pleyel evinced much consternation because he had not received any letters from his beloved in a packet that arrived from Europe. He concluded that the woman must have lost affection for him and became even more anxious about returning. That evening the two men went for a walk to the temple while Clara, Louisa, and Catharine remained at Clara’s house. When it became very late the women began to worry and discuss reasons why the men had not yet returned. Finally the two returned, but appeared shocked when they saw Catharine and would not speak of anything that occurred.
The Wielands departed and Pleyel remained. He asked Clara what Catharine had done while they were outside, and Clara explained that they were all in the house the entire time. He then burst out with the news that his beloved was dead. Clara inquired how he knew this, and he began his explanation by first confiding in Clara the plan he had to convince Wieland to take up his claim in Saxony. He told of how the two sat and discussed this, Pleyel claiming that Catharine would assent to the plan if Wieland accepted it. Suddenly a voice – Catharine’s voice – said “No.” The men were astonished and both agreed that it could not be a “fiction of the fancy.” As they headed back toward the house, Pleyel mused aloud about returning to Europe alone, but the same voice told him that the woman he loved was dead.
At Pleyel’s pause, Clara narrated how she felt upon hearing this information. She explained that she had never been privy to beliefs in apparitions and enchantments and saw them only as the result of “ignorance and folly.” This event, however, confused her. There seemed to be proof of some intelligence of a supernatural origin. She believed that the world had some conscious beings besides humans but did not think they intervened. As she meditated on this, she concluded that the divine intervention was of a benevolent nature, and not evil. The information conveyed saved Pleyel from a useless voyage and put his mind at rest, and kept him home with his friends and family.
Clara recounted Pleyel’s depression in the days following this information. She contrasted the areas where he walked in gloom, which were places along the edge of the river that were unhealthy and unattractive, with the areas near the Wieland property, which were beautiful and a mixture of nature and skillful cultivation by Wieland. Pleyel finally received definitive information about his beloved’s death from Europe, and gradually began to return to the society of his friends. Clara relates that her brother was still dwelling on the mysterious voices.
Clara narrates that she now has to introduce a new person into the tale, but is overcome by weakness and fear. She writes that she had to pause before continuing her tale because she concluded that it is “but too certain that [he] was the author” of the horrible events that befell the Wieland family. She is clearly filled with terror, disgust, and agony at the recollection of the man.
She writes that one day she glimpsed a man walking outside, but she did not know his identity. From afar she concluded that he was uneducated due to his gait, clothing, and the way he carried himself, but she could not see his face. Once he disappeared she forgot about him and set about performing some duty in the kitchen. She then heard a knock on the door and the conversation between her servant girl Judith and a man. The man asked for a glass of buttermilk but there was none, and eventually he asked for a cup so he might get himself some water. The effect of his voice upon Clara was astounding. She wrote that his voice was “not only mellifluent and clear, but the emphasis was so just, and the modulation so impassioned, that it seemed as if a heart of stone could not fail of being moved by it.”
Clara looked out at the man and saw that it was the same one who had been walking near her property earlier. She was incredibly surprised and could not reconcile the voice with the figure. Their eyes met, he quickly said thank you, and left. Clara then sat down to contemplate the man. She could not stop thinking of his face. He was not attractive but had astonishing eyes and an expression “inexpressively serene and potent.” He was clearly intelligent. Clara could not refrain from sketching a portrait of the man and spent nearly the entire evening thinking about him and gazing at the portrait. The next day a wild storm arose and she spent the day indoors, frequently gazing at the portrait. She believed that something within it made it special and compelling. As evening came and the storm passed, she found herself dwelling morbidly on the suspicion that something would soon happen to destroy her family’s happiness. She thought of her brother and his family in particular and also mused on the inevitability of death.
When she finally retired to bed, she slept fitfully. She heard her father’s old clock tolling twelve and began thinking of his death. Suddenly she heard a whisper next to her ear. She explained that she was never fearful of ghosts or robbers and assumed that perhaps the voice was that of her servant. She called out to the servant, Judith, but no answer came. She realized the layout of the house made it impossible that Judith could be near and not hear her. She concluded she had imagined it and tried to return to sleep. However, she soon heard the voice again and it seemed to be coming from her closet. It became clear that there were two voices and they were discussing how to murder her – shoot or suffocate.
She fled the house in terror, ran to her brother’s door, and collapsed in a faint. When she awoke she was inside the Wielands' house. She told of what happened, and Pleyel and Wieland went to her home to investigate. Judith was sleeping soundly, no possessions were disturbed, and the closet was locked. Her friends told her it was a dream but Clara believed she was awake and aware. What made the situation even stranger was that her brother heard a voice that night that told him someone was dying at his door.
Clara wrote that she no longer questioned the voices her brother heard. She was disturbed that her sanctuary was violated, and Pleyel began staying in the vacant room of her home.
Brown ratchets up the tension between science and superstition in chapters 5 and 6. Clara and Pleyel, both avowedly rational beings, hear voices that they cannot attribute to any obvious source. Clara makes it clear to the reader that she is not prone to fears of ghosts and considers such explanations of events absurd. However, almost immediately after declaring her rationality she seems to vacillate: “here were proofs of a sensible and intelligent existence, which could not be denied. Here was information obtained and imparted by means unquestionably super-human” (38). Her choice of words brook no argument - “proof,” “unquestionably” “could not be denied”. Her own experience of believing she heard murderers in her closet, of which no evidence could support, is now added to the voices heard by Pleyel and Wieland. A woman who in previous chapters claimed to have no religious education and found her religious sentiments mostly from external nature is now attributing the mysterious voices to a benevolent conscious being of supernatural persuasion.
Chapter 6 is an extremely important chapter because the character of Carwin (the reader does not yet know his name) is introduced. Clara’s narrative veers toward the sentimental and melodramatic in her response to this man, both in retrospect and at the time of their meeting. When she first heard his voice she “dropped the cloth that I held in my hand, my heart overflowed with sympathy, and my eyes with unbidden tears” (43). Later when sitting with the portrait she drew of him, her mind became “absorbed in thoughts ominous and dreary” (45).
There is a storm outside and it is a perfect symbol of the storm that rages within Clara’s mind. She alternates from thinking about Carwin to thinking of morbid things like the inevitably of death and her growing feeling that her brother and his family will become victims of some anguish. As scholar Shirley Samuels writes that Clara’s obsession with Carwin’s portrait during this storm “[points] to her participation in or even invocation of Carwin’s existence at the same time as the associations she makes with him seem importantly connected to her own desires.” The storm that is outside becomes internalized (see the analysis for chapters 7-8 for more about Clara’s obsession with Carwin). Clara’s ruminations on the death of her family act as foreshadowing for the later events of the novel, in which Wieland murders his wife and children at the behest of voices.
Carwin is a catalyst for Clara’s dreary, morbid thoughts, and, according to scholar William H. Manly, “this curious reaction, taken together with her response to the voices in the closet plotting her murder, and the warning in the recess - all the startling and inexplicable situations that make up the fabric of this tale - gradually isolate Clara from the free and healthy social intercourse of the novel's beginning, to press her toward the private hell of doubt and uncertainty which characterizes its climax.” Clara’s inability to distinguish between dreams and reality is discussed further in the analysis for chapters 7-8, but it can be easily glimpsed here as well. She has a dangerous tendency to live within her mind and possibly blurs the line between what is real and what is not.