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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Gothic Outsider
The titular hero is one of Gothic literature’s iconic outsider heroes. Destined to be fight an unfair world on his own, Caleb Williams is the victim not merely of circumstance, but because of an unwisely pursued sense of curiosity. This compulsion to discover the truth results in his own persecution in which his very outsider status becomes a catalyst for an ever spiraling set of circumstances. The message, of course, is that the system is designed to protect the influential in part by engendering natural suspicion of the outsider.
The Tyranny of Class
Caleb is a hero of the working class, a Marxist revolutionary before there ever was a Marx. The novel situates the outsider status of Caleb firmly with an inequitable economic system based on class and privilege assigned by birth rather than rewarded as merit. Caleb must suffer directly as a result of the explicit tyranny of his wealthy master who assumes all the implication of that position once he gains the power to blackmail Caleb as well as employ him. Through the horrific experiences that result from this is forward the thematic these that upper class are educated to feel a sense of superiority over lower classes that justifies exploitation and entitlement.
The justice system, the aristocratic system, the monarchy, and the class system all fail Caleb. Or, in other words, every single component of the British system designed to impose security, protect the innocent, provide the means of sustenance and ensure guardianship of those necessary to maintaining the higher status of living enjoyed by others collapses under the weight of one man’s desire to expose the ugly truth about living symbol of the alleged success of this system. Godwin is staking a claim toward philosophical anarchism; when the system doesn’t work it should broke down and rebuilt. He is not advocating violent anarchism, but rather a position a theoretical assumption that progress can be made by exposing the flaws in the system and opening the lines of discourse.
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