Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker

Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker Summary and Analysis of Chapters XIX-XXIV


Chapter XVIX

Edgar writes that "I was not governed by the soul which usually regulates my conduct," meaning that his behavior was motivated by some darker impulses (128).

After wounding one of the Indians, Edgar rushed towards the gun of the dead Indian. The unwounded enemy fired on him, and the bullet grazed his cheek, but Edgar was able to kill him with one shot after fetching the gun. He was suddenly aware of the bloody scene he was a part of, and then noticed that the farmer's daughter was in tremendous pain, having received a blow to her side.

Edgar had no solution to their problem; they were miles from civilization, and there could be other Indians anywhere. Then, he heard the voices of white men approaching, and those men appeared. One of them rushed to the girl, identifying himself as her father. As they approached him with questions, he suddenly fainted from exhaustion.

He woke in a horrid position, his head resting on one of the dead savages, with nobody else around. Though initially angry at the men for abandoning him, he then realized that his condition and his haggard appearance must have convinced them that he was dead. Although weak, Edgar knew he must find sustenance or die, so he departed.

While traveling, he saw a fifth savage, crawling like a beast to ferret out what happened to his companions. Though he insists to Mary he did not want to kill again, he felt he had no choice but to fire on the Indian. The enemy was only wounded but was in extreme pain, so Edgar decided to kill him to alleviate the man's pain. He is amazed that he was lucky enough to have seen the man before the man saw him: "such are the subtle threads on which hangs the fate of man and the universe!" (134). Before moving forward, he took the Indian's tomahawk with him.

Chapter XX

Edgar traveled a while, but felt disoriented, as though he was going in circles.

Finally, he came across a habitation of good people. There, a frontier woman fed him, and explained that some men had stopped by twice in search of a missing man. Their first visit had been three days earlier, and they had even more recently stopped to explain that the man they sought might have been near the remote cabin of Old Deb. Edgar deduced that he was the man they sought - they must have returned to the cabin and, finding his body gone, realized he was still alive.

The frontier woman's information also suggested the origin of the make-shift cabin. He relates the story of Old Deb to Mary. Old Deb, also known as Queen Mab, is an elderly and wizened Indian woman who had refused to leave her land when her other tribesmen chose to at the behest of the white men. She remains in the hoary wilderness of Norwalk with her three wolf dogs, who are fiercely loyal to her. Her chief occupation, besides cultivating food, is talking to her neighbors. They are perpetually amused by her stories, and Edgar recalls how she once visited his uncle regularly, and how she had considered him a favorite. In turn, he had been curious about and interested in her. Two years earlier, she had moved further into the wilderness; he realized he must have found her hut.

He then wondered who comprised the search party. He was confused to learn that they had first visited the frontier women three days earlier, as it suggested he had been trapped in his "subterranean prison" for two and a half days (140). Determined to return home, he asked directions of the woman, who warned him that many of the routes were perilous. Nevertheless, he departed that evening, hoping to reach his uncle's home by nightfall.

Chapter XXI

As the frontier woman warned, Edgar's way through the mountains is laborious, though it is also stunningly beautiful. The trip was taking longer than he hoped, so he began to seek shelter before darkness fell. He tried to make a hovel for himself, but the air was too cold and the ground too uncomfortable. When he failed to make a fire as well, he decided to keep traveling through the night.

He came to a mountain overlook, with no way down other than the way he came or through leaping down into the river below. He decided to jump, but before he could execute the plan, he heard the voices of savages. In the distance, seven of them passed his hiding place. When he saw one looking his way, he knew their excellent eyesight would locate him. After firing once towards them, he quickly threw himself down into the river.

When he came up to the river surface, the Indians shot at him. He dodged their bullets and swam to the far bank, at which point the voices and shooting subsided.

Chapter XXII

While pondering the extent of the hardships he had recently faced, Edgar climbed up a nearby hill, still hoping to reach Solesbury by morning. Eventually, he came across a house that seem civilized, but did not want to wake the inhabitants, knowing he looked dirty and deranged. He therefore decided to sneak into the kitchen for some food.

He was worried, however, to find the kitchen door open and an untended fire burning inside. It was clear something bad had happened, so he snuck through the house until he heard a gruff, hoarse, and cruel voice threatening "Peg" that he will cut her throat if she disturbed him. Aghast at the "wild and ruffian life" this man's voice suggested, he fled the house to hide in the barn. (151).

From outside the barn, he heard a woman and her child talking, and realized he had come across the Selby family, the patriarch of which was known to mis-treat his genteel wife. Knowing there was little he could do for this domestic situation, Edgar continued on.

However, at the edge of the meadow, he came across the corpses of a young, scalped girl and a dead savage. Naturally, he was "weary of contemplating these rueful objects" (153).

Chapter XXIII

Though his strength was nearly gone, Edgar continued onwards. At one point, he came across Bisset's man, who worked on a nearby farm. He wanted to ask about his family's fate, but could not gather the courage to ask explicitly. However, Bisset's man's information suggests that the Huntlys have indeed perished. He also learned that one female had been taken captive and then rescued; Edgar wondered if this was one of his sisters.

Now more fearful, he rushed forward, deciding to stop at Inglefield's house first in case his rescued sister might have sought protection there. On his way, he passed a mansion whose owner he knew. As there was a light gleaming in the upper window, Edgar decided to stop and ask this man for more information.

Finding the main door open, he entered, and saw signs that people had recently been there, drinking and smoking. But the house was oddly quiet, creating a "mysterious and ambiguous" contrast (157). Upstairs, he found all the doors were locked except to the room where the candle was lit. Though nobody was there, he was shocked to find the packet of Waldegrave's letters sitting on the desk. Suddenly, a man entered - it was Sarsefield.

Chapter XXIV

In a torrent of emotion, Edgar rushed into his former tutor's arms. Though initially confused by Edgar's appearance, Sarsefield eventually recognized him, and confessed his shock, since he had recently seen Edgar's dead body twice.

Sarsefield then explained that the man whom Edgar saw from the mountain overlook was he himself, not an Indian. The men only fired on him after he leapt in the river because they thought him an enemy. Though Edgar was confused how Sarsefield later learned that the man was him, he did not ask. Sarsefield continued to explain that though Mr. Huntly had died while fighting Indians, Edgar's sisters had survived and were well.

Edgar told Sarsefield his story, and then asked many questions. After expressing his deep disbelief that one man could suffer so much, Sarsefield told his own story. He had recently returned to town, worried that he had not lately heard news of Edgar. On his way into Norwalk, he passed a man whom looked like Edgar, but that man did not reply when Sarsefield called out to him. (Clearly, Edgar had been sleepwalking.) Thinking he had mistaken the man, Sarsefield continued on to Mr. Huntly's home, where the uncle told him that Edgar was asleep upstairs.

However, Edgar was not there, which confused and concerned everyone. By sharing their recent observations - of what Sarsefield had seen on the road and of the footsteps which Mr. Huntly had heard upstairs - they deduced that he was sleepwalking through the wilderness.

They gathered a party that then set out to find him. Before they could leave town, however, they learned of Indian raiding parties which had been seen in the area. They then decided to combine their goals, to search for Edgar while also seeking out the Indians. For their journey, Mr. Huntly took Edgar's personal gun, and Sarsefield borrowed one of Inglefield's. Edgar's sisters were left with the old man.


Edgar is now a full-fledged adventurer and Indian killer, far from the timid Quaker intellectual he was in the early part of the novel. He writes Mary that he is amazed at these changes in himself – “I was not governed by the soul that usually regulates my conduct. I had imbibed from the unparalleled events which had lately happened a spirit vengeful, unrelenting, and ferocious” (128). It is clear his unconscious impulses are bubbling up to the surface, manifesting themselves in acts of violence, retribution, and irrationality. The reader is easily forgiven for doubting his excessive protestations to Mary, in which he insists that he never wanted to kill. It is easy to believe that he only afterwards applies a moral sense to his actions, a sense that he seems to have lacked while in the grips of this long-form fever.

The character of Old Deb, also known as Queen Mab, is introduced in chapter XX. She represents the tragedy and reality of the experience that the Delaware Indians suffered in being banished from their land. Even when she was considered harmless, the white settlers were patronizing, thinking of her merely as a kooky neighbor. Of course, as we learn in the final chapters, she was all the time encouraging her Delaware brethren to murder these people. Her tragedy is easy to sympathize with, even if her encouragements towards murder are horrendous.

The name Queen Mab also provides some insight into these patronizing attitudes. The nickname, which Edgar gives her, refers to a Celtic warrior queen who was referenced in Shakespeare, Spenser, and Shelley, among others. In Romeo and Juliet Mercutio invokes the idea of Queen Mab, as a figure which brought dreams to sleepers and presided over childbirth. This dovetails with Brown’s themes of sleepwalking and of pregnancy; for instance, Mrs. Lorimer has a miscarriage at the end of the novel, and Mary is considered by some critics to be with Edgar’s child. The suggestion is that there is a certain shared humanity between all types of people; everyone is capable of becoming someone else. And yet, as Barnard and Shapiro note, Edgar’s choice of this nickname was a “romanticized or unrealistic view of Native Americans,” while his patronizing depiction of her “reflects the settlers’ amnesia concerning the Indians’ presence and claims on the land.” As it always is, Brown's level of sensitivity is hard to discern.

Meanwhile, Queen Mab can also be understood through the animal imagery, which Brown frequently uses to denote the 'Other' in the novel. Much as Clithero was conflated with the panther in an early chapter, Queen Mab is closely connected to her dogs, which “she governed with absolute sway,” and which were “her servants and protectors, and attended her person or guarded her threshold, agreeable to her directions” (137). Critics frequently comment on the conflation of animal and human here: her dogs are embodiments of her Delaware warriors. Barnard and Shapiro note that the novel has a “web of associations concerning animalistic violence, revenge, and resistance to domination.” Perhaps most interestingly of all is that Edgar thinks of himself as a beast during this section of the novel, suggesting that we all have the potential to become the 'Other' when our subconscious desires are unleashed.

And yet there is something naturally insensitive in the way the Indians are depersonalized into mere reflections of Edgar's darker impulses. There has been much critical writing regarding the Indians in this novel. The Indian-killing Edgar is a very different man than the earlier version of himself. As noted above, he claims he does not have bloodthirsty inclinations, but seems easily driven towards murder. Certainly, this reflects a deep-seeded hatred he developed when Indians killed his parents. And yet it is no accident that this section of the novel, in which his dark, subconscious impulses prevail, is also associated with an adventure against the Indians. Leonard Cassuto writes that “Put simply, the Indians are extensions of Edgar's troubled conscious. His view of them is colored darkly by his unresolved childhood trauma.” In support of this interpretation, consider that there are no words exchanged between Edgar and the Indians; the latter are completely mute.

Of course, Brown's intentions remain full of contradiction. For instance, Edgar expresses different opinions of the Indians at different times. At one point, he says they are “full of energy and heroism, endowed with minds strenuous and lofty” (129). Later, he says they are savages who want to “wage an endless and hopeless war,” “adepts in killing, with appetites that longed to feast upon my bowels and to quaff my heart's blood” (148). Cassuto concludes that these contradictions exemplify Edgar’s confusion, not only over his society's conflict with the Native Americans, but also over his own darker impulses. He writes, “the Indians are tabulae rasae upon which Edgar inscribes whatever meaning that satisfies his psychic needs.” There certainly isn't any ambiguity about the Indians' hostility, but it is Edgar who initiates almost all of the violence. The Indians are "acted upon in [Edgar's] own internal scheme." Their silence, Cassuto says, "makes it easier to hear the competing and conflicting voices of Edgar, that of his actions, and of the narrative in which he tries to explain them." In this way, at least, Brown seems clearly interested in the contradiction, between civilized man and his natural, animalistic instincts.

Finally, it is important to realize that the Indian plot does have a significant social undercurrent, with a sympathetic edge. Brown is exploring a history of Quaker-Indian violence along the frontier, suggesting in many ways that the Quakers have been just as complicit as the Indians were in perpetuating the violence. Their pronounced morality does not hide the fact that they initiate violence; in some ways, it only makes that violence easier to rationalize. Certainly, Brown retains the prejudices of his day, referring to Indians as savages and never quite allowing them a human portrayal, but his ideas are far more complex than simple vilification can explain. Much as Edgar himself is, Brown seems full of contradictions. Whether he was more aware of these contradictions than Edgar is remains to the reader to decide.