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Moral Suppression Social Norms and the Human

Moral Suppression, Social Norms, and the Human Mind: Psychoanalysis in “Wieland” by Charles Brockden Brown

Eighteenth century American literature has yet to witness the science of psychoanalysis that Sigmund Freud had introduced in the 19th century. Psychoanalytic theory posits that people are influenced by unconscious forces, wherein an individual’s innate desires and drives are contained within. Upon the conceptualization of psychoanalytic theory, literary works and analysis have portrayed characters and events derived from Freud’s basic concept of the unconscious and repressed desires of individuals.

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One century apart, and yet, Freudian psychology is already evident in the literary work of Charles Brown, author of the novel “Wieland,” written in 1798. In the novel, readers witness the tragic story of the Wielands, a brother and a sister who confronts, unsuccessfully, the reality that they can no longer hold on to society’s norms. The commitment of murder and downfall of the Wielands towards the illogical provides an illustration of the unconscious, of repressed desires, at work in the characters of the novel. Ultimately, Brown wants his readers to contemplate the degree of understanding that society has about morality, ethics (what is right or wrong), and justice.

This paper discusses how deviation from the moral standards of the society is characterized through the character of both Clara and Theodore Wieland; only, Clara has a firmer tolerance for and hold over the standards of morality imposed on the society than Theodore, which explains why, towards the end of the novel, he succumbs to his own desire to let go of his suppressions, eventually resulting to the murder of his family. In effect, “Wieland” addresses how the moral fiber of society is weakened if the individual is not able to conform or tolerate the norms it sets for people, and it is only by expressing intolerance that morality regains its strength, and stability in society restored.

In the author’s introduction of the novel, he shares his own thoughts about the inspiration that made him create the novel. Sub-titled as “the transformation,” “Wieland” already gives the reader an idea of the main thrust of the novel — that is, it deviates from stereotyped depictions of a stable and moral society. Instead, what the readers will witness is the life of the Wielands, whose ‘transformation’ is meant to be “awaken” readers about people who subsisted instead to their individual choices. In this section, Brown states, “It is hoped that intelligent readers will not disapprove of the manner in which appearances are solved, but that the solution will be found to correspond with the known principles of human nature.”

This passage reflects Brown’s awareness of the role that the individual has in influencing and affecting the stability of society. What the novel offers is an example of a deviation in morality that should be given focus in order to create solutions to this problem. In the case of the Wielands, Brown presents the character of Clara and Theodore as examples of individuals whose psychological state is gradually shifting focus from the conscious to the unconscious, which, in the process, leads them to hear “voices,” inner desires that they were not able to suppress. Psychoanalysis is given importance in the novel, of which the author suggests, “In support of its possibility the Writer must appeal to Physicians and to men conversant with the latent springs and occasional perversions of the human mind.” This statement supports the assertion that indeed, Brown’s “Wieland” is a study of the human mind and its conflicting nature with the norms set by society.

Further illustration of this theme — that is, conflict between the human mind and norms of the society, becomes evident in the reflections of Clara upon realizing that the murder was actually committed by her brother, Theodore. She receives “enlightenment” about her own gradual slip to the “unconscious”: “…now I feared no more for myself; and the milkiness of my nature was curdled into hatred and rancour. Some one was near, and this enemy of God and man might possibly be brought to justice…” Clara represents the society, whose intolerance for the uninhibited desires of the human mind and body allowed her to survive the tragedy that her brother, Theodore, had suffered. Brown’s portrayal of Clara is meant to illustrate what happens when a society becomes enlightened by morality. Theodore becomes Clara’s anti-thesis, the individual who does not receive awakening nor transformation of the self. This is demonstrated in Chapter 25, wherein he had contrasting views with Clara about the murder he had just committed: “Poor girl! A dismal fate has set its mark upon thee. Thy life is demanded as a sacrifice. Prepare thee to die.” As the readers witness, Theodore suffers and is punished for the deed he has committed, while Clara serves as the model of the individual who is able to battle the desires of her mind and heart.

In sum, “Wieland” illustrates the role that morality plays in reinforcing norms and rules in the society. The novel serves as a reminder for the readers to have an intolerant nature towards deviance and difference, primarily because it seeks to destabilize order and security in the society, inciting fear and moral decline in the process.

Works Cited

Brown, C. (1798). “Wieland, or the Transformation.” Available at http://emotional-literacy-education.com/classic-books-online-c/welnd10.htm.

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