Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Caleb Williams, a naïve, bookish, courageous, and incurably inquisitive secretary puzzled by his employer’s black moods and determined to trace them to their source. Having received Falkland’s confession, Caleb becomes Falkland’s prisoner until he escapes. Accused on a false charge of theft and jailed, he escapes, joins a thieves’ gang, leaves it, is rearrested on a theft charge, and is released when Falkland drops the charge. Relentlessly followed by Gines, Caleb finally makes a public charge of murder against Falkland who, touched by Caleb’s recital of his own miseries, confesses. The remorseful Caleb, feeling that he has saved his own good name only through contributing to Falkland’s death, resolves to live a better life.
Ferdinando Falkland, Caleb’s employer, a wealthy and highly respected squire intensely desirous of keeping his reputation. He is a considerate employer but is subject to uncharacteristic fits of distemper. Formerly a man of graceful manners and warm intelligence, he is secretly embittered by his difficulties with Tyrrel and troubled by his guilt over Tyrrel’s murder. Caleb’s nemesis until his better nature triumphs, Falkland confesses publicly and dies shortly afterward from his long inward torture.
Barnabas Tyrrel, Falkland’s enemy, a proud, jealous, combative man finally murdered by Falkland out of resentment for his cruelties.
Gines, a member of a thieves’ gang and Caleb’s enemy, responsible for his second arrest and the repeated exposure of his imprisonment.
Captain Raymond, the philosophical leader of the thieves’ gang.
Emily Melvile, Tyrrel’s cousin, saved by Falkland from death by fire and later from a forced marriage to Grimes. She finally dies as a result of Tyrrel’s continued cruelties.
Thomas, a servant of Falkland and a former neighbor of Caleb’s father. He helps Caleb escape from prison.
Collins, another of Falkland’s servants. He tells Caleb the story of Falkland’s early life.
Grimes, a clumsy, loutish tenant whom Tyrrel intends as Emily’s husband. When Grimes attempts to seduce Emily, Falkland saves her.
List of Characters
Mr. (John) Clare
A local poet and a friend of Falkland, Mr. Clare admonishes Falkland on his overvaluation of honor and reputation.
The chief administrator of Falkland's estate, Mr. Collins introduces Caleb to Falkland, who makes Caleb his secretary. It is Mr. Collins who informs Caleb of Falkland's history, but he is absent for most of the disturbing developments in Caleb's career throughout Volumes II and III. He reappears in Volume III and refuses to aid Caleb. He then dies of an illness developed during his stay in the West Indies.
Aristocratic by birth, and mainly benevolent and good, Falkland is the chief antagonist to Caleb Williams. Falkland's crime, guilt, and pursuit of Caleb change him significantly.
Mr. Forester is Falkland's elder half brother. Serving as a counterpoint to his idealistic brother, Forester is pragmatic and blunt. Convinced of Caleb's guilt, he has Caleb arrested and posts a reward for his arrest after he escapes.
Grimes is the son of a peasant and the instrument of Barnabas Tyrrel's anger toward his cousin, Emily. He assists in Tyrrel's plot to force Emily into an unwanted marriage with himself through kidnap and rape.
Originally one of the women who hopes to marry Tyrrel, Miss Hardingham gives Falkland the first dance at a ball, thus enraging Tyrrel. The ensuing confrontation between Falkland and Tyrrel threatens to break into an open altercation, and Miss Hardingham regrets her action.
Hawkins is an industrious tenant farmer who also owns a freehold on property left to him by his father. He occupies a middle level in county society, but his aspirations to rise in society are crushed by Tyrrel. He and his son are implicated in the murder of Tyrrel and are executed for the crime.
Mrs. Jakeman is a housekeeper in Barnabas Tyrrel's...
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The eponymous hero and narrator and chief protagonist, Caleb is an adolescent when we first meet him, and he comes of age over the course of his story. His propensity for curiosity and the independence he hopes such knowledge will give him, cause him much suffering as he comes to terms with "things as they are." As a figure burdened with knowledge and skilled in the physical arts, he can be compared to many heroes in literature. His descent into prison, his daring escape, fugitive status, and the way he resolves his problem, may remind the reader of other characters who confront the problems of their society and attempt to set things right. Due to the subject of the plot revolving as it does around a crime, he thus is an archetype for characters in a growing genre dealing with crime, fugitives from justice, police and detective procedural novels, and even situations reflective of modern existentialism. Although the published ending resolves Caleb's plight through the language of sentiment and identification with his oppressor and may seem implausible, the novel itself is testimony to the achievements of Godwin and his contemporaries, some of whom created the founding documents of the United States of America, in their attempts to get a grasp of "the way things are" and transform them.
Falkland is the chief antagonist to Caleb Williams. His pursuit of Caleb and his seeming omnipresence in Caleb's every thought indicate that he represents the authority of a deity. His position as best representative of "things as they are" is further evidence of allegorical significance. That Caleb questions and transgresses the limitations imposed upon him by Falkland also suggest a biblical allegory of sorts dramatized in this novel. The two endings to the novel created by Godwin also shed light on the function of Falkland. In the unpublished version, Caleb encounters the physically decrepit Falkland who is exhausted by his attempts to exercise power over Caleb. Caleb imagines a silent cold obelisk rising over his own grave, a fitting symbol of dead power annihilating individuality. In the published version, Caleb succeeds in redeeming himself and Falkland through the sufferings Caleb has endured and the active way in which he insists on truth and compassion. There is, in the published version at least, the sense that Falkland without Caleb is a kind of vengeful Old Testament deity, while with Caleb, his role is rehabilitated. The existence of both endings gives the reader an insight into the way Godwin's society grappled imaginatively with the forces of modernity and the past and forms an interesting parallel with the poets of the period, notably William Blake in "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience" (1789) and the longer poems such as "America: A Prophecy" (1793).
A local aristocratic landowner with the same level of wealth as Falkland. Tyrrel's name evokes the word "tyrant" and he fulfills his destiny completely. Over indulged by an affectionate mother who could see no fault in her darling, Tyrrel grows up without the tutelage of a father to restrict his impulses. Instead, he identifies with the grooms and stable keepers, the houndsmen and rougher men of the establishment. His physical abilities, his wealth, potency, and the lack of any restraining influences on his appetites, lead him to become a bully, a boor, and completely self satisfied with no tolerance for any challenge to his self regard. His cruelty to his cousin and ward, Emily Melvile, precipitates a series of actions that lead him finally to be expelled in disgrace from the public Assembly. In a drunken fit, he beats Falkland who then, feeling the gravity of the dishonor, murders Tyrrel, thus setting the ground for all subsequent actions in the novel.
Clare represents the positive force of the imaginative and creative, poetic and artistic temperament. Such an ability places the poet in the best situation to observe the interrelationships between seeming...
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