William Godwin's novel Things As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, published in 1794, explores the vast range of human relationships and institutions that fail to reconcile two states: "things as they are" and "things as they might be." The language of sentiment and feeling that Godwin employs may at first seem foreign and difficult, but the human situation this language expresses can readily be understood.
Falsely accused, framed, and mercilessly hunted and treated like a monster by society, the protagonist, Caleb Williams, is a recognizable figure to modern readers. Forced to forgo any comfortable relationship to "things as they are," Caleb is driven into a nightmare world where good and evil, legitimacy and illegitimacy are confused. To survive, he questions everything he has been raised to believe in. Caleb must resort to behavior and meet individuals that challenge the reader to test his or her own preconceptions about "things as they are." In modern terms, Caleb Williams can be seen as an antihero of an existential drama.
Though cloaked in the language of feeling and sentiment, Caleb Williams explores the mystery of human motivation. Like Falkland did before him, Caleb gazes into the heart of darkness and the abyss of human depravity. The challenge for readers is to examine what they themselves see when looking into "things as they are."