Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350
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...
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- Critical Essays
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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 859
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 household, and a good and energetic mother figure to Emily.
Jones is a violent, treacherous, implacable enemy to Caleb. He is a criminal by nature, but he will betray his fellow thieves to the law if the pay is tolerable. He is particularly suited to carry out Falkland's revenge on Caleb, showing contempt for any other individual's dignity. He survives and prospers throughout the course of the novel.
Count Malvese is the lover of Lucretia Pisani. Malvese and Falkland are involved in an argument involving Lucretia, and Count Malvese is persuaded by Falkland's rational discussion to avoid bloodshed.
Mrs. Marney is an elderly pensioner who is a neighbor of Caleb's when he is living disguised as a Jew in London. She is eventually arrested as an accomplice to an escaped felon and does jail time before being acquitted of any crime.
Emily Melvile is the cousin of Tyrrel, who is her guardian. Mild, reasonable, and well liked, she is a moderating influence in Tyrrel's household. She praises the virtues of Falkland after he rescues her from a fire, thus enraging Tyrrel. Tyrrel then plots to marry her off to Grimes, and he attempts to force her to do so by having Grimes kidnap and rape her. Her escape and Tyrrel's subsequent lawsuit against her lead to her death and Tyrrel's expulsion from the local Assembly on grounds of cruelty.
Lady Lucretia Pisani
Lucretia is the lover of Count Malvese. Falkland's youthful indiscretion leads to a dispute involving her and Count Malvese.
Mr. Raymond is the captain of a gang of thieves who rescues Caleb after his escape from prison and assault by Jones, one of the gang members. Raymond has a philosophical bent and justifies the life of outlawry on the grounds that all society is constituted by theft.
Mr. Spurrel is a cold, calculating man who contracts out to Caleb some work with watches. He helps Caleb during part of his stay in London because Caleb's disguise conjures images of Spurrel's deceased son. However, since his great love is for money, he betrays Caleb to Jones for a reward.
Thomas is Falkland's groom who delivers a letter to the fugitive Caleb and then feels remorse at Caleb's treatment in prison. He smuggles tools to Caleb who then escapes a second time.
Tyrrel is a local aristocratic landowner with the same level of wealth as Falkland. Overindulged and lacking any restraints on his appetites, Tyrrel becomes a bully, a boor, and lets no one stand in the way of accomplishing his wants. His cruelty to his cousin, Emily, causing her disgrace and death, forces the local Assembly to expel him as a member. His insult to Falkland, who champions Tyrrel's expulsion, leads to his murder.
The eponymous hero of the novel and its chief protagonist, Caleb enters the action as an adolescent and comes of age over the course of the novel. His propensity for curiosity and the independence he hopes such knowledge will give him cause Caleb much suffering as he comes to terms with "things as they are."
Wilson and Barton
Wilson and Barton are two of the thieves who propose to turn Caleb over to the authorities for the reward. Wilson's actions initiate the debate with Raymond about the obligations thieves have to one another.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1723
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 opposing realities. Thus Clare comprehends the ruggedness and unfeelingness of Tyrell as an energy that must slowly evolve and awaken to its possibilities while he sees Falkland's enlightened high-minded chivalric outlook as potentially alienating and aloof to the energy embodied in one like Tyrell. As he is dying, Clare resigns himself to his fate and speaks of life as "a great series that is perpetually flowing," something mutable and dynamic. Clare's ability to remonstrate without insulting the party addressed suggests the art of his poetry—that it captures and expresses energy and shows it to the world but without what the poet John Keats would later say was an "irritable reaching for fact or reason." Thus, in a foreshadowing, Clare forewarns Falkland of the tragedy he creates through an overvaluation of his single way of seeing things.
Hawkins is an industrious tenant farmer who also owns a freehold on property left to him by his father. He thus occupies a middle level in country society neither totally dependent on his landlord, but not well off enough to do without the extra income from his labor as a tenant farmer. He thus experiences the indignities inflicted on him by the careless behavior of his overlords, but asserts his rights at the reckless exercise of their prerogatives. In an argument with Tyrrel about the future employment of his son, Leonard, Tyrrel destroys Hawkins' livelihood in the neighborhood and has Leonard arrested on trumped up charges. Hawkins conspires to free his son from jail, and the family disappears. Later, after the murder of Tyrrel, parts of the murder weapon inexplicably are found in Hawkins' possession and after strangely confessing to the murder of Tyrrel, he and his son are executed, one of the darker events depicted in the novel.
Emily is the cousin of Tyrrel, who is her guardian. She is a voice of reason in the otherwise irascible household of Tyrrel and mediates disputes between tenants and landlord while Tyrrel treats her with a grudging paternalism. She receives the attention of Falkland's kindness and entertains a deluded hope that he might be in love with her. After she is rescued by Falkland from a fire that threatens to destroy a village she happens to be visiting, her praise of Falkland alienates Tyrrel, and Emily bears the full force of Tyrrel's anger. He arranges a marriage between Emily and Grimes. She is reluctant, due to the vast gulf in manners and abilities between the two, and Emily is locked in her room to force her consent to this odious proposal. With few options left to her, she uneasily goes along with a proposal Grimes puts to her to help her escape. Alone in the forest, at night, with Grimes, she realizes the trap she has fallen into and cries out for help. It happens that Falkland is nearby lying in wait for robbers who visit the neighborhood, and he comes to her rescue. She is then arrested by Tyrrel on a charge of owing him money for her keep and is removed to a jail; her condition worsens, and she eventually dies from the stress on her system. Her female friends, the two sisters, Mrs. Jakeman and Mrs. Hammonds, exhibit strong characteristics and serve their charge with great care and wisdom. As a group, these women represent the evils of second class citizenship afforded women, and Godwin clearly depicts the problems of subjugating an entire class of feeling, rational beings.
A good candidate for a Quentin Tarantino movie, Jones is a violent, treacherous, implacable enemy. He is a thief by nature, but will betray his fellow thieves to the law if the pay is tolerable. He uses his experiences as a thief to better hunt his past associates down and profit from their deaths, but readily turns to murder and theft if it satisfies his requirements. He is particularly suited to carry out the will of English legal system, and it is no doubt to Godwin's creation of this unsavory character and enforcer of His Majesty's will, that Godwin was considered a threat to his country's laws and institutions. Needless to say, Jones survives and prospers throughout the course of the novel.
A benevolent but practical man, Mr. Collins is the overseer of Falkland's estates and brings Caleb Williams to Falkland's attention. He recounts much of Falkland's history to Caleb, but, then, for the major events following Caleb's breaking open of the chest and imprisonment and escape, Collins was living in the West Indies and only returns to hear of the infamy of the charges against Caleb. In one last attempt to win sympathy from people who mean something to Caleb, Caleb appeals to Collins whose words and ideas shatter Caleb's sense of himself: Collins reflects upon "things as they are" and states that problematic considerations of guilt and innocence as in the case of Caleb succeed only "in perplexing [the] understanding....not succeed in enlightening it." As Caleb's father figure, Collins fails remarkably to comfort his charge: "I consider you as a machine...you did not make yourself, you are just what circumstances irresistibly compelled you to be." Thus the reader, like Caleb, is faced with the moral reflexiveness of these words. When the world becomes an intolerable place of injustice and imbalance one may "cultivate one's garden" so to speak, in the words of Voltaire's Candide and turn away from the defining challenges of the times. Subsequent to this interview, Caleb seeks to leave England so he might simply "cultivate his garden." However, he is prevented from doing so by Jones, and thus determines to confront Falkland, changing the course of his life.
The captain of the thieves, Raymond has a philosophical bent and justifies the life of outlawry on the grounds that all society is constituted by theft, some use the law to steal while those denominated thieves, are without license. He praises the equality that exists among his band where all proceeds are divided fairly. He defends Caleb when the others wish to turn him over to the law which is offering a reward for his arrest. He stands at some remove from Caleb who sees him as a tragic figure, compelled by the merciless nature of the law to continue his trade for the rest of his life and so rejects the argument that Raymond makes.