Edgar Huntly

Topics: Human nature, Violence, Thomas Hobbes Pages: 7 (2528 words) Published: May 23, 2011
“Edgar Huntly” by Charles Brockden Brown as experimental novel In the area of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, people had moral difficulties in the war against Indians, just like the settlers in early America, who killed the “savages” with no scruples. Aspects of these problems of human violence contributed to the development of the protagonist of “Edgar Huntly”, the novel by Charles Brockden Brown. The discussion in this essay will concern experiments and violent scenes in which the protagonist‘s mind is being analized and will reveal that the individual is unable to connect responsibly with human nature: Edgar Huntly replaces Lockean’s optimistic conception of the social nature of man by quite a pessimistic idea of Hobbes. Brown aim was probably to show the human mind as being capable of dealing with murder in a rational way. However, Brown’s protagonist has a moral shortcoming. Edgar Huntly does not act rationally and justly during the war between the settlers and the Indians. Thomas Hobbes’ view of human nature provides a philosophy of violence that can explain this behavior: In “Leviathan”, Hobbes describes an idea of man being a wolf to his fellows: And because the condition of Man, [...] is a condition of Warre of every one against every one; [...] it is a precept, or a generall rule of Reason, That every man, ought to endeavour peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre. There is also another idea of violence. According to Darwin’s selection thinking theory, every human organ, process, or action is to maintain superiority over other individuals: "What “selection thinking” suggests, is that the evolved motivational mechanisms of all creatures, including ourselves, have been designed to expand the organism’s life in the pursuit of genetic posterity." This ensures that certain character features, the fittest ones, survive. Killing an opponent is a method to maintain in a better condition than the enemy”. Edgar Huntly wants to revenge himself on Indians for killing his parents. At first sight, the best solution for achieving personal justice in early America seems to be blood revenge. In “Edgar Huntly”, Charles Brockden Brown‘s experiments might seem to have several possible solutions. Considering evolutionary psychology, however, the only solution in every experiment is the death of the opponent. At the beginning of the novel, Huntly has a liberal attitude, but he has a few doubts. The development of the novel and the shift of attitude are governed by a key question: should one attack ones enemy?: "Was it proper to [...] rush upon him and extort from him, by violence or menaces, any explanation of the scene"? Huntly asks this question for the first time when he suspects Clithero of having murdered Waldegrave. At the beginning of the novel, Huntly’s attitude in regard to the question is mainly determined by Lockean ideas, which were believed to be true in America in the 18th century. John Locke was sure that man is social and rational by nature. That is why his view is considered to be more optimistic than the one of Thomas Hobbes. As long as Huntly does not directly confront with his enemies, he believes in acting rational, social, and free. He is sure of his opinions and moral attitude towards violence against any human being: "What does vengeance desire but to inflict misery"? He tries to understand Clithero‘s motive for trying to kill the woman that he is in love with. Clithero‘s "conduct was dictated by a motive allied to virtue"- he concludes. However, this feeling of liberal justice is overshadowed by doubts. Huntly feels that "to forbear inquiry or withhold punishment was to violate my duty to my God and to mankind" and he even cries for "eternal revenge" for the murder of his parents. But his doubts do not last for a long time. Huntly comes back to Lockean belief just before the time when the first...
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