Blind Belief

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Brandon Schmidt
Blind Belief
In 1970, John Linley Frazier massacred the wealthy, upper class Santa Cruz family, very
similar to the Wieland family in Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown. The only reason John
Frazier gave the authorities for his hideous murders was that he believed that “they had been
polluting and destroying the earth” and that it was his “divine calling” to get rid of the problem.
He was later diagnosed with the mental disorder, schizophrenia, a mental illness that affects
memory along with hearing making a person unable to distinguish between reality and
imagination. This single horrifying case very closely resembles the acts that Theodore Wieland
committed. The author, Brown, does not inform the reader of the circumstances Theodore
actually goes through but leaves it up to the audience to decide what really happened to cause
him to slip into a state of insanity. Additionally in the novel, Theodore’s father and Uncle both
heard voices from the heavens or suffered from auditory hallucinations before their deaths,
indicating that the male members of the Wieland family may have suffered from hereditary
schizophrenia. Theodore Wieland received what he referred to as a divine command, either from
auditory hallucination or direct manipulation by another individual, to kill all of his family. He
followed this prompting based on his religious background of the possibility of divine
intervention in his life. If he did not suffer from schizophrenia, then society’s influence in his
beliefs drove him to commit such a horrible action and ultimately pushed him to insanity. The
same circumstance can be found today when courts are trying to determine if serial murders are
insane because they commit acts that no reasonable person would commit or perform these
actions knowing exactly what they are doing. It is unknown whether Wieland’s actions were
motivated by religious fanaticism, societal pressures, or auditory hallucinations from
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Brandon Schmidt
schizophrenia but ultimately society is left with the task of dealing with each of these states of
madness by either medical or physical containment.
Religious fanaticism is apparent in the world today through the Muslim movement in
which they do anything they are commanded to do in the name of Allah and do not think about if
their actions are lawfully or morally right. In many societies, this religious fanaticism borders
on lunacy. Theodore was a religious fanatic, heavily influenced by two faiths, Deism and
Shakers. His father was a Shaker while Theodore was a Deist. The Deism religion believes that
a greater being created everything and that there are laws that govern it but that He does not
interfere with any of his creations. They also believe that every action and object has some type
of reasoning or law that governs it. The other religion, the Shakers, believe that it is okay to
have visions and that God and heavenly beings do interfere and may manipulate mortal lives.
Theodore becomes trapped between these two religious beliefs and at first tries to explain his
vision through reason but soon falls back on his father’s Shaker belief that it is a vision from God
and he should ultimately obey. Had Theodore been an actual participant in the Shaker religion,
he would have known that they taught that evil spirits could also communicate with him by
posing to be God. Theodore becomes obsessed with killing his family and only finally realizes
the magnitude of his actions when he doubts that the source was divine.
Wieland is socially manipulated by his society and further influenced by Carwin through
his use of his biloquist abilities. Colonial America stressed the importance of support of
leadership and authority figures in every day life. Religious leaders also fit into this category
and in many cases replaced the civil leader in the community. Furthermore, Theodore’s religious
upbringing as previously stated made him susceptible to obedience to a divine voice even if it
was just a manipulation by Carwin. Theodore’s obedience to both spiritual and civil leadership
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Brandon Schmidt
drove him beyond the limits of his sanity. Manipulation by this kind of influence was seen in
Nazi Germany where many youth were brainwashed into things beyond their own moral values.
Some of the signs of someone suffering from schizophrenia are auditory hallucinations;
not recognizing what they do is right or wrong, and a belief that they are being commanded by
someone to perform these actions. In most criminal cases, those suffering from this mental
illness actually believe that they are sane and pronounce their sanity in courts of law. Usually
they are found to be sane because of their own adamant declarations even though they are clearly
suffering from a mental illness, having auditory hallucinations or other symptoms of
schizophrenia. Also, research has been conducted that leads many to believe that schizophrenia
is a hereditary mental condition passed down through male genes. Theodore Wieland exhibits
similar irrational actions to those of his male relatives, leading the reader to believe that
hereditary schizophrenia may be the cause of his wild behavior. Theodore’s father’s own mental
state was questionable because after stating his visions and he then spontaneously combusted
while in his temple. His uncle’s mental condition is also in question when he called all of his
family together and then jumped off a cliff, killing himself. Both of these actions are not actions
or situations that a sane person normally experiences but that of the seriously mental ill, those
unable to grasp reality or tell the difference between what is right or wrong.
Obviously Wieland suffered from some state of mental breakdown. Either he suffered
from schizophrenia or was driven to insanity by Carwin or his own religious fanaticism. If he
was suffering from schizophrenia he cannot be completely responsible for his actions because he
is not able to distinguish between imagination and reality. While, if he was driven to insanity, he
had control over his own actions at some time and may have still have some control over
himself. The possibilities for his reform or rehabilitation for either of these cases at the turn of
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the 1800th century were very limited. If he suffered from schizophrenia, medication was not
available at that time. If he was deceived through Carwin, his own belief and obedience to a
higher law drove him to insanity and in that mental state he was beyond reformation also. He
briefly has a period of enlightenment in which he recognizes the horrible actions he has done and
his solution was execution of himself or suicide. In those final moments of his life, the narrator,
Wieland’s sister states, “My heart was visited and rent by his pangs—Oh that thy phrenzy had
never been cured! That thy madness, with its blissful visions, would return! Or, if that must not
be, that thy scene would hasten to a close! That death would cover thee with his oblivion!”(p
263). Even his sister recognized the consequences of Wieland’s actions and the punishment both
civilly and spiritually that he would have to face in this life. At this point they both realize that
Wieland was insane to have committed these actions but upon realization of what he had done,
he saw the reality of the situation and the realized what he had done was morally wrong. All of
the mental and religious elements combined with how society viewed the mentally ill charged
with criminal acts were treated lead Theodore Wieland further into his madness and eventually
caused him to take his own life. Schizophrenia is still not fully understood today and many suffer
from this mental illness in a world of their own. If indeed, Wieland suffered from this mental
illness, then his actions were caused by his delusions. If society or Carwin manipulated him,
then he was lead to his hideous acts by his blind belief, which some would argue is insanity in
itself. In either case, Wieland’s actions reflect on societal views of the insane through their lack
of knowing what to do to help. The dilemma is still apparent today; mental illness is controlled
through containment in either a mental institution or through drug intervention. Fanaticism, on
the other hand, is not so easily remedied nor controlled.
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Brandon Schmidt
Work Citied Jan. 1, 2006. 2005
Courtroom Television Network LLC.
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