Subjectivity, Realism and Religion
The most obvious major theme in Wieland is objective reality vs. subjective perception. Over the course of the novel we see a number of mysteries and supernatural phenomena, but by the end they are all discovered to have concrete, material explanations, even slightly implausible ones like Carwin’s crazy ventriloquism talents (saying that Clara’s father’s spontaneous combustion is an obvious exception). It seems that for Brown there is an objective true reality out there – it may not be the one that we perceive but it does exist. It can, and should, be engaged with.
Theodore and his father view the world through a distorted, fanatical lens, and Brown makes no attempt to present their viewpoints as anything other than incorrect. This is interesting given that we don’t see a denouncement of religion as a concept in Wieland. Clara is explicitly religious, she’s concerned for her own chastity and she considers the fate of her soul after death. These don’t ever really seem to be treated critically – only Clara’s considering the possibility of heavenly and demonic voices is debunked by Carwin’s confession – so is Brown saying religiosity is good if you don’t take it too seriously/far?
Also interesting here is that we never really see religion enacted externally by anyone. We never see anybody praying – apart from when Clara’s father prays at his temple to his (invented?) god – nobody goes to church, nobody gives anyone religious lessons or rants until the final quarter of the book. In fact Theodore’s fanaticism comes pretty out of the blue. Everybody is personally religious but it doesn’t seem to tie them together in any real way – similar to Crevecoeur’s writings from week 1.