The Alienist by Caleb Carr- Upbringing Affects Behavior in Adulthood
[(Essay dated June 5, 2010) In the following criticism, M.C. discusses how a psychological analysis on a character’s childhood can greatly influence their actions in adulthood in Caleb Carr’s, The Alienist]

No matter how strong a person is, and how much they are able to grow and learn, a person’s past is the framework to their adulthood. This is truly the case in The Alienist; each character is the way they are because of their childhoods. The way they differ aid in creating the variety of characters that are present in the novel.

The story in this contemporary work deals with a murder case in the early 1900s. Psychologist, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and Times news reporter, John Moore, along with a few others investigate a series of horrific child murders. Through exploring the facts of the case and the crime scenes, not only does the audience unearth crucial facts about the killer’s past, but also the childhoods’ of those in charge of solving the murders.

To begin with Dr. Kreizler, the alienist himself, the novel starts off immediately with a small reference to his childhood. “He held the Times in his right hand, and his left arm, underdeveloped as a result of a childhood injury, was pulled close to his body” (28). This may seem as small as the nonchalant details make it out to be, but later in the book, it is revealed that it is so much more. The truth is revealed much later in the novel, when Sara Howard, another detective on the case, finds a file that records his injury. “It spoke of Laszlo’s father, apparently drunk, spending the night in the precinct house under a charge of assault (the charge was later dropped), and then of a local surgeon being brought to the Kreizler home to treat a young boy whose left arm has been badly shattered” (250). The fact that his childhood has poured into his adulthood, makes the case that much more personal to him, because the same is true for the killer.

John Beecham, originally born Japheth Dury, is the infamous child murderer in The Alienist. His back-story is what forms the emotions strong enough to desire to not simply kill another human being, as if that’s not enough, but kill and mutilate children. Kreizler and Moore went to his birthplace to ask his brother a few questions. When asked if Japheth was odd and if so, in what way, his response was as follows, “In what way was he not? . . . I suppose you couldn’t expect much more, from a child born out of anger and unwanted by both his parents. To my mother he was a symbol of my father’s savagery and lust, and to my father- to my father, much as he wanted children, Japheth was always a symbol of degradation, of that terrible night when desire made an animal of him” (347).Through questioning his brother and further investigating, it’s learned that due to his parent’s inability to make him feel wanted, he lashed out. Later, we learn that he was sexually abused by a man named George Beecham- this was the reason he took the name for his own, to get revenge. Kreizler and Moore learn a great deal from this response. It also ties back to a similar undesired and unloved feeling that Moore had felt during his childhood, which gives this Times reporter a personal connection to the case as well.

John Moore was introduced first as living in his grandmother’s apartment and no other family members are mentioned. As the story progresses, its exposed that a broken home is the reason for his lack of connections to the rest of his family. His younger brother who was an alcoholic and morphine-addict had drowned when he fell off a boat. While at the funeral, he felt that he was the only one who recognized his addictions, instead of making “nonsensical tributes”. He states, “..but at heart I believe now, as I believed then, that it was essentially the result of growing up in a household, and a world, where emotional expression of any kind was at best frowned on and at worst strangled” (162). Upon bringing this up, at the funeral, he was seen as mentally impaired by his family and only his grandmother, who was close with his younger brother, understood where he was coming from with his assumption and allowed for him to live with her.

The Alienist takes place, as mentioned above, in the late 1800s, early 1900s. This time period didn’t allow for women to make any great strides in many fields, especially criminal justice. Sara Howard, however, was an extremely courageous and determined woman, and any chance she was given, she took. Sara was originally a secretary for the police department, but an interest in the murders, and the fact that she could prove herself worthy of helping, allowed her access to be on the team assigned to solve the case. Sara fits in nicely with the group because, she too acts the way she does because of the way she was brought up. Her mother was an invalid and her father was killed in a supposed “hunting accident”. The reason for the speculation is that most people believed that it was suicide. She was incredibly close to her father and her bold, opinionated personality wouldn’t allow herself to believe he would have done such a thing. This extreme pride in her father and loyalty permits her to be a force to be reckoned with when working on the case.

When all of the characters are added together to form this case-solving team they are incredibly capable of unraveling this mystery before too many innocent children get killed. The reason? Their pasts have prepared each one individually for this daunting task of this case. On the other hand, John Beecham’s childhood was simply building up for this crescendo of vengeful events. “We can assume a pattern of domestic violence, one beginning early and continuing unabated for years. It plants an urge for revenge that steadily mounts” (331). Caleb Carr’s ability to build each character’s past to affect their actions in adulthood, is a crucial part of the novel.
(M.C. 2010)

The Internet- Advantages and Disadvantages of a World Controlled By Technology- Killing Time

[(Essay dated June 9, 2010) In the following essay, M.C. discusses how the use of the internet and other modern technologies can both benefit, and impair the lives of those living in a world controlled by up-to-date machines. Through character descriptions and different scenarios, both the advantages and disadvantages are clear in Caleb Carr’s novel Killing Time.]

The novel takes place in the year 2023, and a lot has changed from what we know today. While the widespread use of the internet has proven wonderful for some; many countries suffer from poverty and countless wars are taking place due to the fight over the depleting natural resources. The internet is the main source of information for all news and gossip. However, there are certain things the public shouldn’t see, and this is all regulated by a top secret group of scientists and military experts who manipulate and deceive the public on a daily basis.

Dr. Gideon Wolfe is a psychology professor and he uncovers some interesting footage. The content of the video is the president Emily Forrester, being assassinated, by a person different than the one who was originally blamed for the incident. The unknown regulatory agency dealt with this by killing his friend-whom he had shared the video with- and bringing him on board their team. While gaining access to this group has many benefits, such as he’ll now be properly informed of all accurate information; he know must face the burdens that come along with it, such as his best friend and many others, killed in the process of keeping things secret and out of the public eye.

The team consists of Malcolm, Larissa, Colonel Slayton, and many others. Their job is to alter footage, internet articles, or any way to spread news, so that the public sees what the public is intended to see. Two perfect examples of how technology has negative and positive side effects are the siblings, Larissa and Malcolm.

They are two very interesting people, right from when they are first introduced. Larissa is a tall slender woman with silver hair, and she carries a rail gun with her at all times. Malcolm has a similar face to Larissa and silver hair as well, but he is confined to a wheelchair for life. Wolfe describes Malcolm, “Yet there was something far more important than any of this in the face, a look I had seen many times in children who’d served harsh prison terms, as well as in schizophrenic patients who had lived for too long without treatment: It was the imponderable depth brought on by compressed, relentless mental and physical torment, a brand as unmistakable as a birthmark” (36-37). It was his father who discovered the internet many years ago-according to the novel. His father wanted his son to excel in life, the way he was able to so he did extremely experimental genetic surgery on him. Although it resulted in Malcolm being a complete genius, his brain was already formed, so its capacity to hold all of the information was not available and body functions such as walking and basic movements were know out of the question for life. This proves how the use of the modern surgical methods, had an incredibly negative outcome. Malcolm was always resentful of his father for this, and he later killed his father to get revenge.

Now after Malcolm had been a “failed experiment”, his mother and father, after learning they were pregnant once more, decided to try it again, but before Larissa was born, in the womb. The experiment was a success and although the only negative was that both their children had silver hair, Larissa excelled in every aspect of life, beauty, brains, etc. “The light of the room [made] two extraordinary things apparent: first, the straight, chin-length hair that framed her delicate features was a strange silver color; and second, she held in her hands a device—presumably a weapon—that was obviously more complex than any handgun I’d ever seen” (25). She was very close with her brother, due to their similarities, and helped in the killing of her father and also killed her mother as well. Although a positive outcome may seem like it was present- Larissa is able to be on top in all qualities she possesses, the handicap of Malcolm, and the deaths of their mother and father are definitely disadvantages of these technological surgeries.

Gideon has now joined this elite team of regulating forces, and their mission is to misinform the public of any information and to “save the world’ by doing so. Unfortunately, their schemes backfire an once again prove the downfall of their sabotage and technology itself. The video that had been originally viewed by Wolfe, also had another audience member, a man named Dov Eshkol had also seen the clip and was not thrilled with the encoded section. It contained footage of Stalin’s presence t a concentration camp, observing the prisoners. This was fabricated footage by the agency that was never released, but Eshkol has no knowledge of the agency and therefore assumed it was true. He is a fanatic leader who belongs to the Israeli Mossad. He uses his power as a leader to now go around killing off Russian political leaders and allies to get back at Russia for allowing the Holocaust to occur.

“Mundus vult decipi”, is a Latin phrase that is posted on the door to Malcolm’s cabin. It means “The world wants to be deceived”. Eshkol was obviously already a dangerous man, and it was stated that he has killed before. He was simply looking for another reason to continue destroying political leaders; and the internet, as well as the top secret misinformation agency helped provide one. The reliance on technology allows for mistakes such as this one to happen, and although some positive advantages have resulted from this “Misinformation Age”, countless disadvantages have occurred as well.
(M.C. 2010)