Mental Illness Disguised as Religion
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg is, what I believe, a disturbing look into the world of mental illness. Hogg uses religion as a basis for this tale of a mentally ill young man. Robert Wringhim Colwan is an outcast within his own family. He is neither a son to his mothers husband or to her lover. He refuses to use the last name Colwan and is kept away from his brother, with the two not actually meeting until they are young adults. While being raised by his mother and Reverend Wringham, Robert is versed in religion that is described as; splitting the doctrines of Calvin into thousands of undistinguishable films, . . . a system of justifying-grace against all breaches of all laws, moral or divine.”(13) This fanatical religious education only added to Robert’s decaying mental awareness.
Robert tells us in his memoirs; “Therefore, in the might of heaven I will sit down and write; I will let the wicked of this world know what I have done in the faith of the promises, and justification by grace.”(71) This belief that he justified in his sins and wicked actions come from Reverend Wringhim when he “welcomed me into the community of the just upon earth”(84), his mother in turn “welcomed me into the society of the just made perfect.“(84) This made Robert a justified person, and according to Wringhim, “all the powers of darkness . . . shall never be able to pluck you again out of your Redeemer’s hand.”(84) It is after t his acceptance into the justified society that Robert meets with his “doppelganger”.
I believe that Robert’s mental illness is what makes him “see” and “hear” his look-a-like. Before he is admitted into the society of the just, he was reflecting on how sinful he was, even going as far as describing himself as “a great transcendent sinner . . . I had never sinned from principle, but accident.”(83) I believe that the person he saw as his double was actually a manifestation of his own past sins. Robert worshiped his mother and Wringhim, whom he called his reverent father. Their belief in his goodness and their prayers for him led him to deny he had any sin. And in turn by denying he had sin, his mind created a stranger that was the “sinful Robert”. Throughout his memoir he was the only one who ever saw this stranger or heard the stranger speak. Robert’s fractured mind began a battle between his own sin and his parents justification on the other. This battle ended with the murder of Robert’s brother and his own suicide.