A is for affect

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A is for affect

Allie Eiselen

Allison Eiselen
Big Books
Anne Dalke
31 March 2006
A is for Affect
From the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne attributes qualities and attributes to Hester's character that makes her inherently separate and unique from the other people in the town. A powerful visual for this separation is of course her stance upon the scaffold in the market place, upon which she stands in full view above the rest of the Salemites. The religious imagery that is depicted in this scene of the mother and child is distorted by the knowledge that Hester's motherhood is the result of "deepest sin" (42). With this imagery, Hawthorne takes a stab at the logic behind the Christian belief in the "Divine Maternity" (42) because even the religious and political leaders who uphold the belief in the divinity know that even though no one confess to being an abettor to adultery, in order for a woman to have a child she needs the help of a man and so of course a father to the child must exist.
Much to the disapproval of the Puritanical society in which she lives; Hester has deviated from their righteous path in pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. Hester's passions of love, lust, and desire, bring her into a forbidden a sexual relationship. Her passions are procreated and embodied in her daughter Pearl. In remaining silent, Hester's partner does not assert paternity of the child, and in effect, he is not declaring possession of his passions.

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Although there is another who is guilty of the crime for which Hester is punishment, it is Hester alone who proudly wears the symbol of their combined passions and endures the public exposure of their sin: "On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy" (Hawthorne, 40).
Rather than yield to this repentance, Hester is able to regulate and quell the shame and ignominy of being displayed upon the scaffold. "Possibly, it was an instinctive device of her spirit, to relieve itself, by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality" ( ). In the tradition of his psychosexual analysis, Freud would have probable assessed that Hester's ego defense mechanisms had saved her from the pressures of anxiety and were allowing her to continue to function adaptively in her stressful environment.
Considering passion to be a motive for Hester's actions and the exhibition of and taking accountability for her passions to have "saved" her, it is shown though the illness and demise of Arthur Dimmesdale, the consequences of not shedding light, be it perchance the light of dawn, on the possession of your true passions. Perhaps it is through this function of Dimmesdale, the religious leader as a sinner, that Hawthorne sheds light on a criticism of the belief that the passion of Christ was his suffering.
According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, affect is a psychological term for an observable emotion. "Affect is the expression of emotion or feelings displayed to others". Within the constructs of this definition, Hester expresses her
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passions with the outward display of the letter A. Arthur Dimmesdale, on the other hand, does not wear such a symbol and he conceals his passions for seven agonizing years. Further in the definition of affect it is quoted that "People with psychological disorders may display variations in their affect. A restricted or constricted affect describes a mild restriction in the range or intensity of a display of feelings" (Thakery, 2003).
When considering the familial connection between Hester, Arthur, and Pearl, through the sin of adultery, it is perhaps suggested that the sin of suppressed emotion and blunted affect is more highly punishable on a moral level. The emotions which Dimmesdale hides, Hester displays and in accordance with the definition, the outward physical expression of an emotion is affect—so, "A" symbolizes affect.
In recognition of the significance of expression of passion, through Hester's ornately decorated "A", the family unit has been intact for seven years, despite Dimmesdale's silence. Therefore, it may also be suggested that in psychological terms, Arthur's blunted affect is the cause of his suffering. Although Hester is more publically acknowledged for the sins of her passions, Hester and Dimmesdale's shared passions, do not result is shared suffering.
The metaphor for Dimmesdale's unwillingness to take ownership for his passionate emotions s inability to control his emotions is displayed in his awkward confrontations with the embodiment of his passions in the wild behavior of Pearl:
"The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair, and made an effort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child, unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of any but
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her mother, escaped through the open window and stood on the upper step, looking like a wild, tropical bird, of rich plumage, ready to take flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished at this outbreak,--for he was a grandfatherly sort of personage, and usually a vast favorite with children,--essayed, however, to proceed with the examination"().
The inward manifestations of Dimmesdale's guilt and shame over his sinful passions, instills an unhealthy mental state and an altered vision of reality. The essence of the problem is perhaps that the young minister insists on maintaining the pretence of holiness and purity, when in reality he is as stained with sin as Hester. When Dimmesdale flooded by sunshine and the power of accepting the truth of his past, he his elated. This lack of light or dimness on the truth of a situation and freedom through light and reality is also referred to in the Customs House:
It was a folly, with the materiality of this daily life pressing so intrusively upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into another age, or to insist on creating the semblance of a world out of airy matter, when, at every moment, the impalpable beauty of my soap-bubble was broken by the rude contact of some actual circumstance. The wiser effort would have been to diffuse thought and imagination through the opaque substance of to-day, and thus to make it a bright transparency; to spiritualize the burden that began to weigh so heavily; to seek, resolutely, the true and indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and wearisome incidents, and ordinary characters with which I was now conversant. The fault was mine. (45)
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And the fault really was his. Unfortunately, Dimmesdale's acceptance of the truth is a case of too little to late. Ironically for a minister in the profession of saving the souls of sinners, Dimmesdale dies when he shows the same affect of Hester. So of the two sinners, the one who is punished daily lives, and the other who suffers in private dies. Perhaps Hawthorne is suggesting to his reader the need not only for being true to yourself by expressing thee motions that you feel, but also the importance of acting on your instincts and impulses which are perhaps the truest and best lit emotions.
When the young woman--the mother of this child--stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors (45).
Looking back on the tale of how a woman of passions and instincts was able to succeed despite adversity, is a true testament to the importance of trusting who you are and what you feel.

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