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Concept: The Scarlet Letter


Suffering is commonly seen as an unconscious effort to alleviate painful feelings of guilt. However, suffering also aims at averting loss of ego functions and hence loss of mental stability. This second function of suffering is discussed in the light of Freud’s observations of characters wrecked by success and Weiss’s ideas about mutual love as a threat to mental stability. Hawthorne’s portrayal of Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter (1850), biographical material about the author, material from his diaries, and material from a psychotherapy case and an analysis illustrate the function of suffering to preserve mental stability in the face of heightened success and happiness. Hawthorne, it is argued, intuitively grasped this function of suffering in his novel.

Concepts: Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, Ego psychology, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Carl Jung