Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Chilling Effect

effect--the result or consequence of a previous action or condition; a segment of a sequential scheme of events; the product of causality.

Effect is the response of a character to an ethical or sensual stimulus; the reaction of one or more individuals to a previous stimulus or action. Capt. Ahab felt the effect of the great whale; Huck Finn felt the effect of having been a contributor to the escape from slavery of Jim; Jane felt the consequences of her growing attraction to Rochester, acted upon them, and was rewarded by the appearance of additional effects.

Little happens in a story without some regard to design, less yet happens without an effect on someone, something, somewhere. Relationships, be they romantic, political, or professional, grow in complexity and interdependence or accordingly withdraw from closeness, then consequently wither. In a broad, sweeping sense, story is a record of effect, the effect of a place on a character, the effect one person or character may have on another (see Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady for the former, see Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for the latter). Thus effect is a record of impressions and responses that writers are at pains to dramatize and describe.

Characters may be seen as individuals who try to contain and constrain the effects visited upon them by other individuals, by life experiences, and by the physical and social content of places. In his 2009 novel, Brooklyn, Colm Toibin demonstrates the complex range of effect a small town in Ireland and the borough of Brooklyn have on the behavior of a young Irish girl and those she comes in contact with, showing by deft indirection how the effects of place are filtered through a character, then have effect on other characters.

The musical, My Fair Lady, and to a slightly lesser extent its parent, the stage play Pygmalion, dramatically demonstrate the effects of social class and of physical locale on the character of Eliza Doolittle in an emotional spectrum worth investigating for the writer who wishes to show how places and individuals evoke emotional responses in characters and, if we are fortunate, in us.

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