In general, far more information about an individual than is available about Wade Whitehouse in Affliction is needed to form even a passably accurate description of their personality; typical inventories contain an average of over 200 individual items (Edwards & Abbott 1973). From what is shown in the film, however, it is clear that though Whitehouse exhibits aggressive behavior at several key points, it is not actually one of his primary personality traits.
Traits are usually measured by self-assessment of practices, beliefs, and attitudes, and though such self-reporting measures tend to be quite accurate as descriptive instruments, the lack of a solid theoretical basis to much of trait theories claims makes prediction of future behavior difficult (Smith 1999). In a way, this applies directly to Wade Whitehouse's situation; his behavior cannot really be predicted based on the simple observations of his personality traits. he has shown some tendency towards aggression, but he is also cowed by his father until his final retaliation. Likewise, his gullibility in the hands of his brother allows him to withhold belief in his friend. One of his traits, then, is a certain malleability, and his behavior is dependent on the circumstances and individuals that recognize this trait in him and use it to their own ends -- behavior predictions in trait theory must take environment into account.
To that end, it is essential to understand how the externally visible traits Wade Whitehouse exhibits in Affliction interact with the outside world and reflect the inner parts of his personality, as well. The flashbacks throughout the film detailing the abuse Wade and his brother Rolfe suffered at the hands of their father necessarily affected the way the inherent personality traits of each brother manifested in the external world (Epstein 1990). Wade's natural gullibility reflects an innocent -- almost a naive -- trust in others, and his father's abuse would have caused him to accept continued rejection and disappointment. The combination of his inborn trust and his rejection at the hands of his father creates the conflict in his personality that the plot of the film revolves around, and truly that forms the central conflict of the movie.
Other conclusions can be drawn about Wade Whitehouse directly from his externally observable traits, however, as a high degree of co-occurrence has been established between certain traits (Borkenau 1992). For instance, Wade Whitehouse's generally taciturn and withdrawn demeanor has been shown generally to co-occur with a lack of sociability (Borkenau 1992). Though Whitehouse has several clearly defined social roles in the film, Affliction also traces the breakdown of each of these roles as his latent ambition and his willingness to be manipulated by his brother slowly take over and begin to dominate is personality. The increasing dominance of these traits leads directly and systematically to the breakdown of his relationship with his girlfriend and daughter, the loss of his jobs and his status and role in the community, and eventually to the murder of his father and his friend. The film ends with Whitehouse having disappeared from town, severing his life-long social ties.
A key problem in the application of trait theory to real-world analysis is the effect of situation on the development and manifestation of traits (Steyer et al. 1999). Affliction is essentially a case study of this fact, as Wade Whitehouse exhibits several seemingly conflicting traits in the film. His suspicion of his friend Jack, which is central to the film's plot, does not equate well with his willingness to believe and be manipulated by his brother. The situations surrounding the different decisions he makes in the film dictate how his personality traits manifest themselves -- his suspicion of Jack is initially influenced by his latent ambition; Rofle's intervention -- and the instance of Wade's extreme gullibility and malleability -- occurs at their mother's funeral, when Whitehouse is especially vulnerable and actively seeking stability within his family ties. It is the circumstances surrounding these decisions in combination with the traits already prominent in his personality that resulted in his actions.
Combining these views of trait theory and its application to the fictional case of Wade Whitehouse leads to a comprehensive view of the character's personality, and possible (though uncertain and inherently incomplete) explanations of his actions and behavior throughout the course of the film. The use of flashbacks in the movie informs the characters of both Wade and Rolfe Whitehouse concerning their development in childhood, which though not a major constituent part of personality trait theories has a definite formative effect on the development and manifestations of traits (Epstein 1990). It is unlikely that Wade Whitehouse's inherently trusting nature would have allowed him to be so abused and manipulated had this trait not been constantly disappointed by the actions of his father during his childhood.
The most prominent personality traits visible in Wade Whitehouse during the course of Affliction are his gullibility, his aggression, and his external construction of self-worth. This latter trait is key to understanding the manifestations and interactions of his other traits, as all the other two identified primary traits directly involve his interactions with others. The abuse Wade experienced at his father's hands forced his trusting nature into a constant cycle of acting in ways to seek approval, measuring the reaction of the figures from whom this approval is sought (his father, his brother, his ex-wife, his daughter, and his girlfriend are important figures in the movie in this regard), and acting again in response to their approval or, more often, their lack thereof. As his trust is frustrated more and more by disapproval, his aggression begins to become the dominant feature of his personality, but even this is used in a misguided attempt to force approval from the characters mentioned. His ultimate failure to achieve this external approval drives him away from the community that he feels has constantly rejected him.
Personality is a complex construct, and no single theory has yet provided a comprehensive and accurate way of understanding the phenomenon. Trait theories do serve as reasonable models for understanding individual personalities, but the identification and assessment of traits alone is not sufficient to truly understand the behaviors and attitudes produced by a particular personality. Environmental factors are essential considerations for such an understanding.
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