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What is the significance of the Greek allusions?

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Tiffany Toombs Ontario High School Student 2
14 March 2013
Nietzsche’s Theory of Personality
Author’s Note: Warning! This essay may contain spoilers for J.K. Rowling’s novel, The Casual Vacancy.
The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling, has generally been considered by critics to be dark with little literary merit above plot development, yet if one scratches below the surface it is possible to see the hidden value in Rowling’s novel. Although upon first examination the novel appears to be merely vulgar and immoral, a careful reader will notice the many Greek references and allusions that transform her novel into a cynical commentary on life rather than just a dismal tragedy that many believe the novel to be. Thus, through the lens of a mythological filter, Rowling applies Nietzsche’s Theory of Personality to reveal the necessity of a balanced inner life. Through the juxtaposition of Simon Price and Collin Wall, Rowling voices her preference for one persona over the other.
To understand Nietzsche’s Theory of Personality, one must first understand Ancient Greek Mythology. The Ancient Greeks believed in a multitude of deities who ruled their lives and controlled their fate. Two of these gods were Apollo, primarily known as the god of the sun, and Dionysus, primarily viewed as the god of wine (Apollonian 1). However, Apollo’s intelligence and Dionysus’ emotions connect the gods to Nietzsche’s Theory rather than the typical view of the gods. Frederick Nietzsche, a renowned German philosopher utilizes both of these gods in his theory of personality claiming that the gods’ qualities were essential for success (The Birth of Tragedy 1). Nietzsche believed that everyone had both an Apollonian, or intellectual side, and a Dionysian, or carnal side (The Birth of Tragedy 1). Due to the opposition between the two, both of these aspects have to be present and in equal proportions for the individual to have a balanced inner psychological life (The Birth of Tragedy 1). When these aspects become disproportional, the result becomes catastrophic. Often times in literature, authors will separate the two personalities in order to show the need for a balance between the two. Through both physical and behavioral aspects, Rowling applies Nietzsche’s concepts to her characters, Simon Price and Collin “Cubby” Wall.
Before delving further into Nietzsche’s Theory within the novel, one must first examine the chief pieces of evidence that lead to the creation of the mythological filter. Rowling directly references mythology when Andrew Price confesses that he sometimes considers “his father as a pagan god, and… his mother as the high priestess of the cult” (Rowling 171). Andrew goes as far to say that his mother has an “unshakeable alliance” to her husband, a “false idol” (Rowling 289). With Andrew’s comments alone Rowling compels the reader to observe her novel through a Greek filter. Rowling also uses the description of Hilltop House as a “world away” from all that goes on below to reinforce the connection to mythology through the allusion to Mt. Olympus (Rowling 47). Moreover, Mt. Olympus is placed high above everything else and this accounts for the location of the house on the hill. Purposefully, Rowling directly guides the reader to Nietzsche’s theory when Libby explicitly mentions his philosophy and then reinforces the association with the Greeks by describing Libby as “eating a handful of grapes”, a common practice in ancient Greek and Roman literature (Rowling 227). Thus, the Greek allusions are the keys that unlock the connection between mythology and Nietzsche.
Following Nietzsche’s Theory of Personality, Simon Price exemplifies Dionysus through their behavioral aspects. Dionysus is said to be emotional, chaotic, dangerous, carnal, and anti-intellectual, all of which are characteristics that depict Simon (Dionysus 1). As events in Simon’s life spin catastrophically out of control, Simon becomes emotionally unstable and just wants to “vent his tension in a cathartic outburst of rage” (Rowling 134). Simon’s capriciousness is evident when he “was seized with a brutal urge to punish her for intuiting his own fears and for stroking them with her anxiety” (Rowling 135). Rowling’s carefully chosen use of the word “seized” signifies that this action happened instantaneously by both connotation and denotation. Likewise, an “urge”, by definition is an involuntary, instinctive impulse (urge 1). In addition, as a blue collar worker, Rowling implies that Simon needs little cerebral skill to complete his job effectively. Thus, Simon’s job as a hand laborer at the printing press in Yarvil highlights Simon’s anti-intellectual qualities. Also, Dionysus is seen as ruling the country side which is one reason for Simon’s isolation on the country hillside above the city of Pagford (Thro 1). Through behavioral patterns, Rowling confirms that Simon’s attributes are indeed characteristics of Dionysus.
In addition to the attributes of Dionysus and his stereotypical habitation, the god is also said to resemble an animal (Dionysus 1). Throughout the novel, Rowling describes Simon’s behavior as a wild creature. Simon “emit[s] low animal noise[s] unique to him” and must “snort…like an animal to clear his airways” when he is outraged (Rowling 137,286). Andrew, Simon’s son, even directly states that trying to read his father “was like trying to read a wild animal” (Rowling 285). Specifically, the animal that Dionysus is said to embody is a serpent or snake, which is evident through Rowling’s diction (Dionysus 1). Like a snake, Simon glares at Ruth with an “unblinking, venomous stare” (Rowling 135). By comparing Simon to a snake, Rowling not only demonstrates that Simon is a symbol for Dionysus but also implies that Simon’s personality is slimy and conniving like a snake. Through Simon’s demeanor, Rowling establishes the connection between Simon and Dionysus.

This is part one of the essay: Part two is the first response.
Works Cited
"Apollonian and Dionysian." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Jan. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
"Dionysus." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
"Nietzsche on Tragedy." Nietzsche on Tragedy. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
Rowling, J.K. The Casual Vacancy. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012
"The Birth of Tragedy." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
Thro, Michael. "Apollo vs Dionysus: The Only Theme Your Students Will Ever Need in Writing about
Literature." Apollo vs Dionysus: The Only Theme Your Students Will Ever Need in Writing about Literature. VCCA Journal, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
"Urge." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
Waldorf, Sarah. "Physiognomy, The Beautiful Pseudoscience | The Getty Iris." The Getty Iris RSS2.
Getty.edu, 8 Oct. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.


Tiffany Toombs This is part two of the essay on Nietzsche theory:
Ontario High School Student 2

Viewing the novel through the Greek filter, established by Simon’s connection to Dionysus earlier, one can now analyze Collin “Cubby” Wall as the Apollo in Nietzsche’s Theory of Personality. In Greek mythology, Apollo is said to be the god of dreams, reason, order, and of knowledge (Apollonian 1) (Thro 1). Basing her philosophy on Nietzsche’s theory, Camille Paglia, an American humanities scholar, claims that Apollo is also associated with compulsiveness and sexual abstinence (Apollonian 1). For this reason, Apollo has trouble connecting emotionally to others (Apollonian 1). Viewing Apollo through this description, it can now be established as to how Collin impersonates Apollo. Physically, through physiognomy or physical appearance Rowling stresses Collin’s association with Apollo. Physiognomy is a judgment of character based solely on appearance which Rowling uses to emphasize Collin’s knowledge through his resemblance of a nerd (Waldorf 1). With his lofty height, lanky body, nerdy clothing, and his obsession with cubbies, Collin is labeled as a nerd. Nerds are often stereotyped as organized and orderly, sometimes overly so, and this accounts for “Cubby’s” obsession with cubby holes. Also, nerds by definition are smart, thus connecting nerds to Apollo through their intelligence. For this reason, Rowling goes into such great detail describing the size of his forehead, emphasizing his intelligence. It is often said that people with large foreheads have large brains. Physical appearance is enough to safely presume Collin’s knowledge yet considering his position one can see more evidence of his intelligence. A school is indeed a place for learning and knowledge and by being the headmaster of this institution Collin embodies knowledge. Collin’s demeanor creates his connection to Apollo and reinforces Rowling’s use of Nietzsche’s theory.
Along with the physical aspect of Collin’s appearance, Rowling also constructs Collin’s personality to mirror Apollo. The representation of dreams is a perfect indication of the Apollonian in Cubby due to his worse fears coming alive in his dreams. Often, Collin jerks awake “drenched in sweat from another one of the nightmares that had tormented him for years. He had always done terrible things in [his] dreams, the kind of things that he spent his waking life dreading” (Rowling 433). In his dreams, Collin is involved in improper relations with students. Thus, due to Apollo’s association with absentness or restraint, Rowling carefully constructed Collin’s personal weakness as fear of sexual relations; the complete opposite of Dionysus. So much restraint is needed that Collin “[burdens] himself with so many papers and files that he [has] no free hand to attack” (Rowling 365). Collin even goes as far as to “[shout] at the swarming children to get out of the way [and] stand clear, as he passed” to avoid improper contact of any kind (Rowling 365). It is as though it takes superhuman strength, almost Herculean strength, to resist these temptations. In addition, Collin has to take extended periods of time away from his job to mentally prepare himself for the accusations and guilt. Therefore, the measures that Collin takes to prevent his fears coming alive attach him to Apollo. Also, Collin’s mental illness mirrors the problems of Apollo. His OCD was perfectly chosen, by Rowling, as was the fact that he has a mental illness rather than a physical one to stress Collin’s Apollonian nature. In addition, Apollo has trouble connecting to others and Collin is no different. Collin expresses that he feels “perpetually the outsider and the oddball, for whom life [is] a matter of daily struggle…” and seems unable to relate to anyone or consider the pain they are enduring as “a wild and unique hinterland like his own” (Rowling 142 99). Through the many different physical and behavioral characteristics of Collin, the reader is now able to see the resemblance between Collin and Apollo.
After connecting Collin and Simon to the Greek gods, Rowling uses them to reveal how it is necessary to have both Apollonian and Dionysus qualities to have a balanced life (The Birth of Tragedy 1). Both Simon and Collin are not perfect and their characters are flawed. Yet, one can see that if they would have a balance of both intellect and physical abilities, they would be more apt to appear normal and likable. Through this, one can see Rowling’s preference for the intellectual or apollonian characteristics over carnal ones. Although Collin has many imperfections he is seen in a better light than aggressive Simon Price and Collin, unlike Simon, is not without redeeming qualities. Compassion may not be evident in all aspects of his life but Collin does show great love for Barry Fairbrother and wretchedly weeps “big whooping sobs” when he announces Barry’s death; he has a heart (Rowling 87). Simon, on the other hand, knows “no moral code” and only cares for himself (Rowling 290). Thus, Rowling expresses her preference while at the same time stressing the need for a balanced life. None of the characters in her novel have the balance necessary for a stable life, thus emphasizing, all the more, the importance of being equally yoked.
Nietzsche’s Theory of Personality is portrayed in J.K. Rowling’s novel through both the qualities of Simon Price and Collin Wall. Simon is indeed a symbol for Dionysus with his unpredictable, chaotic nature and dangerous emotional outbursts. Likewise, Collin exhibits Apollonian attributes through his personal deficiencies and his career. Rowling utilizes both the physical and emotional aspects of both characters in order to strengthen the tie between them and their deities. All in all, Rowling stresses the compelling need to be united with both Dionysian and Apollonian personalities while still voicing her preference for the intellectual side.
Works Cited
"Apollonian and Dionysian." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Jan. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
"Dionysus." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
"Nietzsche on Tragedy." Nietzsche on Tragedy. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
Rowling, J.K. The Casual Vacancy. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012
"The Birth of Tragedy." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
Thro, Michael. "Apollo vs Dionysus: The Only Theme Your Students Will Ever Need in Writing about
Literature." Apollo vs Dionysus: The Only Theme Your Students Will Ever Need in Writing about Literature. VCCA Journal, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
"Urge." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
Waldorf, Sarah. "Physiognomy, The Beautiful Pseudoscience | The Getty Iris." The Getty Iris RSS2.
Getty.edu, 8 Oct. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.


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