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Does Rowling address the concepts of nature vs. nurture?

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Tiffany Toombs Ontario High School Student 1
15 February 2013
***Spoiler Alert: A Casual Vacancy spoilers are ahead***
A Casual Vacancy and Science
J.K. Rowling’s novel, A Casual Vacancy, takes a strong and definitive stance on social issues, leading to criticism, such as the Daily Mail calling it "more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature", however, I find their assessment false, for she achieves her “relentless… …manifesto” through clever usage of effective literary techniques that deserve a deeper analysis to find how she constructs such a strong argument (Moir 1). Now, there are many social issues that she addresses in the novel, ranging from drug use to poverty, but an issue that collectively influences a majority of the subjects is the debate over nature versus nurture. The way she constructs her opinion on the subject is very unique, yet intuitive. Rowling is able to craft her argument in the Casual Vacancy by utilizing the scientific method, using her own characters and their stories as case evidence, scientific controls and even subjecting them to peer reviews, all seemingly grounding her argument and giving it merit.
One may ask, what exactly are the scientific method and the whole nature vs. nurture debate? The former is the principle pillar of science and progress, allowing for the discoveries that science has achieved. At its core, the method contains three main elements, a hypothesis, evidence, and the peer review (Schafersman 1). The general flow of research works like this: a researcher first creates a hypothesis, what they believe will happen in a situation. Then they go on to collect evidence, which can be of multiple types such as case evidence which examines situations outside experimentation or a control by creating an environment without variables to conduct the experiment. Once all the research is formulated and a conclusion is drawn, it is prepared for the peer review where other scientist will scrutinize your data and conclusion with absolutely no remorse (Schafersman 1). If the hypothesis survives the peer review, it will be published. What makes the method so effective is that the procedure can be easily repeated by others and should garner similar results, leaving in a margin of error due to various small variables that cannot be prevented (Schafersman 1). Now, the nature vs. nurture debate is a subject in sociology and psychology addressing what in essence forms a person’s personality, their nature, as in traits they’d inherit from their parents, or nurture, the environment they were raised in (Davies 1). The debate has been waged for decades with no clear answer forged yet. The reason for such uncertainty? Evidence for this debate is extremely difficult to put into an empirical measurement, compounded by the fact that the closest thing to a control science has are twins separated at birth. This complication is compounded even more when you consider that it takes decades of observation to see how they develop (Davies 1). Rowling is able to circumvent these hassles by using fictional characters that are observed exactly how she intends, with a little subjectivity in their due to varying character interpretations.
The key to Rowling’s argument, like any good theory, is a hypothesis that establishes your position, from which you branch out with evidence and other research. Rowling forms her hypothesis using Kay as a mouth piece for her opinion during Kay’s debate with Miles during dinner. During the argument, Kay is the more sympathetic character, in part due to her David vs. Goliath struggle with Miles and due to Miles’ own unlikable nature, making her the character the reader will support. A key moment that establishes Kay’s opinion is when she mentions how Robbie would be “immeasurably better off” in a house without drugs, implying that with proper nurture, Robbie would develop into a better child (Rowling 196). Kay’s argument is solidified by her going against Miles, who is essentially arguing that the Field’s problem is their nature, citing them as a host of “generations of non-workers” (Rowling 195). The concept that Kay’s opinion is the same as Rowling is taken to the next level when you consider that she could be considered an author avatar. Rowling, like Kay, was a single mother, worked with a social services group (Amnesty International), lived in London, and shares many similar political opinions, especially when we consider the charity organizations she participates in and even runs (J.K. 1). With the conjunction of both Kay’s sympathetic situation and her similarities to Rowling, we can conclude that her opinion is that of Rowling’s and that her hypothesis is that nurture decides a person’s character, not nature, which conforms to the characters she creates.
One of the major pieces of evidence in Rowling’s theory is the case evidence of Krystal and just how her environment influences her, for better and for worse. Krystal seems violent, untrustworthy, and depraved in the novel, often found threatening other characters and even following through, disrupting people, and looking like a delinquent in general. This view shatters when some of her deeper character is revealed and we see Krystal’s softer, caring side (though the former traits still exist, they are mitigated and subverted by her other actions and the reader’s newly fostered sympathy). Her harder and softer sides are seen together, such as when she stole a watch and felt “unsettled and guilty” as a result or demonstrating how much she cares for her younger brother (Rowling 90). One can infer that her negative traits are the product of her upbringing: a low income neighborhood, living with a prostitute mother who is addicted to drugs. Rowling also demonstrates how an environment can positively influence her. We can see the effects of a encouraging environment when Krystal is interviewed. Krystal reveals that how her school, a positive environment, changed her character and started to foster a better person. The primary effect of the school was its safe, comfortable place for her to grow and learn. Its effects include “looking the same as everyone else”, being “first to be pick” in sports and having a “special teacher”, all of which are inferred to have improved her personality and fostered her more civil mannerisms, all of which were grown further by Barry Fairbrother’s guiding influence (Rowling 214-215). Now, one may point out the parallelism between her and her mother, implying that genetics are at work, but, as we will see, they are not the same.
Terri, Rowling’s second piece of case evidence, continues to demonstrate just how one’s upbringing can influence their personality. Terri is a drug addicted resident of the Fields and the mother of both Krystal and Robbie. She has a myriad of negative attributes; she’s a drug addict, neglecting, a prostitute, and everything you find in a bad parent, short of being abusive. Yet, all of her negative actions can find their root in her troubled upbringing, and by troubled I mean the most tragic backstory out of the countless tragic characters in this novel. She grew up in an unstable family, to say the least. Her father had “thrown a pan of burning chip fat at her.”, resulting in serious burns that required six weeks hospitalized at the burn unit, her mother had “walked out shortly after Terri’s eleventh birthday”, her father beat her and raped her at least once (Rowling 228-229). The only positive moments she had were when Nana Cath had “collected her from the hospital and taken her home”, where she would live peacefully until her father forcefully back to his home and the beatings and rape continued. Before all of these life changing events, Terri was described as a “nice little girl”, seemingly proving that a person’s upbringing shapes them, not their nature (Rowling 230). She took up drugs as a coping mechanism and her rude demeanor was the result of her family. Now, as previously mentioned, Krystal sounds a lot like her mother until you realize their circumstance are reversed. Terri went from a decent, if short, life with Nana Cath to a life of misery. Krystal on the other hand went from a bad environment under her mother to an improved one with school and the rowing team with Barry. Both cases do carry plenty of merit for the influence of nurture on a person, but they are muddled by many influences and up for debate due to their parallelism which would support nature. It is not till Rowling presents her control that we can be certain of nurture’s effect.

This is part one the essay: Part two is in the following comment.

Work Cited
Davies, Kevin. "Nature vs. Nurture Revisited." PBS. PBS, 17 Apr. 2001. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.
"J.K. Rowling." J.K. Rowling. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Moir, Jane. "Where's the Magic in This Tale of Middle-class Monsters? First Review of J.K.
Rowling's VERY Grown-up Novel." Mail Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Rowling, J.K. Casual Vacancy. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012. Nook file.
Schafersman, Steven D. "An Introduction to Science." An Introduction to Science. N.p., n.d.
Web. 8 Mar. 2013.


Tiffany Toombs This is part two of the Nature vs. Nurture essay
Ontario Student 1

The control in Casual Vacancy, created by Rowling to prove her hypothesis by removing the variables we found in the case evidence, is Fats. Fats is the control because he is an orphan, and therefore separated from his biological parents who might impart on him uninhabitable traits that will seems like they were inherited because he learned them during his development. To examine Fats, one must focus on how the character acted prior to the novel and at its end, the time when he is not in a state of teenage rebellion/coming of age, for it is here that Fats demonstrates how he will act outside the timespan of the novel and into the future. During these periods when he is not obsessed with being “authentic”, Fats is a more sincere individual. For example, he seems to truly care about his mother, as evidenced when he ask Krystal not to “tell” her about their relationship, fearing negative reactions (Rowling 69). At the novel’s end, Fats finally comes of age. His character changes completely from the unsympathetic character he was for the whole of the novel, into what is assumed to be his true self because “his body was betraying him” and showing his true emotions, not his contrived authentic ones. The true Fats is one that is “unrecognizable” to his friend, Andrew (Rowling 393). Fats “confessed” to being the ghost of Barry Fairbrother, and in the process tries to own up to all of the problems he has caused, showing that he has maturity. As evidenced by his actions, the true Fats shows the direct influence of his adoptive parents, both of whom are responsible employees at the local school. The only flaw with the control is that his true parents are never revealed; therefore we don’t have a proper frame of reference to judge his character to. However, the influence of his adopted parents is clear enough that one can conclude from the control that Rowling is correct in her hypothesis. The only way to be certain of her hypothesis is to have Rowling put everything through a peer review.
The peer review that her hypothesis goes through is with Miles, who tests the basic premise of her hypothesis and uses counter arguements to that end up strengthening her argument. He first tests Kay (and Rowling if you consider Kay an author avatar here) by bringing up the concept of “responsibility” (Rowling 195). Though not directly related to the hypothesis, it does carry the implications of the nature and nurture which, with the establishment of Pagford being “full of working –class people” and the Fields not, frames the tone of the review (Rowling 195). Miles comment on the success rates of Bellchapel, the local addiction clinic, carries the implication that it is nature that drives people and their addiction, not nurture, and therefore the clinic is a waste of money. Kay counters by saying the whole issue is “immensely complicated” and says it does have a positive influence and goes on to imply that it extends further by creating a better environment that nurtures people positively, in this case Krystal and Robbie (Rowling 196). Continuing, the case of Krystal is brought to the forefront and reviewed. Miles’ assault on her carries the implication that it is her birth to fault and that no amount of effort can change her. Moving on he addresses the second case, Terri. He states that it is her “history”, implying her nature (since she’s from the Fields), that shapes her (Rowling 197). The counter argument that Kay brings demonstrates the flaws with his argument, citing his own personal since it follows “the same principle.” (Rowling 197). The entire encounter is a peer review where they examine the evidence, comment on the accuracy, bring up counter points and ultimately gauge their research. The argument served its purpose in the novel, establishing how Kay’s argument (and therefore Rowling’s) is superior to the nature hypothesis that Miles champions, effectively solidifying her as correct, even if she did lose the argument in-verse.
Rowling was able to create an effective argument for her position in the nature versus nurture debate by using the scientific method to prove her position. Now, while in real life the argument is still up for grabs, Rowling makes her argument certain, in part due to the lack of fallacy in her evidence since it is constructed from fiction. That is really the fundamental key to her theory and success, everything is fictional and created to be believable but still serve a purpose, and in this case that is teach a moral lesson on the social issues in British society. This is truly where Rowling’s talent as a writer shines. Her abilities as a writer to create authentic characters make the reader suspend belief and invest a part of themselves into the characters, making them all the more likely to sympathize with characters like Kay, which is where Rowling starts the process of imparting her morals onto the reader. Rowling’s work in A Casual Vacancy is not just a sloppy rant as many may imply but instead is a work of effective and practical literature the carefully constructs a powerful argument.
Work Cited
Davies, Kevin. "Nature vs. Nurture Revisited." PBS. PBS, 17 Apr. 2001. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.
"J.K. Rowling." J.K. Rowling. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Moir, Jane. "Where's the Magic in This Tale of Middle-class Monsters? First Review of J.K.
Rowling's VERY Grown-up Novel." Mail Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Rowling, J.K. Casual Vacancy. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012. Nook file.
Schafersman, Steven D. "An Introduction to Science." An Introduction to Science. N.p., n.d.
Web. 8 Mar. 2013.


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