The Casual Vacancy The Casual Vacancy question

You are being manipulated by Rowling!
Tiffany Toombs Tiffany Mar 18, 2013 11:59AM
Ontario High School Student 6
14 March 2013

*** SPOILER ALERT: The following essay contains spoilers to the novel, Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling.
The Philosophy of Authenticity
“The difficult thing, the glorious thing, was to be who you really were, even if that person was cruel or dangerous, particularly if cruel and dangerous,” (Rowling 74). Using one of her main characters, Fats Wall, JK Rowling proposes an idea in her novel, The Casual Vacancy, so contradictory that one finds oneself bewildered by it. Western morals and values would claim that yes, it is indeed important to be who you really are! Yet, to be cruel and dangerous? Such a question may cause anyone to disregard the idea of “being yourself.” The purpose of this essay is to examine the philosophy of living the authentic lifestyle of Fats Wall in order to clear up any confusion readers might have concerning Fats’ actions and thought processes. Upon assessment, readers can determine that Fats’ idea of “authenticity” is indeed a philosophy which Rowling intends not to endorse, but to criticize, as seen through the novel’s plotline and characterizations of Fats.
In her novel, JK Rowling introduces the questionable idea of “authenticity” through her character, Fats Wall. This philosophy, however, has created confusion for some readers. What exactly does Fats indicate by authenticity? Human authenticity, according to Dr. B. G. Yocabi, is a philosophy most simply defined as “being true and honest to oneself and others” (Yocabi 1). Fats’ interpretation of this philosophy seems to follow Yocabi’s criterion. Before officially introducing the word, “authentic,” Fats explains his thoughts of honesty. “Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest. It shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out…” (Rowling 73-74). In other words, being authentic means the opposite of being superficial, a quality which shrouds a person’s true self, including their beliefs, characteristics, and behaviors, in order to epitomize the expectations of society. In fact, Fats’ exemplifies this idea when noting how “some of his habits of thought were the unnatural product of his unfortunate upbringing [his growing up in society], and consequentially inauthentic…” (Rowling 74). Dr. Yocabi also explains how the desire to live authentically derives from the need to “not be a puppet of the theatre of society” (Yocabi 1). To live authentically, as opposed to superficially, might seem like an excellent proposal to an average person. However, Fats’ continuation of his explanation transforms the idea of authenticity into something much more sinister and appalling. He believes that the best way to be authentic is to be “who you really were, even if that person was cruel or dangerous, particularly if cruel and dangerous” (Rowling 74). The action of being honest with oneself is transformed by Fats’ mind into the acts of doing whatever one wants to do, succumbing to animalistic desires, and being unconcerned about the opinions or feelings of others. In addition, Fats completes his philosophy by admiring (or imagining himself as) the residents of the Fields, such as Dane Tully, a boy who does not suppress his urge to fight and who acts above authority. He also pursues authenticity by seeking out sexual relations with a girl he believes to be authentic – Krystal Weedon, who always speaks whatever comes to mind whether outrageous, cruel, or offensive. In contrast, Fats chooses to despise his father - who lives a life fearful of his pedophilic thoughts being revealed - and who “represent[s] the acme and pinnacle of inauthenticity” (Rowling 75). Despite Fats’ prioritization of honesty over kindness, Rowling’s tone of the passage containing this philosophy suggests her agreement with it. As the novel progresses, however, readers learn that Rowling does not endorse “authenticity” whatsoever – at least her character’s version of it.
As Fats’ character is revealed throughout the novel via descriptions and diction, readers begin to associate Fats with unlikable qualities, especially his cruelty. Because JK Rowling chose such an unkind character to be an advocate against superficiality, it becomes reasonable to infer that the belief system of the character (authenticity) is indeed faulty. Her characterizations of this teenager manipulate readers into hating this boy and all his viciousness. Yes, Fats may obtain admiration from readers with his drive to be an honest person, but the harm he causes other characters marks him as a selfish, callous creature. Among the characters affected by Fats’ “authentic” personality is Sukhvinder Jawanda, a girl overcome with turmoil from Fats’ taunts regarding her appearance. Sukhvinder expresses her thoughts concerning Fats in the following manner:
Fats Wall’s evil tongue fashioned a fresh, tailor-made torture every time he saw her, and she could not shut her eyes. His every insult and jibe was branded on Sukhvinder’s memory, sticking there as no useful fact had ever done. If she could have been examined on the things he called her, she would have achieved the first A grade of her life. Tash N’ Tits. Hermaphodite. The Bearded Dumbell. (Rowling 146).

Fats’ malicious insults become one of the main causes of Sukhvinder’s resulting self-harm. Fats’ continual investigation of authenticity has done nothing more than severely hurt the emotional stability of a young girl – an action that cannot be sugarcoated by excuses of honesty. If Rowling had instead created a character that may be regarded as “strange,” by his authentic approach, then perhaps authenticity would seem like an unusual yet rather decent way of living. However, the characters with whom Fats interacts with describe him not as strange, but as “evil,” a word which not only labels a characteristic against culture, but against morality. Rowling’s use of diction in this paragraph is especially important. Fats does not merely hurt Sukhvinder; he “torture[s]” her with his taunts. They are “branded” on her memory, burning unbearably forever. By using extremely harsh words to characterize Fats and his actions, Rowling not only criticizes her character but also the presented philosophy.
Rowling further reinforces the problems with the philosophy of Fats’ human authenticity with the plot of the novel, regarding Fats’ agreement to abandon a child in pursuit of “authentic” affairs. In Fats’ ultimate endeavor to be authentic, he agrees to have sex with Krystal Weedon behind a bush, while her three-year-old brother is left alone to wander unsupervised. This act is not even seemingly innocent – it is irresponsible and dangerous – and it leads to the catastrophe of little Robbie Weedon drowning in the river. From examining the passage when this climax occurs, one discovers the pursuit of authenticity to be one of the major underlying causes. When Krystal first suggests the idea of leaving her brother alone to have sex, it is clear that Fats is originally appalled. However, he makes the decision based solely on his pursuit of authenticity. “He hated the idea of what she was suggesting,” the novel states. “But was that not inauthenticity?” (Rowling 451). Fats is further convinced by reminding himself of the authentic people he idolizes and the inauthentic person he derides. “Dane Tully would do it. Pikey Pritchard (it is assumed he is another character from the Fields) would do it. Cubby; not in a million years” (Rowling 451). Therefore, authenticity, or rather the pursuit of, proves to be a major contributing cause of the devastating death of an innocent, helpless character. How is it possible, then, for Rowling to recommend an attitude to life with such catastrophic effects? Rowling makes it clear that readers should not agree with Fats’ idea of authenticity, or possibly authenticity in general.
Rowling ends the climax of the novel with a proposed philosophy concerning superficiality rather than authenticity, suggesting that superficiality is preferable. This different belief system appears after the devastation of the drowning incident, when Fats, traumatized from the effects of his actions, is sitting in his mother’s car on the way home. Tessa Wall demonstrates inauthenticity through a lack of honesty when having a conversation with her son. The dishonesty comes when she tells Fats how his father loves him. “She added the lie because she could not help herself,” the book claims (Rowling 477). Her addition of dishonesty, a characteristic of superficiality, is done for the sake of Fats – it is an act of kindness. She further justifies her action of lying by asserting, “But who could bear to know which stars were already dead… could anybody stand to know that they all were?” When examining this sentence literally, Tessa is referring to the fact that because the speed of light is so slow, all the stars in the sky could be dead and observers on Earth would not know otherwise. This statement, however, is a metaphor for the situation with her son. The light of the stars represents the warmth of knowing that Fats’ father loves him. The knowledge of whether the stars are dead or not then represents the knowledge of whether Cubby’s love is a lie or not. In this case it is a lie, but Tessa believes that Fats could not stand to know the truth, especially at this point of time, even though he admires truthfulness above anything else. Perhaps Tessa’s dishonesty was immoral, but in the conclusion of the novel the action of the lie serves a higher purpose. Because Fats was led to believe that his father loved him, he accepts his father and confesses every terrible action he has ever committed. Once all is confessed, Cubby even learns to be affectionate toward Fats – something that never before occurred. “…Colin put a hand gently on his son’s back.” Cubby’s gentle gesture possibly foreshadows the end of the war between Fats and his parents, creating a mutual understanding. Because Rowling placed Tessa’s inauthenticity after the climax of the novel and because it positively affects a father-son relationship, readers can acknowledge that the novel then presents the idea that Fats’ philosophy of authenticity is faulty and inauthenticity is sometimes preferred.
It is obvious after reading The Casual Vacancy that Rowling believes authenticity to be an ineffective philosophical pursuit. Even Dr. Yacobi’s article on the subject notes that authenticity may be “an impossible state of being,” for “the state of authenticity is transient and impossible to maintain indefinitely,” and it cannot be “adequately defined, identified, or measured…” (Yacobi 1). Rowling uses Fats’ pursuit of authenticity to show how people can take any philosophy regarding the self to an extreme level. Rowling mocks the philosophy her character follows in order to ridicule those created by various people throughout life. A definite philosophy to the self and to life cannot be created because of the complexity of the mind and of society. Therefore, while it is alright to philosophize in a general manner, creating a single approach to live life will only bring about treacherous consequences.

Works Cited
Rowling, J. K.. The Casual Vacancy. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2012.
Yacobi, B. G. "Elements of Human Authenticity." Philosophy to Go. Wordpress, 4 Jan. 2011.
Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

wow. what?

I really liked this analysis, made me think twice about some things in the book.

back to top