CV 8: Andrew and Gaia — Fallen Man and the Natural World?

I mentioned the Quarreling Couples — the Walls and Jawandas — who get together at one of the possible centers of Casual Vacancy in thread #7 on Ring Composition but there are other couples in the book, of course. I think immediately of Stuart Wall and Krystall Weedon, the Romeo and Juliet of this postmodern, alchemical romance, Gavin the Cad and Kay Bowden, Samantha and Miles Mollinson, and the tragic Terri Weedon and Obbo, her twisted drug dealer partner.

But the pair who have the most interesting names outside of the royal Stuart and divine Krystall, the aptly named King and Queen of the Chemical wedding, are Andrew Price and Gaia Bowden. He is the man, quite literally, as the Greek for mensch is andros. Gaia is a nightmare frankly, given that her mother’s name is Gay (can you say “confusing around the house?”), but as interesting as Andrew, I think, because of his over-the-top love for her. To be brief, ‘Gaia’ is the name of the Earth goddess. She’s Mother Nature.

That sort of naming just invites an allegorical interpretation, no? Andrew’s dad, Simon, is the greedy guy you’d expect (think Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s violent and insensitive miser, Simon Legree) with a surname like Price. Andrew, a good guy twisted by a life of fear and submission to this capitalist gone mad, is a walk-on for fallen man. They live with Ruth the mom and Paul the little guy (paulos means ‘shortie in Greek) in the House on the Hill, which, outside of Sweetlove Manor, seems the best house and view in town.

Gaia has a relationship with her mother that is at least as bent out of shape, if nowhere near as violent, as Andrew and Simon’s. She resents mom uprooting her life outside London in the fairy tale hope that Cad Boyfriend will marry her and give her life some stability. When Krystall decides pregnancy via Fats is the route to stability for her and Robby at story’s end, we have a pretty good idea from Kay-Gavin’s model that this is not going to work out.

Andrew thinks Gaia seems a goddess of cool descended from London to the parochial West Country, something of a real world Maria Merryweather. He dreams of winning her, though he is ugly, awkward, and as unlikely a match as any Pagfordian could be for her. Incredibly, he actually gets to know her because of a Dickensian coincidence and his winning a job at ‘The Copper Kettle’ where she works. She seems oblivious start to finish of his great ardor for her.

The goddess, though, befriends the great ‘other’ of the Pagford comprehensive, Sukhvinder Jawanda, who Andrew’s other half Stuart stalks sadistically on the internet. Gaia gives Jolly her first friend not on the Crew team, and, though Jolly feels betrayed by her when she sees Fats kissing her after the Mollinson birthday party, the earth mother does not forget her. I’d go so far as to say that Gaia is the engine of redemption for Andrew, Sukhvinder, and Kay Bowden. No small work for the young Jo Rowling stand-in!

Or am I all wet? Let me know what you think of the Andrew-Gaia relationship as a parable of fallen man and the spiritual earth.


  1. phoenixsong58 says

    John, I think this is all amazing and brilliant— just like all of your insights on the Harry Potter books.

    I’d say you are right that Gaia is an engine of redemption for Andrew and Sukhvinder (and Kay). By her forthrightness and her ability to be herself and not try to fit in, by her willingness to befriend whoever is in her vicinity and to accept them, by inviting Andrew and Sukhvinder along on her job application, she helps to open up their world.

    Before I read your comments, I wondered if through Andrew’s infatuation with “Gaia,” JKR was lightly poking fun at those of us who love the Gaia hypothesis, who see the Earth as a somewhat perfect goddess. Andrew sees her as so perfect— doesn’t he write “Beauty is geometry” about her? (I hope I’m remembering correctly.) Sounds like those ancient beliefs about beauty and mathematics and perfection. In getting to know her better, he is often bemused and questions his idea that someone as physically beautiful as her must be perfect in character, also.

    Over time she reveals herself as a very normal modern teenager, getting drunk and throwing up (at work, no less), making out with a not very nice guy, and screaming at her mother that she hates her. Her motivation for being friends with Sukhvinder is to be an outsider in the small town that she hates, and also due to her city-bred belief that it’s cooler not to be with only people who are white. In other words, she is looking at skin color, and not seeing Sukhvinder just as a person, at least in the beginning. She is real, not a goddess.

    However, she IS a good friend; she stands up to Sukhvinder’s tormenter (except for a few moments when drunk.) She gives up her shirt to cover Sukhvinder’s scars from self-cutting. She doesn’t fall in love with Andrew, which would be his fantasy, but, even better, really, she accepts him as he is and says they can hang out in his new town, where her father lives. Again she welcomes him along to where she is going. Nature is not just a vision of perfection, but if we are willing to let her befriend us, we find a place where we belong.

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