Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Irrationality in ZW

Grace Zhou's picture

    People in NW are special. Different from most of self-interested people in economic world, characters such as Natalie and Felix are not rational all the time. Rationality-“wanting more rather than less of good” (Wiki) is the most important and obvious factor in modeling people’s behavior and decision-making. For example, what rational choice people prefer is to maximize profit and minimize cost. However, in ZW, it is easy to find the irrational behaviors result no benefits for the charters at all.


    At first, it seems that Natalie and Felix are the most rational people in the book because they know how to behave well to maximize their interests. Although born in poor family in the council estate in Caldwell, they are upwardly mobile. Felix met Grace, a girl “who is conscious” (Smith, 179) and motivates him to get rid of the demons in life such as drug and alcohol. It’s wise and beneficial for him not to dwell in life but move up to a next level. Also, for Natalie, she follows her plan cautiously and studies so hard. With her rationality, she marries to a man who is rich and beneficial to her academic life and career. Frank owns ability to help Nat maximize her self-interest. Everything Felix and Nat have done is “right” and wise. They make large efforts to become the person they thought is worthy of being and the person they think should be. They are happy and satisfied with the profit brought by their rational choices.


    However, both of them fail to maximize their self-interests by acting unreasonably. More importantly, they are even aware that they did the things illogically but they still persist doing so. In other words, getting off the right track they planned before, Nat and Felix both know and permit them doing something that results no good to them. This is not rational economic man will choose to behave. For instance, before finding his ex Annie, Felix questioned himself that “why did he need to come down here and say anything at all? She didn’t matter anymore (Smith, 158). Although being aware finding Annie brings him no interests, Felix went into the room, up the roof and had sex with her. This behavior makes no sense even more when Felix was annoyed by the blatant theory from Annie who states that life is no like game; it does not have next level and everybody dies at the end (Smith, 181). Finding Annie brings no benefit; instead, they are furious and disappointed after all. Also, Nat didn’t find satisfaction in her listing- with people “much older than they’d said… awful, crepey white skin with blue veins (Smith, 340). Further more, she knows it is not rational to do this for she is such a person who is so afraid to be valued as ridiculous person and she feel very shameful after being discovered.


    So why are these two rational people behave such illogically? The reason may be that they just can’t move on because of their heritage. Through the effort in trying to behave rationally and maximizing self-interest, they ignore the fact that they are not and can’t be rational people in their heart because they were poor kids who were in the lowest social-economy class. In other word, born in a world even has no ability in involving economic factors such as interest, profit and trade, and in a place where people only concern the survival, food and clothing, Nat and Felix has no ability and habit to think rationally. The heritage of growing up in Caldwell roots in their hearts, in their behavior and thoughts. However, when they fearlessly struggle forward, they ignore and even neglect to find who they really. They are so occupied by being the people they want to be. Rationality asks people to be “in a thoughtful clear-headed manner”(wiki); however, Nat can’t define herself from a Caldwell girl to a wife of a rich man. Felix can’t resist being persuaded by Annie. Without knowing who they really are, Nat and Felix behave illogically in the book. So they are neither Caldwell people nor non-Caldwell people after struggling to change. The inconsistences in them results the irrationality.


Thus, in ZW, those irrational behaviors represent the predicament of characters being stuck in the rooted heritage. No matter how Felix and Natalie want to change, they can’t move on. They are chained in the past and identity. They neither can go back nor step forward. Thus, wandering between history and future, instead of rationally choose to maximize the interest to enjoy happy life with Frank and her children, Natalie is occupied by self-invention (Smith, 247), to check the list which can’t bring her pleasure at all. Felix couldn’t resist to going up to roof and listening to the instructions from Annie (Smith, 170). They are stuck, can’t make rational choice, and can’t move on.


Works cited

"Rational Choice Theory." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2013.

 Smith, Zadie. NW. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print