In East, West Rushdie explores the difference in being a “Fool-Actual” (79) and a “Fool-Professional” (79) in the short story “Yorick.” Yorick, the title character, is the King’s jester and the Fool of the story. As the “Fool-Professional,” Yorick was “permitted by his motley to speak wisdom and have men laugh at it; to tell the truth, yet keep his head, jingling as it was with silly bells” (79). But when Yorick becomes the “Fool-Actual” his wisdom is lost and he rants and roars, confirming the assumptions his audience makes. The Fool-Professional has superior insight into human nature and the important aspects of life; the Fool-Actual lacks the wisdom of the Fool-Professional.
We are consumed by the desire to not act the fool because we want to be accepted by others, but we forget that being a fool includes being a Fool-Professional and the wisdom attached to the position. Yorick only becomes a Fool-Actual when he doubts himself and believes he is a “Dolt” (79). And we too become fools, confirming the criticisms of others, when we doubt ourselves and abandon our individuality, only laughing when the crowd laughs. People may assume an individual is a Fool-Actual when he or she goes against the grain and expresses the unique voice inside of every human. However, the person who displays comfort in his or her body is the Fool-Professional, with the knowledge that to survive in the world one must find a home in themselves by embracing their quirks.
Hau’ofa, author of Kisses in the Nederends stated “One of the things I dislike about going to serious movies in our island is the damned audience. They always laugh uproariously at the wrong things and ruin the movie. It’s like when I went first to Australia, fresh out of the boondocks. I tended to laugh merrily at all sorts of things, and not infrequently, someone would ask indignantly, ‘what are you laughing at?’ I almost lost my sense of humour trying to be civilized; but fortunately I never got quite civilized” (Hau ‘ofa 161). Self-consciousness is a defining characteristic of human nature. We do not want to be the only one laughing; we do not want to look like a fool. So instead of embracing our individuality, we act with assumed civility and laugh when the crowd is laughing, losing our voice along the way.
Just like Hau ‘ofa, I laugh endlessly. I can find humor in almost any situation. In high school, I had a history teacher who would dress up like important historical figures we were studying. At the beginning of class, he would tell us that we had a visitor that day. People would roll their eyes and moan. During the middle of class, he would leave the room saying “I will be right back, I left something in my office.” Then he would return dressed up as Arthur Balfour, and other figures I am now forgetting. He would tell us a story—fully committing to the character, voice and all, occasionally wearing a fez since it was a Middle Eastern history class—while trying to drive a significant point into our heads, in hopes that we would learn something in high school. After the tale was told, he would promptly leave the classroom as said historical figure and come back as himself, asking “Did I just miss our visitor?” Every single time, the same chain of events happened. Apparently the room full of seniors was too good to find anything amusing in the situation. My fellow classmates would sit there with sour faces, and I would be laughing uncontrollably. I could not help it, though I realize the classroom isn’t the most appropriate place to be overtaken by laughter. When he would leave the class to go change into his alter-ego, my giggles would make their appearance.
Eventually, I caught on to the fact that no one else was laughing. I looked like the fool. I looked like the suck-up. My laughter became a form of brown-nosing in the eyes of my fellow classmate.
I decide that I would try to contain my outbursts in an effort to not be the Fool-Actual. But trying not to show my true emotions took away all the joy from the experience. I became too focused on not looking like a fool and as a result I didn’t learn, ultimately making me a fool. My laughter makes me unique. By denying that aspect of myself, I was no longer comfortable in my own skin. I was too aware of how others would judge me. But what is so great about being a part of the majority, and laughing “uproariously at the wrong things” (Hau ‘ofa 161), just because everyone else is laughing? You may feel like a fool, but you are being truly authentic. And in that moment of authenticity, you are an example of a greater wisdom; you are a “Fool-Professional” (Rushdie79). You know the importance of being honest, comfortable, and at home with oneself.