The Ivory Tower

When reading J.K. Rowling's series, Harry Potter, it might not be clear that it is not only the plot that we have to understand. We are talking about such a complex series that we can find references to the actual political and social state of the world if we have a closer look in between the lines. These references are at some places hidden, but at other places they are whole monologues and longer descriptions. There are countless analysis books and texts available, and naturally countless opinions and perspectives. William Safire in his article titled Besotted with Potter writes that the Harry Potter series have only one layer and no more.[1] Stephen King has the same opinion as Safire. In his Wild about Harry article he puts the question: What happens in the fourth part of Harry Potter? His answer to his own question is that not much happens.[2] Of course there is a huge amount of writings that are written by an author being on the same side as Safire and King, but they have opposition as well. For instance Karen E. Westman's writing, Specters of Thatcherism can be mentioned. In it Westman expresses her opinion according to which Harry Potter is the radical revelation of the problems that are present in the lives of the readers.[3] Ron Natov writes in Harry Potter and the Extraordinariness of the Ordinary that in the story the effects of the magical and the unmagical world on each other and the result of them are constantly present in the book.[4] I agree with the opinions of Westman and Natov. My strong opinion is that when reading the seven parts of the series we can meet such social and political phenomenons and situations that are charachteristic features of the actual world. The main problem is the racial discrimination, which is one building block of the story. Beside this we can read of sexual discrimination, children who are born in to a bad family, activism, the modern middle-class, the differences between social classes, and death-penalty. These all suggest the idea that Rowling did not only write a story. The Harry Potter series is, beside an article of entertainment, a message for the reader to consider what is happening at the moment in our world.

Racial, sexual, and financial discrimination

In the series the most visible phenomenon is racism. It is introduced in doubtlessly a negative way, as only the negative charachters are racists. They think the ones who are not pure-blood (they are not born to be a child of a wizard and a witch) are not supposed to be wizards or witches. Besides, they regard werewolves as creatures that are on a lower class than wizards. To mention an example, there is Remus Lupin, who was born into a wizard family but later, not intentionally, he became a werewold, and from that moment on he had less respect in the wizarding world. However, the book demonstrates the fact that discrimination has no rational basis. Hermione Granger was born to be a daughter of to completely unmagical parents. Despite this, she has the best results in studying in her year, among all the other students, some of them even being pure-blood. In the book it is stressed that there is a way back from racism. Sirius Black was born into a family which consists of members that like what Voldemort does. But when Sirius reaches the age of a teenager, when he becames able to act, he leaves his family and stands on the good side. The books also suggest that people who are not racist but do not mind are also faulty. It is a nonchalance for such an extent that it can have very serious consequences. Dumbledore says this in one of his monologues: ''Sirius did not hate Kreacher," said Dumbledore. "He regarded him as a servant unworthy of much interest or notice. Indifferenceand neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. . . The fountain we destroyed tonight told a lie. We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward."[5] The question of the elves in the books is very complicated. Only Dobby thinks that after work he deserves payment for what he did, and the other elves consider it as a serious offense. Apart from Hermione everyone regards the elves as subordinate creatures. It is not sure whether it is ethical or not, as according to what Ron says the elves feel good in the situation they are in, and they are happy with serving the wizard families. This is an exceptional case, because we can only read about them from the perspective of the narrator and we cannot get a fully detailed description on the thoughts of elves so it is difficult to decide how they really feel about serving the wizards. In this case we cannot clearly talk about racism.

Besides racism we can discover counteraction to sexual discrimination in the book. It opposes to the idea of that also. In the Harry Potter series we cannot find any reference to the idea according to which women are less than men. In the books women take part in fights, there are women who have power, just as well as men. However, we can read opinions that are different from mine. Christine Schoefer writes in her article that the Harry Potter books clearly suggest that the world should be run by men, and also that there are no female charachters that are as heroic as Harry is or as brilliant thinkers as Dumbledore is. Schoefer stresses that Hermione does not count to be a hero, she rather fulfils the role of an annoying person who knows everything.[6] I do no agree with this perspective at all. For example there is Dolores Umbridge, who is, despite a negative charachter, a women with power. She becomes the high-inquisitor in Hogwarts to gain information for the Ministry. She creates new school rules, making the stundents' lives worse. So she, just like men, runs the world. She has the same rank as other men. However, it has to be mentioned that she finally loses her power, fulfilling the requirement of the reader for jurisdiction. But this is not due to the fact that Umbridge is a woman, but to the fact that she is woman with unacceptable charachteristics. The other person for supporting my opinion is Hermione. She may not face Voldemort personally, but without her Harry would never be able to fight him either. Beside this, she is one of the best students in the whole school. She is reliable, emotionally strong, clever, and she cannot be influenced easily. She is recognised on lessons, she is graded in the same way, she has a variety of facilities out of school as well as boys. What is more, the quiddich team of the Gryffindor House has a female team-leader for one year. These points all suggest that a person, regardless of his or her sex can be able to carry out different tasks.

The difference making between the social classes can be considered a moderately radical kind of discrimination. According to what I have read in the books this type is also introduced negatively. For instance the huge gap between the Weasley and the Malfoy families can be mentioned. The members of the Weasley family worth just as much as the Malfoys, moreover, the latter are negative charachters. We cannot get to know where Lucius Malfoy gets his money from, but probably he uses illegal methods. However, Arthur Weasley works in the Ministry of Magic, and he works hard, but he is not in a high position so he does not earn much money. This causes problems in Hogwarts, as Malfoy never forgets mentioning the financial differences between the two families. Rowling said this about the topic: "Kids are acutely aware of moneybefore they're aware of class. A kid isn't really going to notice how another kid holds his knife and fork. But a kid will be acutely aware that he doesn't have pocket money. Or that he doesn't have as much pocket money. I think back to myself at 11. Kids can be mean, very mean. So it was there in Ron not having the proper length robes, you know? And not being able to buy stuff on the trolley. He's got to have sandwiches his mum made for him, even though he doesn't like the sandwiches. Having enough money to fit in is an important facet of lifeand what is more conformist than a school?"[7]

Problems with the modern middle-class

Rowling takes out one class, and she criticizes it throughout the whole series. This is the modern middle-class. We can read a strong description about them. The members of the Dursley family abuse their authority, they are unfair and unintelligent. The book suggests with a bit of exaggeration that with some exceptations all the middle-class families are like this. Roberta Gellis, in her writing titled A Dursley csald mint trsadalmi kommentr says that Rowling puts a lot of events from the terrible to the comic stage. For example when Vernon Dursley obstacles the mail slot with cakes so that Harry would not be able to get a mail. Vernon seems to be pathetic and the reader is unnerved from behaving like this.[8] Rowling writes that in Privet Drive all the houses and gardens look the same, and everyone's favourite free-time activity is to wash the car and cut the grass. ''Cars that were usually gleaming stood dusty in their drives and lawns that were once emerald green lay parched and yellowing; the use of hosepipes had been banned due to drought. Deprived of their usual car-washing and lawn-mowing pursuits..."[9] Again, Roberta Gellis's writing A Dursley csald mint trsadalmi kommentr suggests that Rowling criticizes two additional charachteristics of the middle-class. The intolerance and the money-grubbing.[10] When the Masons visit the Dursleys Uncle Vernon cannot think of anything else but the business and the profit he can make with a good deal, and finally his plan does not work . The desire of the Dursleys to be similar to other normal people causes that they expect others to do the same and try to be similar, which shows that they are intolerant. In one of her interviews Rowling was asked what she would do with the world if she could and she told that she would make every single person more tolerant.[11]

Influenced children

The Dursleys are good for demonstrating another phenomenon. It is when a child is born into a family where he is influenced for too big extent by the parents and he does not learn to think and make decisions independently. Dudley was also born into the world of two parents with unacceptable ways of thinking. ''Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense."[12] He basically learnt to hate those who are different in some way from the normal. Despite this in the seventh book Dudley starts to think freely and he thanks Harry for everything Harry did for him. As another example there is Draco Malfoy, who was born into a Death Eater family and he becomes one also. However, at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when he is supposed to murder Dumbledore it turns out that he is not a bad person from the roots, he was simply influenced by his parents. This is how Rowling demonstrates the fact that unfortunately even children that are good inside can be born into a bad family.

The ministry's intervention in education

It is not enough for a school to have good students. It needs professionals who arrange the education in a way that is beneficial for students, and not for themselves. The Ministry's intervention in Hogwarts was only good for the Ministry. It is the same as in the real world: The Ministry creates educational reforms that are probably not for the own good of the schools and students. This is why the Ministry of Magic sends Dolores Umbridge to Hogwarts. Rowling said this about Umbridge and her real equivalents: ''She has good contacts at the Ministry. She is one of those people, and they do exist in real life, who will always side with the established order. As far as she is concerned authority cannot be wrong so she doesn't question it, and I would go as far as to say that whatever happened and whoever took over at the Ministry, Umbridge would be there, she likes power. So she is going to side with the people who give her the authority.''[13] Even Dumbledore, who is a highly-respected brilliand mind, loses his authority when Umbridge arrives in the school, even though he is much more experienced and clever than her, she gets more power from the Ministry, consequently, the level of the school decreases while the Ministry acts like it was increasing.

It is not sure whether anarchy and death-penalty are needed or not

Anarchy can be beneficial for a certain extent. At least this is what constantly turns out when reading the book. Hermione, who is the perfect student basically, happens to break laws, but she does it for the happy ending. she makes Neville unable to move with a curse in the first year so that Harry can get out of Gryffindor common room and prevent Voldemort from regaining power. Of course it is not about breaking the rules neccessarily, but when someone knows when it is the right time to do that, they should do that, because it cannot cause any problem.

Death penalty has several bad sides according to the book, as it can cause death not only to the guilty, but the innocent as well. Hagrid explains all the students how to treat a Hyppogriff, but Malfoy does not take it seriously and gets closer to the creature in a wrong way, and Buckbeak attacks him, as this is a natural charachteristic of a Hypogriff. Malfoy has power and Hagrid does not, so of course Buckbeak is found guilty and gets death penalty.

Sirius Black has been accused of a murder for years, but it turns out finally that he is innocent. What would have happened if Harry and his friends had not been able to escape him? He would have been given the dementor's kiss. The moral is that someone is found hundred percent guilty, they should not be executed.

How to solve the problems? War, activism?

To change the actual situation and eliminate the problems that are present the right methods should be found. In Harry Potter we can read of war and activism. The good and the evil is in the opposition in the whole series and it can be seen that in the beginning this opposition is small and secret, but as the story goes on the fight gets more and more intensive and the return of Voldemort becomes a public piece of news, creating a total chaos and war. Two things caught my attention when trying to read between the lines. The first is that a war causes serious losses, as we can lose family members and other relationships can break. The second one is that even though the first one is true, war is needed to avoid the evil gaining power. This is what Dumbledore says: fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated..."[14]

We can read of the importance of activism and how effective it is. Rowling was a member of an organisation named Amnesty International where she worked for the defence of human rights. '' longest job was with Amnesty International, the organisation that campaigns against human rights abuses all over the world.''[15] In the book she probably acts through Hermione Granger, who creates the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, which is an organisation for helping to make the situation of house elves better. She makes them presents in return for the work they do. The first problem is that Hermione does not get any support from any of the other students at school, they do not take her seriously, and she cannot do alone what hundreds of people together could. The second problem is that Dobby takes all the presents, as the other elves take it as a serious offense to get any form of payment for work. The third one is that Dobby becomes the black sheep among the house elves as he accepted the presents. So in Harry Potter there is only an ironic description of activism, saying that it may have a huge importance but it has no effect without the lack of support and acceptance.

Politics nowadays

Cornelius Caramel is a tipical politician, who is only good at saying everything in a diplomatic way so that what he says seem to be always good. Besides, he naturally has a desire for power so he arranges things not for the welfare of the country but for his own benefits. The book not only criticizes this type of politicians, but it also suggests that the ones who would be really good at governing do not wish to govern. Just to mention an example there is Albus Dumbledore, who does not want to be the prime minister, still, he is much more intelligent, experienced and unselfish than Caramel. The proof for it is that Caramel always used to ask Dumbledore for advice when he started being the prime minister.

What is the task of a prime minister? Honesty with the country is the most important, and as mentioned before, acting for the country's good. When Voldemort regains power Caramel does not meet the requirements. He is aware of the fact the Voldemort returned, but he does his best to keep it in secret. He fires Dumbledore, takes Umbridge to control the school and punish those spreading the idea according to which Voldemort returned. Of course the students of Slytherin are the members of the Inquisitorial Squad. They abuse their power and punish everyone they do not like. This is a political method by Caramel to suppress the opposition, not to let it develop.

Summing up the ideas it can be said that in most cases it needs reading the book more times to understand not only the story but the hidden messages as well. These make the series more complex than it would be without the messages. The reader can learn a lot from the books as the things written in there are all examples of what we live in today and how we behave. Whether intentionally or not, there are obvious parallelisms drawn between the magical and the real world with people having very similar orders of values. Having a look between the lines we can mainly see that there are lots of people who are in an unfairly unadvantageous situations because of the several kinds of discrimination. Also the negative features of politics are attached to the story. The readers may think about it if they see the crooked mirror that Rowling shows to the people with the use of the Harry Potter books. The series, beside entertainment, is a message to the people to change the actual situation, like Harry and his friends did.

Literature I read:

  • Mercedes Lackey: Harry Potter vilgnak feltrkpezse
  • David Bagett, Shawn Klein: Harry Potter vilga, 2005, desvz Kiad
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 1997, Scholastic Press
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 1999, Scholastic Press
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1999, Scholastic Press
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000, Scholastic Press
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003, Scholastic Press
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2005, Scholastic Press
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007, Scholastic Press

Internet sources:

  1. Besotted with Potter, New York Times, 2000. 01. 27.
  2. Wild about Harry, New York Times Book Preview, 2000. 07. 23.
  3. Specters of Thatcherism, in The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, page 308
  4. Harry Potter and the Extraordinariness of the Ordinary, in The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, page 125-129
  5. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003, Scholastic Press, page 833-834
  7. J. K. Rowling's Books That Made a Difference, O, The Oprah Magazine, 2001. january
  8. Harry Potter vilgnak feltrkpezse, edited by Mercedes Lackney, A Dursley csald mint trsadalmi kommentr
  9. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003, Scholastic Press, page 1
  10. Harry Potter vilgnak feltrkpezse, edited by Mercedes Lackney, A Dursley csald mint trsadalmi kommentr
  11. Interview on, 2000.10.06.
  12. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 1997, Scholastic Press, page 1
  13. Transcribed version of the Harry Potter Children's Press press conference
  14. Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, 2005, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, page 601

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