Kempski 1 Monica Kempski WGST199-01 Professor Uman 4/16/10 Prejudice in Harry Potter Imagine you are an orphan who lives

with your abusive aunt and uncle. Besides your glasses and an unusual scar on your forehead, you have no form of personal identity; therefore, you feel worthless. Suddenly, your life changes as you become introduced to a wondrous magical world, where you feel you truly belong. This is the story of the Harry Potter books. Although the series are often regarded as children’s books, J.K. Rowling’s phenomenon has touched millions and millions of people worldwide. What most people identify with Harry Potter is the idea of waving wands and flying around on broomsticks; however, the story is much more than that. What most people fail to see is that there are very important themes that take the story to a whole new, more complex level. Throughout her books, J.K. Rowling makes it apparent that racism is wrong through the actions of “evil” characters; however, even good characters will continue to engage in such activity because it gives them a sense of higher status or acceptance in society. Thus, it is important to overcome racism and stand up for what is right: this lesson is definitely evident in Rowling’s work. As a whole, the Harry Potter series contains evidence of racism. Throughout the seven novels, people are judged by the “blood-type” they have in relation to being a wizard. The different blood types found in the wizarding world contribute to

Kempski 2 the notion of racial superiority. The all wizard blood type is prestigious and deemed superior to the part wizards, creatures, or the pure muggles. Furthermore, these different levels of society contribute to feelings of unjustified hatred towards different groups in society. To sum up the racist relations between the different types of wizards, the muggles, and the creatures, Rowling created a gargantuan symbol of the superior racist attitudes felt by some wizards- the Fountain of Magical Brethren located in the Ministry of Magic. The fountain features a noble witch and wizard “sitting on mounds of carved humans: hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies, [muggle] men, women, and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces, twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed wizard” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 242). Thus, the muggles are the foundations of wizards, yet they are to be held as subservient to a wizard’s needs. Their “stupid ugly faces” also portray that the muggles are unintelligent and inferior to wizards. In addition to this thrown, the fountain contains an elf, a goblin, and a centaur looking adoringly at the wizards. Thus, the wizards are portrayed as godly leaders in the eyes of the creatures (even though ample evidence points to their abuse by wizards). A final detail in the statue is the inscription of “Magic is Might.” Consequently, this reflects the superior wizarding feeling that having magic gives a person power and elite status. Upon analyzing this statue, one can conclude that wizards are being portrayed as dominant over every living creature and human. J.K Rowling has a particular way of portraying the racist characters in her novels. Uncoincidently, all of the evil racist characters are mean or biologically awkward. These descriptions make the reader unable to like the character or connect to him or her. In turn, they see the character’s racist ideas as wrong. To begin, Draco Malfoy is portrayed several times as malicious and unfeeling. When

Kempski 3 the first incident of the Chamber of Secrets occurs, Rowling creates the scene where Draco states “You’ll be next, Mudbloods!“ and follows with the description “He had pushed to the front of the crowd, his cold eyes alive, his usually bloodless face flushed, as he grinned at the sight of the hanging, immobile cat” (Rowling, Chamber of Secrets 139). This scene definitely portrays the notion of Draco being a racist by using the term “mud-blood” to refer to the muggle-born. In addition, they way he pushed thought the crowd serves as evidence that he thinks he is superior to everyone else and can treat them unfairly. To portray him as unfavorable, Rowling provides Malfoy with an adverse description of “cold eyes” and a “usually blood-less face.” With these “cold eyes alive” and “usually bloodless face flushed” one can assume that Draco is excited by the killing of people inferior to him. The Gaunt family also receives unnerving depictions from Rowling. Morfin Gaunt, the man who tried to harm a muggle was described as having “thick hair so matted with dirt it could have been any color. Several of his teeth were missing. His eyes were small and dark and stared in opposite directions. He might have looked comical, but he did not; the effect was frightening” (Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 201). Rowling’s zany description of the character could only go with her belief that Morfin’s racist ideas are as crazy as his description. The evil Lord Voldemort also has disturbing characteristics that make his racist ideals not relatable. Upon his return to power, Harry describes his face as “whiter than a skull, with wide, livid scarlet eyes and a nose that was flat as a snake’s with slits for nostrils” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 643). With his snake-like inhuman appearance, Lord Voldemort is automatically assumed as evil, along with all of his racist beliefs.

Kempski 4 In addition to the evil characters being racist, there are also several characters that do not follow Voldemort who engage in racist actions or comments. These characters are either unaware of it, or they do so to be accepted by society or to feel superior themselves. The most chilling form of ill-treatment of muggleborns happens in the last book of the series, Deathly Hallows. At this time in the series, countless muggle-borns go into hiding because Lord Voldemort and his purifying Death Eaters are rising to power. As they progress to take over the Ministry of Magic, a law passes that requires all muggle-borns to register under the government. The muggle-borns will have their wand snapped unless they can prove that they have at least one magical family member. With this registration, the muggle-borns are blamed for illegally stealing magical powers, which made them fit for the punishment of death. Unfortunately, no one fights to stop this act because it became law. People are afraid of challenging the law because they fear that they will bring up on trial against society and therefore will not be accepted .Thus, the wizarding community continues to let this racist action happen to comply with the general public and the government overseers. The muggle registration mentioned in the above paragraph is an alarming comparison to the Nazi’s acts to Jewish people in Germany under Hitler’s regime. Hilter hated the Jews and used them as a scapegoat for Germany’s problems after the First World War. He believed that a country who allowed mixed-blood marriages would fall, and promoted propaganda against all Jews. Thus, he banned marriage and sexual relations with Jews, and required Jews to register under the government. In comparison, the mixed-blood marriages between muggles and wizards are discouraged by prestigious families of society. These rules were called the “Nuremberg Laws,” or the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German

Kempski 5 Honor” (Gellately 122). It is also important to call attention to the term of a “mischling,” a person of mixed race (Gellately 123). This is similar to the derogatory term of “mud-blood” in Harry Potter. Next, the names of Jews were published in the newspapers, just as names of muggles were in Rowling’s work. Finally, one should note that Jews were charged with “race defilement” (Gellately 125). Muggle-borns were accused of illegally stealing power from wizards, just as Jews were charged with corrupting the human race. In both cases, all of these regulations were accepted in society by the people because they came from the government who threatened protesters. Robert Gellately brings to attention in his book Peter Longerich’s idea that people who disagreed “dared object only on pragmatic grounds about the violence or the destruction of property” (123). With this quote, Longerich explains that most Germans felt they had boundaries to the extent of their actions due to fear of what may happen to them if they publically disagree with the regime. Thus, to be accepted by society, Germans followed the laws of the country regardless of their horrid content for the purpose of saving their own lives. This can also be justified to the Harry Potter series by the limited actions that wizards took to overthrow the powerful threatening system ruled by Lord Voldemort. Mikhail Lyubansky also offers ideas as to why racist actions persist. In his article, he deals with racism in Harry Potter by poking fun at Voldemort’s identification as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” by referring to race as “The-WordThat-Shall-Not-Be-Named” in his article’s title. Thus, he is saying that race is a taboo subject among many people in society. Thus, the people that do nothing about racial actions are not drawing attention towards racism, to fit into society. This was just like in Nazi Germany. Marion Kaplan notes that “the regime transformed Jews into the object of a general hateful taboo” (Gellately 123). Here,

Kempski 6 Jews were not to be talked about, just an object of unjustified hatred. This taboo was done to avoid speculation and criticism about Nazi actions. Similarly, Voldemort and his regime utilize for their baseless loathing towards the muggles. With this event in the Harry Potter books, a reader can see that this parallel of history is extremely important. Edmund Kern states in his article that “Harry’s adventures may gently encourage readers to see both themselves and important contemporary issues in light of current events” (194). I disagree by the use of his word “gently.” I believe with the support by all of my evidence from my primary and secondary sources that the series strongly displays current events and issues of racism that are happening in the world. In fact, I believe that the allegories of racism are so strong that they are hard for a reader to miss, and serve as excellent representations of real-life feelings of superiority and acceptance through acts of racism. Thus, I reiterate the Nazi-Voldemort allegory. Even though the Nazi regime may not be extremely contemporary, it teaches people an important lesson through history. It shows that if people had joined together against the evil fear spreading dictator, things may have gone differently. Thousands of people’s lives would have been saved if the people of Germany or the wizards took actions to stand up for what is moral. Both good and bad characters engage in “passing” to fit in with wizarding society. Passing is the act of “denying racial heritage to avoid prejudice” (Ostry 195). This is a racial act because people who use this wish to be something else, all because they are uncomfortable with the racial groups they are in. The Death Eaters engage in passing when they all claim to be pure-blood. They refute their muggle heritage to comply with their own society sculpted by Lord Voldemort, the

Kempski 7 muggle-hating Dark Lord. Professor Snape is one of these Death Eaters. However, readers come to find in Deathly Hallows that Snape is a good character who is a Death Eater to act as a “double-agent" for Dumbledore. This way, he can trick Lord Voldemort into trusting him and can pass information which could be key to his downfall. In addition to only being accepted by Lord Voldemort if he refutes his muggle heritage, Snape has ulterior motives for his racist attitude when one examines his father. When Harry trespasses into Snape’s memories he sees “a hooked-nosed man [shouted] at a cowering woman, while a dark-haired boy cried in a corner” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 592). In another memory, a young Snape and Lily are talking. “’How are things at your house?’ Lily asked. A little crease appeared between his eyes. ‘Fine,’ he said….He picked up a fistful of leaves and began tearing them apart, apparently unaware of what he was doing” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 667). Both of these memories serve to show that Snape had an abusive muggle father. In the first memory, the woman would not be cowering if she wasn’t afraid that the shouting man (Snape’s father) would hit her. In the second memory Snape seems unsettled by the upbringing of the conversation about his home. The crease amid his eyes is a sign of worry, as well as the action of him subconsciously picking apart the leaves. By him being out of mind, this also shows that he is in deep thought about his home life. Thus, Snape was probably concerned with the state of his mother and himself from being abused at home. Naturally, Snape grew up hating muggles just because his father did not treat him well in his early life. In addition, Snape was majorly unpopular and bullied throughout his Hogwarts career. However, he found friends among the future Death Eaters. Thus, to be accepted by them, he developed his attitude against muggles by using racial slurs. Therefore, it is concluded that he originally acts racist towards

Kempski 8 muggles and muggle-borns to feel superior to his cruel father, in addition to being accepted his friends. Then once he figures out the error of his beliefs, he acts racist to be accepted by Lord Voldemort for good intentions of playing as a double-agent. Even the greatest of wizards, Harry’s valued mentor Albus Dumbledore, had a racist attitude of muggles and wizarding superiority to fulfill his thirst for power. When he was young, he believed that the wizards were superior beings to muggles, and it was the wizard’s duty to control them. He explains that this obligation is for the overall well-being of the world in a letter to his friend Grindelwald: Yes, we have been giver power and yes, that power gives us the right to rule, but it also gives us responsibilities over the ruled. That power gives us the right to rule, but it also gives us responsibility over the ruled…..We seize control FOR THE GREATER GOOD. And from this it follows that where we meet resistance, we must use only the force that is necessary and no more. (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 357) Thus, Dumbledore sought to control muggles by force under the notion that wizards are better than muggles because they are more powerful. He justifies his racial belief as correct by thinking that the need to control the muggles is for their own protection. However, his idea proved to be more dangerous and bluntly wrong when it was put to action. Grindelwald eventually rose to be a dark and powerful wizard on the basis of Dumbledore’s idea. When he was powerful, he gathered an army of wizards seeking to build a wizarding realm to overthrow the muggles. Using terror, he would force them to be slaves. In conclusion, Dumbledore’s racist idea of a totalitarian regime turned out to hurt more people than help them. Even though

Kempski 9 the basis of Dumbledore’s idea was for the good cause of protection, people were terrorized and killed to do so. Harry’s best friend Ron is sometimes a racist, but he is unaware of his actions. Mostly, Ron’s family upbringing of being raised in a wizard environment acts as a catalyst for his racist actions. Therefore, he unconsciously reflects the beliefs and values of the general wizard community even if they go against a certain group in society. One type of creature that are victims of racist actions by wizards are the giants. In the series, they are described as having an unmanageable ferocious lifestyle and low intelligence. These beings are forced to live in the mountains, segregated from wizards. Even though they were threatening, no wizard sought to tame them and treat them as equals because wizards thought their society superior towards the giant’s culture. When Ron describes his beliefs to Harry, he says, “They’re just vicious, giants… they’re like trolls…they just like killing, everyone knows that” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 430). Here, he reflects the wizarding racist belief that giants are uncivilized. By saying “everyone knows that,” he is falsely assuming that all people agree to this statement. He is also displaying that this has become a normal wizarding belief about giants. An exception to this statement is the gamekeeper and Harry’s close friend, Hagrid. After an adventure, he brought back his giant half-brother, Grawp to tame him. Throughout the series, Hagrid works at this goal, and achieves some level of success. Grawp starts speaking English and becomes less violent. Hence, Grawp is able to become civilized and treated like an equal if given the chance. However, most wizards deem this task unfathomable just like Ron because they were taught the racist belief and it was normalized to think that giants are wild, vicious creatures.

Kempski 10 Ron also reflects the racist beliefs of society through his notion regarding house-elves. He believes that the elves are just fine how they are. Even at fourteen years old, Ron uses the phrase “we’ve ben working like house-elves” as an expression to refer to intense work (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 223). By using this expression, he is conditioned to use this racist phrase as a normal figure of speech. Therefore he sees nothing wrong with what he is referring to, even at the maturity level of a teenager. Hermione, unlike Ron, sees the injustice involved in elf enslavement, “‘There are house-elves here?’ she said staring, horror-struck…’Here at Hogwarts…But don’t they get paid?...They get holidays, don’t they? And sickleave, and pensions, and everything?” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 181-82). With these questions and the answer of no, she takes it upon herself to start an organization called the “Society to Promote Elvish Welfare.” Despite her efforts, Ron is unenthusiastic to crusade with Hermione’s organization and sees it as pointless. He even tells Hermione to “open [her] ears. They. Like. It. They like being enslaved!” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 224). However, how does he know how an elf feels? This can only contribute to the unjustified notions that he grew up with, so he is conditioned to see enslavement as normal. One of Hermione’s efforts to free the house-elves is to leave hats out for them to receive so they can be free. Even when she thinks she succeeds, Ron makes fun of her idea, “The hats have gone," Hermione said happily. "Seems the house-elves do want freedom after all.""I wouldn't bet on it," Ron told her cuttingly. "They might not count as clothes. They didn't look anything like hats to me, more like woolly bladders" (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 256). By insulting her, he is making her intentions sound silly and pointless. Although, Rowling makes the reader sympathize Hermione’s actions. It was not by accident that Rowling gave Hermione the most prominently activist role

Kempski 11 in the series. Hermione is extremely smart and is even called “the cleverest witch of [her] age” (Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban 346). With this characterization of Hermione, a reader can conclude that her actions are intellectual, and that she can be a reliable leader. Thus, they will see that it is intelligent to be politically active, and Hermione’s actions against racism are correct and reasonable. People will then aspire to be like Hermione, and actively stand up against racism. With the evidence of Ron’s unenthusiastic actions regarding house-elves, a picture is definitely being shaped that Ron is a racist. However, Steven Patterson comes to Ron’s defense in his article. He claims, “It is true that the house-elf enslavement is a bad thing, but just because it is bad doesn’t mean that others have a duty to prevent it. After all, it is unreasonable to hold everyone to a duty to make the world a more perfect place” (110). However, one can argue that a sensibly moral person would naturally be compelled to help the apparent disadvantaged people, even if their actions were only on a very low scale to prevent this racism. Only society’s influence can cloud these natural moral feelings, as it had in Ron’s particular case. However, with Ron’s attitude regarding the giants, Karen Brown expresses “if it were not for his friendship with Hermione and Harry, Ron might never have come to an understanding that [race] simply does not matter” (9). This can be considered true due to Ron’s wizarding upbringing and the superior feeling and notions it comes with. However, it can be assumed that Ron’s character is morally good, but his feelings against certain groups are due to “ignorant hatred” (Kern 62). This means that due to his upbringing, his beliefs are baseless because he is only reflecting on what he is taught to believe, whether he is consciously aware of it or

Kempski 12 not. Therefore, one must actively stand up to racism so that people who are unaware of their own racist actions, like Ron, can realize the wrongs that they do not mean to commit. Even though there are numerous characters that are intentionally or unintentionally racist in the Harry Potter novels, J.K Rowling implies that the reader must take action to reverse this horrid notion. Brycchan Carey makes the observation in his article that the Harry Potter novels “offer a range of political models for young people to explore and emulate” (106). In saying so, the novels can act as the guidelines of action if a reader wants to bring racial mistreatment to attention. Thus, the books teach the readers to be abolitionists, and to recognize racial prejudice in reality through the actions of many characters. A political representation that Carey notes is through Harry’s struggle against Lord Voldemort. First, he notes Harry has a “team playing spirt” (105). Harry knows he cannot accomplish his task because of lacking skill or ability; therefore, he relies on the help others, like Hermione, Ron, and Dumbledore to achieve his goals. With this model, a person is taught that it is appropriate to have others help in order to overcome racism. Courtney Strimel supports Carey’s argument that teamwork can help achieve a goal to conquer racism. In her article, she brings up the example of the Muggles being tortured both physically and psychologically at the Quidditch World Cup by the Death Eaters. Even though the Death Eaters spread their chaotic terror and was frightening, she notes that the wizards who stopped the act were calm and worked together. Thus, racial actions can be halted if people remember to stay unruffled and join together as a team. Another example of defeating racist actions as a team is in the seventh Harry Potter novel. When they enter the Ministry

Kempski 13 of Magic, Harry, Ron, and Hermione stray away from their initial operation to help the countless muggle-borns escape their registration and death sentence. Here, they are risking their lives to execute a great counter-action to save numerous lives of innocent people. Together, they distract the Ministry and fight for each other’s safety when their actions become noticed. Thus, only with teamwork could they attempt to defeat racism by freeing many innocent people from unjustified punishment that is only due to their race. Carey also brings attention to the political model that Hermione emulates to overcome racism and prejudice when she creates her S.P.E.W. campaign. He notes that her actions are “rational and public minded” (105). Therefore, she uses her witnesses of house-elf mistreatment to motivate her actions. In doing so, she relies on her own intelligence and emotions to instruct her with what she needs to do to achieve her goal. Other characters follow Hermione’s model of action to stand up against racism and prejudice. At the earliest introduction of racism in the books where Hermione is made fun of by Draco, Ron attempts to curse him for his actions. Like Hermione, he is being rational by relying on his experiences and his concerned emotion towards Hermione’s feelings to stand up against racism which is what he thinks is right. Ron thinks that racism should not be tolerated or expressed colloquially, so he is publicly acting to halt Draco’s actions by threatening him with a curse. Harry also rationally comes to a defense against muggle-born prejudice in the sixth novel. Professor Slughorn makes a comment to Harry that, “[I] Thought she must have been pure-blood, she was so good” (Rowling, Half-Bood Prince 70) when referring to Harry’s muggle-born mother’s extraordinary ability in Potions class. He then comments that it is odd that it happens to be that some muggleborns are intelligent. Harry on the other hand, rushes to the muggle-born’s defense.

Kempski 14 He specifically mocks Slughorn of his statement, implying that he thinks Slughorn is prejudice and that this belief is wrong. Therefore, Harry is taking direct action to notify Slughorn of his unjust actions of prejudice. Ultimately, he acts through his experience of his intelligent muggle-born friend Hermione, and his compassionate feelings towards her. In conclusion, Harry is also relying on his experiences and emotions to stand up against racism in the society of the wizarding world. Certain deeds of the characters give hope for the overcoming of racism in the wizarding world. With racist and non-racist actions and feelings displayed by the characters, a reader can conjecture the correct moral path in life. Upon this discovery, they learn to stray away from racism by tolerating people different from themselves in the real world, which is the central lesson of the Harry Potter series. Thus, literature can be very important in a person’s life because stories like Harry Potter show examples of moral actions of fighting against racism and prejudice that are often missed by people in reality. In this way, children’s literature becomes that much more complex by inexplicitly shaping the attitudes of its readers, making the world a better and more tolerant place. Peter Hollingdale abridges this idea perfectly, “All children’s literature is inescapably didactic….which gives order to chaos” (30).

Kempski 15

Works Cited Anatol, Giselle Liza, ed. Reading Harry Potter: critical essays. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003. Print. Brown, Karen A. Prejudice in Harry Potter’s World. College Station, TX: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing Inc, 2008. Print. Carey, Brycchan. “Hermione and the House-Elves: The Literary and Historical Contexts of J.K. Rowling’s Antislavery Campaign.” Anatol 103-16. Print.

Kempski 16 Gellately, Robert. Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press Inc, 2001. Print. Hollingdale, Peter. “Ideology and the Children’s Book.” New York, NY: Thimble Press, 1988. Print. Kern, Edmund M. “The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us About Moral Choices.” Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003. Print. Lyubansky, Mikhail. “Harry Potter and the Word that shall not Be Named.” The Psychology of Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Examination of the Boy Who Lived. Ed. Neil Mulholland. Dallas, TX: Boenbella Books, 2006. 233-48. Print. Ostry, Elaine. “Accepting Mudbloods: The Ambivalent Social Vision of J.K. Rowling’s Fairy Tales.” Anatol 89-102. Print. Patterson, Steven. "Kreacher’s Lament: S.P.E.W. as a Parable on Discrimination, Indifference, and Social Justice." Harry Potter and philosophy: if Aristotle ran Hogwarts . Baggett, David, and Shawn Klein, eds. Peru, IL: Carus Publishing Company, 2004. 105-18. Print. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Print. ---. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007.Print. ---. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print. ---. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. Print. ---. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. Print.

Kempski 17 Strimel, Courtney B. “The Politics of Terror: Re-Reading Harry Potter.” Children’s Literature in Education 35.1 (2004): 35-52. Web. 18 Mar. 2010.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful