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Dobby: The Free house-elves

It can‟t be denied that ‘Harry Potter,’ a British fantasy fiction written by J.K.
Rowling, is one of the most recognized novels in this century, with the guarantee of 400
million copies sold all over the world (“Author J.K. Rowling”). Though this seven-sequel
fiction, mainly targeting on the young and juvenile audiences, however, later on when the
story is further developed to be more serious, „Harry Potter‟ is allow to be integrated into
the popular genre since its content has approached to all-ages readers. The fascination of
the story is the variety of many fantasy characters, which drawn from fairy tales, myths,
and the author‟s background. One of the standout creatures that J.K Rowling has created
in this masterpiece is the house-elves, whose duty is to serve the wizard family. Hence,
Dobby, the most famous house-elf, will be analyzed as he fits perfectly into the seeking-
for-freedom slave archetype. Through out this essay, the ideology of class oppression and
hegemony will be explored through the role and condition of Dobby‟s race, his position
in the social class, and the treatment he has confronted from other characters. However,
to get the readers to be more familiar with the essay, the brief synopsis of ‘Harry Potter’
will be provided.
According to Chevalier, ‘Harry Potter’ is a Bildungsroman narrative, since the
story is about Harry Potter and his advancement of maturity from the innocent age until
he becomes a mature wizard (398). The story starts off when Harry Potter is eleven years
old, and later on he found out that he is not an ordinary people, but a wizard, as a matter
of fact a famous one. After his realization of his true self, he takes a journey into
wizardry world and attends the witch and wizardry school of Hogwarts, where he will
faces many challenges. Carelessly reading, readers will find Harry Potter to be just the
ordinary fantasy fiction with good and evil theme, but if the readers read very closely,
especially in the latter half of the series, the hidden ideology of oppression in race and
class is strongly brought up in a disguise way.
Harry Potter‟s main plot is his quarrel with Lord Voldemort, the frightful boss of
the dark wizard army. The army of dark wizard, led by Lord Voldemort, aims to kill
Harry Potter and to abolish the others who are not the pureblood wizard, which J.K.
Rowling named them as the Mudblood. The subplot of racism can be detected from the
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group of dark wizards‟ main intention of genocide. However, there is not only the racism
of bloodline among wizards, but also the racism of magical creatures or the „Others‟ is
shown as well. Through out this children fantasy fiction, Dobby, the house elf, clearly
represents the occurrence of oppression in class and race.
Dobby was first introduced to the story in the second book, the Chamber of
Secret, as a helper of Harry Potter. Unlike other elves in the fantasy fiction, his
appearance is not similar to the elves in Tolkien‟s novel, who are described as a
noteworthy race “the most beautiful and gifted” (“Of Elves”), nor like the dark elves
from Norse mythology, who has an extreme description for their feature “darker than
pitch” (Everett). Described in the Chamber of the Secret, Dobby, instead, has a funny,
unlovely, and pitiful look “bat-like ears and bulging eyes the size of tennis ball…long,
thin nose…it was wearing what looked like an old pillowcase with rips for arm-and leg-
holes” (qtd. in Zantjer 5). The first impression of Dobby wearing ripped clothes can give
the readers some clues that his living condition might be very bad. In addition, house-
elves were restricted to use their magical power as well. The only time that they can use
is when their master allows them to do so.
Though Dobby‟s outer appearance is quite scary, but his loyalty makes him an
admirable house-elf; this loyalty also applies to all house-elves. He is very responsible for
his delinquency. For example, to atone for his betrayal of the Malfoys, the time when he
comes to warn Harry Potter not to go back to Hogwart while in the service of the Malfoy
family, Dobby tortures himself. By betraying the devil wizards, it can be suggested that
he is sentient towards good and bad issue. This tension between serving bad people and
good people disturbs his duty. The binary opposition of good and bad triggers “human
thought and knowledge” in Dobby and moves him to wish for freedom. Although, Dobby
possesses some human characteristic, but he one feature that he cannot practice perfectly
is the use of language.
The language Dobby uses is a crucial point to show the typical characteristic of
the oppression of race or role that is used in narratives. Similar to those African American
slaves, Dobby hardly uses proper English. Similar to little children, he always refers back
to himself by calling his name or use the third person, which is absolutely not how
normal people speak, as expressed in the book Goblet of Fire, “Dobby is a free house-elf
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and he can obey anyone he likes…” (qtd. in Horne 81), while the African American
slaves, suggested by Rollins, use the grand language of Shakespeare in normal
conversation, for example Uncle Carey from ‘Swallow Barn’ by John Pendleton Kennedy
“God bless you, master Harvey, and young masters all” (43). By not using the right
words, the slaves can be concluded that they are likely uneducated.
The description of house elves characters is also very similar to the African
American slave, “Simple, loyal, and childlike, happy to serve their betters” (Horne 81).
The stereotype of slave is worst than it is because it is built up upon the judgment of
White people, which really shows the discrimination of race by the dominant race.
Anyhow, Dobby represents the resistance power towards the dominant power and his
race by breaking the taboo of house-elves, to not be loyal and to search for freedom; this
action pretty much upset his fellows. Anyhow, since he has forever been pressured to
keep obeying the corrupt wizards, at last, he chooses to protect Harry Potter from their
evil plan, so he “went against the doctrine that House Elves are to always obey their
master” (qtd. in Pond 185). Yet, Dobby‟s freedom would never be achieved, if Harry
Potter did not trick Lucious Malfoy to give Dobby Harry‟s sock, which is the only way
that can set them free, by receiving clothes from their master. Though, Dobby is already
freed from the Malfoys, he still possesses the servile trait in himself, because of this, he
becomes faithful to Harry Potter instead.
The supreme role of house-elves is to serve their master obediently as it is what
they destined to do, as J.K. Rowling said “the house elves‟ “nature” [is] to “look after
humans,” (qtd. in Haas 49) which can be the reason why they don‟t just run away from
the oppression. Furthermore, Horne also stressed their race nature is “accepting their
subservient role in a racial hierarchy” (60). The possession of submissive trait mirrors the
concept of hegemony, introduced by Antonio Gramsci, which stated that the dominant
group constantly reproduces dominant power and those who are inferiors are
“naturalized,” or in other word, they are consent with it (Farmer). As a servant, the
house-elves don‟t receive payment or wages. The deprivation of earning is considered as
the act of taking advantage from another. Moreover, the house-elves‟ culture of passing
the role of servant from generation to generation also reflects “ideological legacies of
their ancestor” (Anatol and Westman qtd. in Pond 186).
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To intensify the discrimination of Dobby‟s race, Suman Gupta, in his work „re-
reading Harry Potter,‟ has brought up the notion of social class in ‘Harry Potter.’ Clearly,
the house-elves fell into the lowest category of all social classes, the labour class..
Macneil also referred to them as “the lowest of domestic help” (552). The condition of
Dobby and his race are very heartbreaking. They receive oppression from all possible
ways. By performing all kind of labour task, regardless of any moral, they are
“recognizably very like servants in certain exploitative class-dominated societies of our
time” (Gupta 123). „Mammies,‟ as known as African American women slave, is the
victim of the exploitation of social class. In the past, they were best known for “domestic
worker as a source of cheap labour” (Collin 81). Apart from their class and race, there is
another explicit harshness action that can be spotted.
The vivid point that shows the race depression is the relation and the response of
other characters towards Dobby and the other house-elves in the story. It is a last-long
evident that the house-elves have forever been the servant-species base; their racial
determinism makes all other wizards and other magical creatures have no interest in their
welfare and think of their suffering as the common thing that the house-elves should be
familiar with. Obviously, the Malfoys, who are the original master of Dobby, always beat
him up if he starts to upset them. The Malfoy‟s misuse of power illustrates the injustice
and an inequality that the house-elves receive as an innocent lower class. Another
horrible job that the house-elves is demanded to perform is the wine testing. As Horne
mentioned, professor Slughorn makes his house-elf tested all the wine to check whether
there is poison in the drink or not (83). This action is very cruel and immoral because it
shows that whether the house-elf will live or die, it does not matter as long as he will not
be poisoned.
Apart from exploitation they have received from those heartless wizards, the
house-elves‟ right and freedom is also being ignored from the loveable witches and
wizards, except Hermione. Hermione sees the inequality and ill treatment that the house-
elves have received, therefore S.P.E.W, which stands for Society for the Promotion of
Elfish Welfare, was established by Hermione to help the house-elves to achieve their
rights. The aim of this association, to return some benefits and organization for the house-
elves, evokes the significant event in Britain, which are “the introduction of organized
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labour and the creation of a working class consciousness,” coined by E.P. Thompson
(Chevalier 410).
However, Hermione‟s attempt was a big failure because only a few people take
interest in it; even her closest friends, Harry and Ron, don‟t see any good in this project.
Besides, Dumbledore, who is considered as the most virtuous wizard of the century, takes
no response to her movement as well. Macneil suggested that their lack of willingness to
help those house-elves is because they prefer the comfort they received from the inferior
ones “…it redounds to their advantage”, and another suggestion the he gave is the house-
elves‟ worldview of their subjection that they “really enjoy their symptom of servitude,
subordination and/or second-rate citizenship” (555). Not only the wizards that see them
as a submissive creature, Goblin, another magical race, also makes a judgment that the
house-elves will do anything the master asks them to do, even though their dignity may
be ruined.
Another mode that keeps maintain the ideology of race and class oppression is the
institution, in this case, the Hogwarts. According to Louis Althusser, institution is one of
the ideological state apparatus that helps carry on the dominant ideology in an implicit
way. Moreover, Godwin also thinks of “school as a site of inequality and injustice” (qtd.
in Chevalier 403). Hence, there is no wonder why the largest number of house-elves
labour took place at Hogwarts. House-elves are behind all the cooking and cleansing;
during the Christmas time, delivering mails is their additional job. Students at Hogwarts
fairly notice their tasks because it is considered as a good job for them to be unseen.
In conclusion, Dobby, who was born with a fixed role to be a servant, finds
discomfort in the inequality he has been received through the assigned role of his own
race, his social class in the society, and discrimination from others. These factors push
him towards rebellious behaviour, which earn him freedom and rights. The oppression
that Dobby and his fellows have faced in ‘Harry Potter’ reflects the situation of the real
inferior groups, both in the past and in the present, which have always been in our society
how much time has passed. The depiction of Dobby in this story allows readers to
conclude the fact that our society that we live in is the exploit one. Those who are
superiors will take advantage of the inferiors, and in the future, this process will keep on
continuing because our culture still holds on the hegemony concept in progressing.
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