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Harry, friends and enemies

1 Summarising diagram

The following picture shows in a summarised form how Harry, and many of his friends and enemies, relate to three of St. Augustine's dimensions:



A little explanation of the diagram: the diagram is divided into two parts:

[1] the upper part describes the relationship between Harry and Malfoy

[2] the lower describes the relationship between Harry, Hermione & Ron

Harry stands in the centre, and the three dimensions (individuality, nature and society) appear both above and below to organise the two parts of the diagram. Characters appear in red, dimensions in violet, and every character has a specific type of arrow (normal for Harry, extra big for Hermione and Malfoy, big for Ron).

2 Nature / Individualism VS Society

Inside Hogwarts, Harry does at first not change much. One important example will have to suffice: when Harry complains to Hagrid that he does not know what he's famous for, Hagrid tells him:

Don’ you worry, Harry. You’ll learn fast enough. Everyone starts at the beginning at Hogwarts, you’ll be just fine. Just be yerself. (ch. 5)

Being oneself is being both an individual and one's own nature. Harry certainly is himself, which leads him face other characters who serve as foils against which Harry's association with nature and individuality is emphasised time and again.

Harry & Malfoy (+ Hagrid & Filch) : On their first meeting, Harry is urged by Malfoy to side with his aristocratic peers: "some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there". Harry's response - "I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks" (ch. 6) - shows that he can decide on his own, that he is an individual who is not to be imposed on by society.

Society is what Malfoy represents: as an aristocrat, he is defined by class membership. His antagonism with Hagrid proves this (click here if you want to know more about Hagrid and Filch). When Harry and Malfoy have to enter the forest, Malfoy is terrified. He

stopped dead in his tracks. 'The Forest?' he repeated, and didn't sound quite as cool as usual. 'We can't go in there at night - there's all sorts of things in there - werewolves, I heard [...] I'm not going in that Forest,' he said, and Harry was pleased to hear the note of panic in his voice. (ch. 15)

Malfoy's antagonism with both Ron and Hermione also takes place on social grounds. What separates Malfoy from Ron is the upper- / lower-class division, what separates him from Hermione is the Muggle- / non-Muggle division, which mimics the issue of ethnicity. In real life, Hermione's problem would be that of a non-white, mestizo, Afro-British or Asian American.

Malfoy & Ron
Malfoy & Hermione
"My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles and more children than they can afford." He [Malfoy] turned back to Harry. "You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter" (ch. 6) "‘I really don't think they should let the other sort [Muggles, i.e. no-wizards] in, do you? They're just not the same, they've never been brought up to know our ways. [...] I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. (ch. 5)

Harry & Hermione: Magic emphasises that Harry is nature: when Harry starts learning to broom-fly, he "realised he’d found something he could do without being taught – this was easy, this was wonderful. […] Harry knew, somehow, what to do" Harry is, in fact, "a natural", as professor McGonnagall admits (ch. 9), and as Wood repeats (ch. 10).

Hermione, on the other hand, is very much society (although she improves towards the end): She "was almost as nervous about flying as Neville was. This was something you couldn’t learn by heart out of a book – not that she hadn’t tried" (ch. 9). She is not a natural; her good marks are the result of swotting, rather than natural cleverness, for she also loses at chess (ch. 13), which is about logic (in ch. 16 an exception appears which I would put down to careless writing rather than complexity of character). Her link with the social dimension is reinforced by her absolute obedience to rules. At one point she exclaims: "We could all have been killed - or worse, expelled" (ch. 9). That sums it all up.

3 Complications

We can thus say that inside Hogwarts, Harry Potter is still nature and individuality combined, and has to fight society, be that embodied in his enemies (Malfoy) or his friends (Hermione). This is correct as a kind of broad generalisation. However, if we look more attentively, the picture is also more complex than that.

Harry & Ron: Ron is first of all defined by being lower class (also by not being muggle, but that is not important here). Now class is initially a social category, but lower-class belonging is usually associated to nature, for the lower classes are seen as the more primitive class, as they lack a civilised environment, or so the stereotype says (see module 3 "society"). Ron proves that amply through

  • his looks: "He was tall, thin, and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet, and a long nose" (ch. 6)
  • his shame at being poor and unprovided for: Ron's mother "hasn't got much time [...] with five of us" (ch. 6), and "She obviously makes more of an effort if you're not family" (ch. 12).

This shame places him below Harry, who is famous, rich and naturally good at magic. It places him at the level of nature, and unwittingly promotes Harry to a civilised status.

The lack of care Ron's family bestows on him also leads us in another direction. Reference to the family is usually seen as reference to both society and nature, for families are social, but also natural associations. In this case, however, the unsatisfactory family experience pushes Ron in the opposite direction, that of the yearning for individuality, as the the mirror of Erised proves. The mirror

shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. (ch. 12)

In a way, Ron desires Harry's individuality, although he will never get it, for Harry's individuality depends on his being "a natural". Harry, on the other hand, desires Ron's family, or at least an improved version of that family. Each longs for an idealised version of the other.

Harry & Malfoy:

Scratch a little on Malfoy's aristocratic veneer of purity and age-long tradition, and you get [1] a connection to Voldemort. Since Voldemort is alternatively defined as power and nature at its worst (click here to see Voldemort), somehow the aristocracy is also tainted by these defining characteristics; [2] selfishness:

I don't see why first years can't have their own [racing brooms]. I think I'll bully father into getting me one and I'll smuggle it in somehow. (ch. 5)

In the end, there seems to be no other value to the aristocracy than doing what one wants (the connection of Slythering with cunning, itself opposed to the wisdom of Ravenclaw, the bravery of Gryffindor, and the justice of Hufflepuff, is quite telling; see ch. 7). This means that behind the social mask of aristocratic pedigree there is nature, the nature of do-what-you-feel-like-doing.

This is very different to Harry's association with nature. Harry does not do what he wants, but what is fair and just, even when he breaks a rule or shows himself disrespectful: he has to break a Hogwart rule to correct Malfoy's unfair treatment of Neville over the Remembrall (ch. 7), just as he becomes cocky towards Snape when he treats Harry unfairly (ch. 8). Whenever something's "unfair [...] Harry opened his mouth to argue" (ch. 8). How does Harry know what is and what is not unfair? Psychologically, it is doubtful whether a boy with a Dursley upbringing could have developed this sense of justice. Harry's sense of justice is therefore innate, part of his nature. Now justice belongs to the social dimension, but in Harry that social dimension comes naturally. Harry is in a sense a "bon sauvage".

4 Conclusion

If you look at the diagram which heads this page, you will see that of the four characters we have discussed here - Harry, Ron, Hermione and Malfoy - Hermione seems to be the easiest one (even here we could complicate the analysis, but that would extend the argument unnecessarily), for Hermione is related only to society. The other three, however, seem to be related to individuality, metaphysics and society.

There is a first, general and surely valid definition of Malfoy as primarily social, Ron as natural and Harry as both natural and individual at the same time.

On the other hand, the first Harry Potter book, like any other book, creates, by virtue of its multiple connections, also instabilities which change this distribution of dimensions. Thus, there are also differences which make Harry infinitely superior to Malfoy, but also to Ron:

  • The problem with Ron is that his sociability is unsatisfying and only exists to lead to other dimensions.
  • The problem with both Ron and Malfoy is that there is no sound relationship between society, individuality and nature. Each of these dimensions lives in a world of its own, is not related to the other.
  • Harry alone offers meaningful interaction between one dimension and another. His "personality" comes too easy, is too naturally perfect, but the sound thing about it is that it is integrated, that it organically integrates the three dimensions.

It remains to be seen, of course, where Harry's association with metaphysics enters the picture. Click HERE to do so.

daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann