Through A Looking Glass, Darkly
A look at the injustice of Harry Potter Heroes
A few of the revered Heroes of the Harry Potter book series are as misguided as the deplored villains. In the first three books there are times when certain characters consciously favor one group of people over the other, namely the Gryffindors over the Slytherins. The Slytherins are notorious throughout the book for being the 'bad guys', even though many Slytherins are only as old as ten or eleven when they are introduced. Gryffindors are depicted as being brave and glorious, and several times hinting that they can do no wrong. These misconceptions fuel a self fulfilling prophecy, teach people to judge based on appearance or status, and show that bias is acceptable if there are supposedly good reasons for it. The ostensible intent of the books are fallacies. The platitudes in Harry Potter's young mind are the result of many characters instilling a discreet sense of righteousness despite their own pragmatically subjective ethics.
Slytherin is established as evil almost immediately after Harry finds out he is a wizard, when Rubeus Hagrid states to him 'There's not a Witch or Wizard that went bad that wasn't in Slytherin'. This, along with claims from Ronald Weasley about how his family would hate for he himself to be in Slytherin, forms Harry's opinion of what House he wants to be in before he ever gets a good understanding of what it means. Draco Malfoy's appearance also had a hand in his decision, but at the same time, because of the previous statements above it makes the name of Slytherin have a negative connotation from the onset for Harry.
To begin, in the first book of the Harry Potter series, called 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' or 'Harry Potter an the Sorcerer's Stone' in the United States, ends with the most heinous of injustices a Headmaster of a school, one Albus Dumbledore, could commit. The Slytherin House is set to win the House Cup, the reward based on a point system between the four Houses. The banners are up, the trophy is out, and when Headmaster Dumbledore is supposed to presenting the reward to Slytherin, he instead gives Gryffindor just enough points to win, therein stealing the House Cup from the Slytherins at the very last moment. Because of the reader's dislike of the House at this point (due to the numerous statements by supposedly good, honest characters and the actions of a single student, Draco Malfoy) they believe that this is a fair thing to do. The reader loses the concept that these are children getting their award taken from them at the very last minute by the principal of their school, which gives the children reading it an unrealistic view of competition, and what is reasonable and what is biased. What is even more interesting is that throughout the story, Dumbledore complains about the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor, all along committing actions like the scenario above, making Dumbledore one of the most unrighteous characters of all. This mistake encourages the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Slytherin House, being that people expect them to be evil, and because of their resentment, they become such. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a concept published by a sociologist Robert Merton, who states, "The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come 'true'. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning." By influencing the Gryffindors to believe all Slytherins are evil (however inadvertent it may be, that is what his actions suggest) Dumbledore is evoking the cruel behavior of the Slytherins. Of course the children in the Slytherin House act out, being conditioned by the expectations prematurely assigned to them, therefore when they do behave as the predicted stereotype, other's can look at the deeds as proof of their predictions. Dumbledore's inflammatory remarks become a catalyst for dissention between the two already divided Houses.
Another issue in the first book of the series is the many instances of the protagonist, Harry Potter, breaking the rules and not only being denied punishment, but often times being rewarded for his actions. The best example of this injustice is during Harry's first flying lesson; the teacher warns them that if they fly without supervision, they will be expelled and when Harry does so, though for what he thinks is a good cause, he is not expelled. Instead, he is given a place on a sport team because he was so good at flying, the activity during which he was breaking the rules. Unlike the values parents try to instill in their children, this story serves as a model which depicts a view of the world where rules may be bent or broken for even the smallest justifiable reason. An article from the U.S. Department of Education gives an in depth view of the concept that children learn by example, stating that children 'learn by seeing the people around them act on and uphold those values in their daily lives'. Young children, such as many of the fans of Harry Potter, take note of everything around them. They copy what their parents do, as well as people that they look up to and, on many levels, Harry Potter is not a bad person to emulate. He is loyal, brave and a generally good person, however, certain instances in the book such as the flying lesson described above will give them unrealistic expectations when it comes to the consequences of breaking rules. Another example of Harry breaking the rules without punishment is at the beginning of the second book of the series, in which both Harry and his friend Ronald Weasley drive a flying car to get to Hogwarts which enrages teacher Severus Snape, who is ready to punish them for their heinous actions, but Dumbledore overrides him. Because Snape is shown as a bad person, it makes the reader happy to see him lose, even if he was in the right. Episodes like this are seen as fun and adventurous, but are they are also mistakes that Harry Potter, and the children reading about him, will not learn from.
A lesson that is learned in the second book, 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets', is that gossip is frequently false. Harry Potter, for the first time, is on the opposite side of the spectrum of popularity when it is discovered he speaks parseltongue (snake language), a rare trait that is notoriously Slytherin. An article called 'The Harmful Effects of Gossip', by Virginia L. Allen, that shows how the effects that gossip such as the kind that usurped half of Harry's second year, can ruin a good reputation that has been earned over a long period of time. The entire Hogwarts school is in on the newest gossip, which is depicted in several aspects of the entire series, one in the form of Rita Skeeter, who embodies a gossip in every possible way. Because Skeeter is shown to be a nasty person, we can conclude that the general statement is that gossip is as unpleasant as she is. A quote from Dumbledore is, "It is supposed to be a secret, and so naturally, the entire school knows of it'. Harry is not the Heir of Slytherin like the rumor mill claimed, and so if the rumors about Harry are usually wrong, isn't it safe to assume that the ones demeaning the House of Slytherin are invalid as well?
There is a revelation in the third book of the series, 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' in which Harry's best friend Ron Weasley's pet rat that throughout the entirety of the book is being chased by Hermione's cat and is depicted as a pitied victim, and is revealed later to actually be a traitor in disguise. This seems to be foreshadowing for later events, where Severus Snape, a character assumed bad from the very beginning of Harry's Hogwarts days, ends up being a major contributor to Harry's cause. The fact that Peter Pettigrew, the villain in question disguised as a rat, was a Gryffindor completely throws the preconceptions of Slytherins out of whack. It is the point in the story where one must think; if all not all Gryffindors are good, then not all Slytherins are bad.
That point is invariably true with the previously mentioned Severus Snape, a Slytherin that is assumed evil throughout most of the books that ends up being righteous. Although Severus Snape started out when he was young as a Death Eater, a follower of the main villain, Voldemort, he has since repented for his actions. He saves Harry's life on many occasions, and instead of being thanked for it, he is merely accused of treachery throughout the story. In the end it is confirmed that he was on Harry's side the entire time, proving that the preconceptions of Slytherins are false, and just because Snape's personality was acerbic did not make him evil. How many other Slytherins could be this exact way, but feel like everyone is against them? Is it such a surprise they turn to Voldemort much of the time, when he was the only one that seemed to accept them? Severus Snape sacrifices his life for Harry and the good cause, proving that he was a good person as well as the potential for all Slytherins to be good people, so much so that Harry himself named a child after him.
To reiterate, Albus Dumbledore is depicted as a mentor for Harry, and therefore as an icon to the many children reading about him, yet he is very wrong about many things, including feeding a negative self-fulfilling prophecy about the Slytherins. How he goes about encouraging the bigotry between Houses influences the readers into expecting the worst of the Slytherins, which goes against the principals that are taught to them, for example, giving people the benefit of the doubt. By teaching the students of Hogwarts this bias he is also teaching the children that read the books to accept it, and learn to judge based on the way someone looks or who they think they are due to rumors. These are unfair opinions goaded by the Headmaster of the school, someone that should be unbiased but instead shows favoritism toward Harry and the Gryffindor House in general. Hopefully the reader gauges the more positive attributes out of the Harry Potter series, such as friendship and bravery, and that the negative ones are left behind in favor of entertainment.
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