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14 May 2004 @ 11:04 am
Hermione essay.  
Hi, all! This is my first post here; I wrote this essay in my own journal some time ago, and a couple of people including eilanhp suggested that I post it again here, so here it is, in a slightly rewritten, less ranty form...

Since the publication of Order of the Phoenix, I've seen far too many facile and inexplicably hostile discussions of Hermione--it seems that now the poor girl can't do anything without it being the springboard for a lot of hostile criticism. I wrote this essay in response to something I read on, I think, a friend's friendspage, in response to the, to me, incomprehensible claim that Hermione's Christmas gifts to Ron and Harry in OP somehow show that she is the one who has the 'emotional range of a teaspoon', because they're thoughtless...

Needless to say, I disagree. I think the Christmas gifts are a very interesting element of OP, if a minor one, and Hermione's are the most interesting of the lot. And I think there's a great deal of thought indeed--if most of it subconscious--behind those gifts.

Harry's Christmas gifts in OP are personalised. He's drawn on his knowledge of character and interests to find things he thinks people will like--Arthur Weasley's plugs and fuses, for example. His gift to Hermione is the same. He's obviously been paying enough attention to her interests to either register the name of a book she has said she wants, or be able to work out that New Theory of Numerology is the sort of book she'd be interested in based on other information--and he cares enough to get it.

Ron's present to Hermione is, awkwardly, at one and the same time depersonalising and intrusively personal. It's depersonalising because it reduces Hermione to the status of Generic Girl (Qu: What do you get A Girl for a present? Ans: Flowers, chocolate, perfume). It's intrusively personal because it makes a groundless claim that Ron and Hermione have the sort of relationship in which someone can give another person one of those generic gifts and have to be a real gift. It imposes a kind of pressure to respond to that claim.

Hermione's gifts to Harry and Ron, on the other hand, are mostly impersonal, but not thoughtlessly so. They're impersonal for a reason: whether consciously or otherwise, they sending a message.

In an odd way, the enchanted diaries Hermione gives Harry and Ron stand in for Hermione herself. They represent what she appears to see as her function within the Trio--organisation, the provision of knowledge, reinforcing the value of schoolwork, and chivvying the boys into keeping up to standard. Or perhaps, more accurately, they represent the role she feels that the boys cast her in, because the gifts contain no overt element of her intense care for them (manifested in, for example, her welcome hug and her shattered relief at Harry's acquittal, her insistence throughout the book at standing up to a furious Harry despite her well-established dislike of conflict, her matter-of-fact gentleness in response to Ron's distress over Percy's letter)...

And they are identical. Combined with the fact that the gift represents Hermione herself, they therefore constitute a very direct statement that Hermione considers her relationships with the two boys to be identical in kind--no closer than friendship and concern--and that she wants them to stay that way.

So, impersonal, yes--whether deliberately or subconsciously chosen to be so. Thoughtless, no. As to proving that Hermione is the one with the 'emotional range of a teaspoon', the mere fact that she feels the need to give a gift like this when in the past she has given highly personalised gifts (Harry's broomstick-servicing kit, for example) signals that she is, at some level, aware of pressure from the boys (Well. Okay. From Ron.) to differentiate between her relationships with the two of them, and is uncomfortable with it, and is trying to find an indirect but unmistakeable way to signal that she has no intention of doing so. Once again, in the emotional stakes, she's actually streets ahead of them. For starters, she's aware enough of her own feelings not to let herself be pressured into doing something that the book spends a lot of time making it clear to us that she doesn't want to do, just because she's a girl and it's what girls, in life and in literature, are supposed to do.

Well, there it is--I hope you find it interesting...
Current Mood: nervousnervous
Leni Jessleni_jess on May 13th, 2004 07:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you for that analysis. It makes sense, and explains to me why all of a sudden the boys aren't getting specific presents, which had puzzled me (not inordinately enough to make me think about why, but it did).

I also like your statement of how Hermione sees herself functioning in the group, in some ways like the adult, the mother, which is a hard thing to expect consistently from a girl of fifteen - and the boys do expect it, though they don't always value it.

I wonder how much of the hostile criticism of Hermione is a response, perhaps not fully conscious, to (a) the pressure Ron's putting on, in his emotionally blundering way, and people's resenting her backing off; and (b) the hostility Harry expresses to practically everybody, and certainly to her (and Ron) in the OotP year of teenage sound and fury. That's also a response to his justifiable resentment at the way the adults treat him, in which Ron and Hermione initially obediently concur, keeping him ignorant, whether they want to or not.

Do (a) and (b) suggest that many readers identify primarily with the boys, rather than with the girl in the Trio, ignoring the fact that the girl is more balanced, on the whole?
calanthe_b on May 13th, 2004 07:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the feedback! Glad you found it interesting.

how Hermione sees herself functioning in the group, in some ways like tha dult, the mother

Yes--or the teacher, which is how I, being teacher-trained myself, tend to read her. The phrase 'scaffolding though the zone of proximal development' leaps to my mind fairly frequently when I think of how Hermione interacts with the boys.

I think you're right that a lot of the hostile criticism of Hermione has its source in the fandom's over-investment in, and demand for, shipping and romance plots--and its consequent discomfort with her very clear rejection of that plot in OotP. Personally, I've always wanted no Trio romance, and I now think it's a very real possibility that Rowling is setting up the 'squabbling couple' cliche expressly to deconstruct to, so maybe I have an advantage when it comes to reading scenes like this...

I do think many more people identify with the boys than the girl--partly because they're presented as easier characters to like than spiky, bossy, politically-minded Hermione, and partly because, unfortunately, girls are still frequently expected to identify with boy characters over girls when they read, and boys aren't often encouraged to identify with girl characters at all.
aulianaauliana on May 13th, 2004 07:33 pm (UTC)
I read this when you posted it before (perhaps through a rec?). I agree with you wholeheartedly, and, like the poster above me says, I think people do tend to be harder on Hermione than they are on the boys. While she has, in the past, given very personalized gifts to Harry, they are usually for his birthday. IIRC, she typically gives the boys similar gifts for Christmas (candy). I think that she was trying to very subtly make a point to Ron with her presents- to back off. If Hermione isn't interested in Ron, which seems to be the case after her lukewarm reaction to the perfume and her bored attitude to his jealousy, she is certainly not going to want to hurt one of her best friends. The presents seem to say, 'I think of you and Harry the same way, as my best friends.'

I'd also just like to register how much I adore Hermione. She is so unapologetically herself. I laugh out loud during OotP when Harry opens his homework planner to write his assignment, and it says, 'Don't save it til later, you big second rater'- then Hermione beams at it. I just love her.
calanthe_b on May 13th, 2004 08:02 pm (UTC)
I think I recognise your username...were you the first person to point me here? If so, thanks!

I'm glad you find the argument convincing--and thanks for pointing out about the fact that she usually gives the boys similar Christmas gifts. The fact that they're used to getting pretty much the same gifts from Hermione at Christmas greatly undermines the argument that giving these identical gifts is rude or insulting, which is what I've heard some people say of them.

It's probably pretty sensible of her to give them gifts of similar type and similar value, anyway. They share a room with each other; giving presents that are too different, or too far apart in value, might cause a bit of bad feeling between them. Especially, these days, if she gave a more presonalised gift to Harry than to Ron. They don't have that constraint in their gifts to her, because she doesn't share a room with another equal partner in the friendship...

I'd also just like to register how much I adore Hermione. She is so unapologetically herself.

Oh, me too! ~worships her~
Shivshiv5468 on May 14th, 2004 02:54 am (UTC)
I was so relieved when I read this essay the first time: at last an explanation that made sense to me.

I find the fangirls attitude to Hermione to be bewildering, even when they are shipping her they don't seem to like her. I like Hermione. I like her because she is bossy and spiky and determined and loyal and I like the way that JKR has stayed away from the bookworm = no good with people analysis. In OotP she is the only one providing any cogent explanation of anyone's emotional state - and of course if Harry had listened to her, Sirius would still be alive.

I think when fangirls write Hermione they identify with her, and to do so they amputate all the inconveniences like her personality (and usually her bushy hair). If you then offer the mildest criticism of Hermione being OOC, by God do you get told where to go. It took me some time to realise that the process involved was imputing whatever fault made Hermione OOC to the author, because they had identified so strongly.

Now, I say nothing.
auliana: crookshanksauliana on May 14th, 2004 08:01 am (UTC)
even when they are shipping her they don't seem to like her

This irks me to no end. She is shipped with a character that is much loved in the fandom and who has a crush on her, seemingly just so he is not let down. It seems as if she is shipped to 'bring her down a peg or two', like she will change and 'relax' by being in the relationship.
Shivshiv5468 on May 14th, 2004 08:11 am (UTC)
Absolutely, which is why I stay well clear of Ron and Hermione. The whole dynamic of it is that she will become 'normal'. I suppose, as boys mature later than girls, Ron/Hermione might become possible if he were to realise she is not his teacher / walking reference book, but it seems to me that there's an awful lot of growing up to do first.

I write HG/SS largely on the basis that he so obviously can't stand fools, that he would at least appreciate her brains if only in a negative way. It is, I concede, entirely unrealistic, and IC Snape is probably someone you should run a mile from, but hey... I'm allowed double standards.
calanthe_b on May 17th, 2004 06:00 pm (UTC)
It seems as if she is shopped to 'bring her down a peg or two', like she will change and 'relax' by being in the relationship.

Oh, I know what you mean and it makes me so furious! Rowling's putting in so much careful work, deliberately writing Hermione away from the Traditional Girl's Narrative, and a good half of the fandom seems intent on rewriting her back into it because, it seems, they find anything else too difficult to deal with.

I particularly dislike the idea that Hermione 'has' to end up in a relationship because (this argument usually gets attached to R/H, my pet hate, but can be any ship in the right light) it will 'make her lighten up', which she apparently desperately needs to do. What, doesn't she have the right to be the serious-minded worrier she's been written as? It hasn't done her any harm so far...
calanthe_b on May 17th, 2004 05:55 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you felt my analysis made sense--I've read so many that don't make sense to me, usually though not always because they're based on proving one ship or another, that I kind of expect my interpretations to look equally ridiculous to others!

even when they are shipping her they don't seem to like her

Yes, that's exactly it--well put!
eido on May 15th, 2004 10:24 am (UTC)
I just wanted to say, I've read this essay before and I think it's brilliant. Kudos for posting it on hp_essays. I'm one of those readers thoroughly frustrated by the lack of concrete information on Hermione and am always trying to learn more about what makes her tick. This essay is one of the better Hermione essays I've read.
calanthe_b on May 17th, 2004 05:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks--I'm glad you enjoyed it! I also get frustrated by the lack of decent--or even just plain even-handed--Hermione criticism out there, so I try to balance things out by writing my own...
kewl_katie on May 17th, 2004 09:42 pm (UTC)
I think this analysis is certainally the most objective one I've read about this subject. ^_^ In this other one I read, it was supposed to be proving that Ron was crushing on Hermione and it was because he liked her so well that he didn't know what to get her other than a "generic girl gift."

I think that it would be cute if Harry and Hermione got together, *cough layout cough* but, although Harry might want to, Hermione would know that it wouldn't last and they would be better off friends. ^_^
calanthe_b on May 18th, 2004 06:55 pm (UTC)
I think this analysis is certainally the most objective one I've read about this subject.

Thank you! I don't know if it is really that objective, as I'm a committed antishipper and it's bound to colour my analysis, but I tried.

I've read various analyses like the one you describe, and I suppose from Ron's perspective they make sense, but they always seem to impose a responsibility to respond positively on Hermione as part of the reading...which I object to. Shouldn't she get to make decisions about her life based on what she wants, after all?
kewl_katie on May 19th, 2004 09:36 pm (UTC)
Yes. She should not be pressured to date Ron, or Harry I guess (^_^), although I can see her doing so because of her personality. One of my own guesses for the future books is that Hermione might possibly just date Viktor Krum, although I think J.K. is under too much pressure to have Hermione date someone, well, cuter. The sad truth is that the more popular J.K.'s books get, the more influence the populous will have on her writing, or so I think. Personally, I think her writing style has changed drastically from the first book to the fifth, although I don't know if for the better or the worse...
calanthe_b on May 19th, 2004 09:51 pm (UTC)
I can see her doing so because of her personality

~g~ Personally, that's the one thing I can't see Hermione doing--in fact, I can pretty much see her refusing to go out with someone she genuinely liked, purely as a reaction to being pressured to do so! People who say 'But you have to do/not do this because...' generally get pretty short shrift from her, after all.
kewl_katie on May 20th, 2004 09:08 pm (UTC)
But, I think that she would go out with Ron if he asked her out on a date, just because she loves him (as a friend) and wouldn't want to hurt his feelings or make him embarressed. It would be a different matter altogether if someone like Lavender Brown or someone that's not one of Hermione's close friends asked her to date someone.

She wouldn't submit to peer pressure, however I can picture her going on a date with Ron just because of his feeling for her...
calanthe_b on May 20th, 2004 09:28 pm (UTC)
I can picture her going on a date with Ron just because of his feeling for her...

As a pity thing, you mean? I can't quite see that scenario, because I think she'd be too well aware of the trap she'd be setting for herself down the line.
spliff huxtable split a snatch straight bangin'mbmargarita on June 1st, 2004 07:36 pm (UTC)
Definitely interesting, well done.
calanthe_b on June 1st, 2004 10:47 pm (UTC)
L: Gryffindor Quidditchallegoricduck on June 2nd, 2004 11:36 am (UTC)
Great essay! This was very interesting-- Hermione is my favorite character, and I hate how she's treated in fandom sometimes. I guess it's because she is hard to identify with, and she's not really the "ideal girl" that everyone wants to be; I think that most fan fiction writers don't want to deal with her bookishness and bossiness, unless in an attack and an inflation of her faults, or her insecurity. She's a difficult character in that she is unconcerned (at least to Harry) with the fact that she's different than her classmates and shows no interest in changing her ways; most writers can't write her properly, not that it discourages their attempts. I think Ebony's Hermione in her Paradise stories may be the best characterization of Hermione...one of my favorite lines is "She's smart, but one wonders is it is innate of the result of an unhealthy obsession with knowing even the most esoteric detail of the most obscure subject." I think that Ebony's statement made by Angelina captures an adult Hermione very well.

Anyways, the point of all my rambling was to say that I enjoyed your thoughts and agree with you.

Lauren :)
calanthe_b on June 2nd, 2004 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your thoughts! Very interesting, particluarly the point about Hermione being unconcerned with the fact that she is different from a lot of the kids around her--and indifferent to their pressure to make her conform to their ideas of what she should be. And I'm glad you liked the essay.
long gone with her red shoes on: ot3backs -- beautiful_xxredshoeson on September 6th, 2004 04:28 pm (UTC)
Excellently done; putting this in my memories. I, too, have read many anti-Hermione rants; thank you for representing the other side!