?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
20 August 2006 @ 11:00 pm
The Fountain Told a Lie: Deconstructing the Wizarding World  
I'll freely admit that in my essay, What Happened to Ollivander?, the actual parts about Ollivander are the far-fetched parts. Really, it fills a plot hole - it's an interesting way to solve a much greater problem lingering in the Harry Potter series, but one that is probably much more ignored in fandom. That problem is the wizarding world's prejudice. We see it towards all kinds: muggles, giants, centaurs, goblins, house-elves. The idea of Ollivander being hid to supply wands for the magical brethren who are being oppressed in one way or another fits the problem, although it may be the furthest thing from the solution on Rowling's mind.

So let's get into the real backbone of that essay, the real reason I wrote it. That is simply this: Rowling is writing postmodern literature, telling us a story that deconstructs another more powerful, oppressive story.

PoMo 101

The key to understanding postmodernism and what Rowling is doing is getting a handle on the word metanarrative. A metanarrative is any overarching story about The Way Things Really Are. In short, it's a story that tells us what reality is really like. To illustrate, we can take the extreme example of Hitler, whose German supremacy was the metanarrative driving the actions of the German government and military. Those who did not follow the story were trampled upon. We can even find traces of metanarrative in the rhetoric of our own president. When President Bush speaks of freedom and democracy being the goal of history, the real place where history is headed, he's using metanarrative talk.

Metanarrative is rooted in Enlightenment thinking (though metanarratives certainly existed prior to the 1700s). The Enlightenment Project taught us, in layperson's terms, that we all have excellent rational faculties, and if we all apply them, we'll arrive at a universal reality. In other words, we'll all, of our own rational capability, come to the right code of ethics, the right morality, the right way to treat our fellow humans. The problem, of course, became quite evident: After a few hundred years, not everyone agreed, and to complicate the problem, those who were in power used that power to silence the minority points of view. Suddenly, in the words of Voldemort himself, "there is no good or evil; only power, and those too weak to seek it."

Because that's what metanarratives basically boil down to. If I think reality is one way, and you think it's another, and I've got a gun and you don't, my reality wins. French philosopher Lyotard has defined postmodernism (admittedly, "simplifying in the extreme") as "incredulity towards metanarratives." Certainly, it is much more than that, and you learn from reading the likes of Derrida and Eco that it has a significant amount to do with the nature of truth and language itself. But the driving force behind postmodernism is the injustice caused by the powerful on those who had no power and dared to believe something different, or just be different.

The real problem is not the stories themselves, of course. We all have beliefs about reality that we hold to tenaciously. The problem is when the powerful impose their stories on the less powerful, the minorities, those who are different.

A postmodern writer, then, spends his or her efforts deconstructing </span>these grand, overarching narratives. We've come to learn that we see reality in different ways, interpreting through the lenses of our own cultures; there is no "universal reason" that is driving us all to the same conclusions.

Metanarratives in Harry Potter

So Rowling has set up for us metanarratives in the Wizarding World that parallel the ones in our own, and she's deconstructing them. Now, it should be noted that Rowling is not a pessimistic postmodern; she does believe we can "reconstruct," so to speak, and move from wild cynicism about metanarratives to an ultimately better understanding (for more detailed looks at this, see this post at Muggle Matters, and be sure to read the comment by Felicity as well).

Voldemort/Slytherin
We've already mentioned Voldemort and his belief about power. We can add to that his taking up Slytherin's crusade against Muggle-borns. The belief that only pureblood wizards should be accepted and valued is nothing short of an oppressive metanarrative, meant to destroy Muggles and Muggle-born wizards. Voldemort intends to act this metanarrative out in real history, and as such, the central problem of the Harry Potter series, Rowling's contribution to the Problem of Evil, so to speak, is an oppressive idealogy, a metanarrative.

The Ministry's Metanarrative: Prejudice and Slavery in the Wizarding World

The great irony is that the Ministry of Magic, as well as a large part of the Wizarding World, while hating Voldemort's oppressive metanarrative, is operating on its own. But just because the line of prejudice isn't drawn between purebloods and "mudbloods" doesn't make it any better. The most obvious example of prejudice in the Wizarding World is the fountain, portraying the centaur, goblin, and house-elf regarding the wizard with great admiration. All one needs to do is consider the centaurs' attitude towards wizards to know that the statue is a lie.

Prejudice in the Wizarding World exists far and wide. The fact that there even needs to be a Muggle Protection Act proposed in the first place demonstrates the prejudice against Muggles. We can hear echoes of prejudice in Slughorn's surprise at the talent of certain Muggle-borns and in Ron's repeating the "willing slave" line about the house-elves, which enslavement is in itself another obvious example. Despite some creative theories proposing that the house-elves represent house-wives, and Hermione is a rabid feminist, Rowling has been explicit in saying that the house-elf story is about slavery:

The house elves is really for slavery, isn't it, the house elves are slaves, so that is an issue that I think we probably all feel strongly about enough in this room already. [original source]


So she's telling metanarratives we know: prejudice, slavery, and even legislative action against those who are different. Consider, for example, the law against underage wizards using magic. This is nothing short of institutionalized prejudice against Muggle-borns, because, as Dumbledore explains in the spider-infested shed at the Weasleys, the Ministry only knows that magic was performed, not who performed it. It would be impossible to prosecute an underage wizard born to a witch and/or wizard, unless the parents were really honest and willing to turn their children in. In short, it's a law that prevents muggle-borns from developing their talents during the summers while turning a blind eye toward established wizarding families.

And then there's the wand issue, which is the inspiration for my Ollivander essay. The law forbids non-human magical creatures from carrying wands. There is plenty of canon evidence that both house-elves and goblins could use wands (Winky, for a house-elf example; and Harry's OWL question is about goblins and wand restrictions), and we should assume that the law is not arbitrary: it's obvious the Ministry is afraid of the goblins, and the house-elves have been oppressed for centuries. Banning wand use for each group is for the manifest purpose of maintaining wizarding superiority.

In short, banning wand use maintains the Wizarding World's metanarrative that Wizards are better than all other magical creatures, and that, indeed, the entire rest of the magical world looks up to Wizards.

Dumbledore the Deconstructer

Albus Dumbledore does not wand to be Minister for Magic. He's been offered the position three times, and continues to turn it down. Why? Because he is our postmodern deconstructer. He's the one tearing down the false wizarding metanarrative. Consider the following:

Dumbledore employs house-elves and pays them if they want it. He does not demand respect of them as their usual owners would. He does not even demand that they always speak well of him; they may call him a "barmy old codger" if they'd like. As I argued in my Ollivander essay, House-elf life at Hogwarts under Dumbledore is a transitional period toward the hope of their future freedom (a hope that I think will get some wings and take off in book 7). Dumbledore agrees with Hermione's views about the enslavement of the house-elves; he just has a different and more sensitive way of working for their freedom.

Dumbledore maintained good enough relations with the centaurs, who hate wizards, to have them show up and pay respects at his funeral. His hiring of Firenze must have been simply scandalous.

Dumbledore has accepted all sorts of "questionable" wizards, giving trust, acceptance, and second chances: Snape, a repentant Death Eater; Lupin, a werewolf; Hagrid, a half-giant; Mad-Eye Moody, an ex-auror gone a bit senile; Trelawney, an obvious fraud; Firenze, a centaur; Draco, offering redemption to his would-be murderer.

Dumbledore entreated Fudge to "extend [the giants] the hand of friendship;" otherwise, "Voldemort will persuade them, as he did before, that he alone among wizards will give them their rights and their freedom!" (GF-36). Once again, scandalous as far as Fudge was concerned. Two points are important from this exchange: (1) It's obvious from Dumbledore's argumentation that wizards have denied the giants their rights and freedoms, and (2) Fudge's response, that people hate the giants and it would end his career, demonstrates plainly how widespread the prejudice is.

Dumbledore, from the start, has been the voice of tolerance, love, and acceptance. When Rowling wrote him as "the epitome of goodness" [source], she meant it. He is the representative for the deconstruction of the oppressive Wizarding World metanarrative.

I am agreed with Merlin that writing Dumbledore as manipulative is over-deconstruction. He sums it up beautifully here:

Dumbledore himself acknowledges making mistakes in regards to pairing Harry with Snape for occlumency lessons and not taking into account the impact their history will have on their ability to work together on it, and errors in judgment etc But to take it to the level that it sounds like it is being taken in some of the theories talked about, sounds like the deconstructionism is being taken too far, to the level where one has to deconstruct/discount the character responses to DD by other genuinely downtrodden and genuinely good characters (and ones who seem pretty discerning at that, I mean Lupin was able to approach Snape with thankfulness for the WB potion even though Snape exposed him in the end, and if all our "good Snape" theories are right, it would seem that Lupin at the Burrow is more right than he is at the end of HBP)


Dumbledore refuses the MoM position because he refuses to be part of the problem, and the corruption throughout the Wizarding World is far to extensive to simply assume the power of Minister for Magic won't tempt one to compromise. No, better for Dumbledore to advise, and when necessary, criticize the Ministry from the outside, all the while raising up a new generation of wizards and witches, hopefully teaching as many of them as possible to abandon the old prejudices that result in oppressive metanarratives.

Reconstructed with Love

When the Ministry that is fighting Voldemort is bound by the same idealogical problems as Voldemort himself, what is a wizard to do? Like Harry, become "Dumbledore's man through and through." Stop scoffing, as Voldemort did, at the idea that love is the most powerful form of magic, and embrace the idea. The destruction of the fountain was a poweful symbol of the deconstruction of the Wizarding World's oppressive metanarrative; it is to be reconstructed with love. It is no coincidence that Dumbledore insists "love" is "the power the Dark Lord knows not."
 
 
 
ebailey140 on August 21st, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC)

Once again, very interesting.

I think OotP made it clear that Voldemort isn't the disease infecting the wizarding world. He's just the most noticable symptom, taking advantage of the real issues the wizarding world faces for his own ends. The problem won't go away once Voldemort is gone.

Much of the bigotry seen by the wizarding world reflects real history. It took the Holocaust to make the Western world realize just what it had been doing to others, for centuries, and, ever since, it's been a long, painful, growth to Enlightenment. The House Elves obviously represent slavery, and werewolves represent persecuted minorites. The centaurs' situation parallels that of the aboriginies in America, South Africa, and Australia, as we saw during their confrontation with Umbridge, where she was going on about how they were allowed these lands by the Ministry.

A lot has been written comparing the wizarding world to pre-WWII Britain. Back then, non-European cultures were seen as inferior, even by liberals. We see this reflected in the HP books with the Weasleys, who are opposed to the killing of muggles and muggleborns, but, nevertheless, see muggles as inferior, Arthur Weasley always discussing them the way we would a precocious five year old, or a clever chimpanzee. The Weasleys are also all for the enslavement of House Elves, seeing nothing wrong with doing this to an intelligent species. A lot of things are going to have to change in the wizarding world, and I expect we'll get some of that story at the end of the series, probably making up the epilogue. She's built up these underlying issues too much not to address it. So, what's going to become of the wizarding world after Voldemort? As always, it comes down to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. There's a popular theory that the Black sisters were modelled on the real life Mitford sisters. If so, we have a map for the wizarding world's post-Voldemort future.

Jo's personal heroine is Jessica Mitford. She named her first child after her, and bought her Jessica's autobiography to read when she's old enough. Jessica was from a blueblood family with Fascist sympathies. She rebelled and eloped at 18 with someone her family didn't approve of. She went on to become a crusading jounalist, adversary of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Civil Rights activist, and sometime recording artist. One of her most famous quotes could be Slytherin's motto: "Objectivity? I've always had an objective."

One of her sisters, Diana, described as "icily beautiful", married British politician Sir Oswald Mosely (subject of Elvis Costello's "Less Than Zero"), who was, at one time, considered a favorite for Prime Minister until his ambitions were destroyed due to his ties to Hitler, leading to his going to prison at the beginning of WWII.

The sister Jessica was closest to, growing up, was Unity. Unity became such a fanatical supporter of Hitler that her family thought she'd become unhinged. She was also rumored to be Hitler's mistress.

Jessica's daughter was the improbably named Constancia Romilly, though she preferred to be called by a nickname rather than "Constancia". During the early days of the Civil Rights movement, she fell in love with, and married, a black man.

Sounds very familiar, doesn't it? Considering we know Jo is an expert on this family, the parallels to the Blacks likely aren't coincidence. Interesting, if this is the case, that she put the character modelled on her heroine in Slytherin. It seems that Harry is going to have to face his own prejudices.

So, it seems the wizarding world is in for some interesting times, with something along the lines of the Red Scare (a Dark Arts Scare?)and a Civil Rights movement for werewolves, centaurs, House Elves, etc. Well, we know what Hermione will be doing after the war.

myfatbudgie on August 22nd, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC)
That sounds fascinating. Diana=Narcissa, Sir Oswald=Lucius Malfoy, Unity=Belatrix, Constancia=Andromeda and Nymphadora, Constancia's husband=Ted Tonks/Remus Lupin, Jessica=Sirius Black, had his mother been more stable than Jessica's, etc, etc.
(Anonymous) on August 23rd, 2006 10:43 am (UTC)
Andromeda
I think Ebaily meant Jessica=Andromeda, Narcissa and Belatrix's sister, and Tonks mother.
travisprinzi on August 23rd, 2006 11:50 am (UTC)
Re: Andromeda
Very interesting stuff here that I know next to nothing about. I'll have to do some digging around.
ebailey140 on August 23rd, 2006 12:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Andromeda
Yep, that's where the parallels are. Sirius didn't survive long enough to be the Jessica equivelent. We have all these issues in the wizarding world, and it would seem Jo's set a character up to be involved in doing something about them.
myfatbudgie on August 25th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
Disagree somewhat.
Probably so. I've always thought that Andromeda was a more successful Sirius. HOWEVER, we haven't heard of anything that Andromeda has done except marry a muggleborn, and have a metamorph child. Sirius is the one who joined the Order of Phoenix TWICE, provided his own home as their their headquarters, and crusaded against Voldemort.
ebailey140 on August 25th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Disagree somewhat.

Most of what Jessica accomplished was after WWII, the 50s and 60s being when she would make an impact. Sirius was like one of the soldiers who died in combat during the war. The Jessica of the wizarding world would have to survive the war to be involved in changing things.
myfatbudgie on August 26th, 2006 07:03 am (UTC)
Re: Disagree somewhat.
Hm. Too bad. If Andromeda is supposed to be exactly like Jessica we won't read about her. What a waste of a character to have all that background, and source material, and not be able to use it except for a throwaway at the end of the series: And after VoldeWar II ended, Andromeda, Tonk's mum, went on a crusade to change the wizarding world, and she was successful." Unless JKR plans on writing the wizarding, young adult version of "War and Peace", I don't see how she have The Trio find the horcruxes and destroy them, tie up most of the loose plot threads, tell about the war, and Harry's struggle with Voldemort, AND show Andromeda, Hermione, and all the rest fighting to change their world. I know the books GoF and OotP were long, but man, its hard to imagine her doing justice to her RL heroine if she persists in following the biography of Jessica exactly. That's the reason I see either Sirius or Tonks taking the Jessica role.

I've always found Andromeda intriguing, and always thought she and Sirius were female and male versions of each other. They could have gone each other's way so easily had a few events changed, yet she had success and happiness, and he ended up with misery. It'd be great if JKR wrote about her, and did her justice. I'd love it, especially because she'd have as interesting a background and personality as Sirius, which just isn't true of the other women in the series. I'm still leaning toward Sirius and Tonks standing in for Jessica, but I'll be happy to be proved wrong when the book comes out as long as JKR gives Andromeda loving care when she writes her. I'm a bit worried, though. I thought Book 6 was a bit slapdash compared to her other books.
ebailey140 on August 26th, 2006 09:29 am (UTC)
Re: Disagree somewhat.
Oh, I figure we'll see Andromeda. Too many of the threads Harry is following lead to her. A lot of questions, and she seems like she'd have the answers.

He has to follow the RAB lead, for one. Regulus (presuming he was RAB) would likely have talked to somebody he trusted, who wasn't a DE or Order member. We know he didn't talk to anybody in the Order, because Sirius, and certainly Dumbledore, would have known about it. So, there could be a reason for that strange little bit of info that Jo dropped into HBP about Sirius and Andy being estranged, at the time.

Plus, we have someone who'd have inside knowledge about the other side in the early days. She was there, before the war, when Voldemort was recruiting her family and friends.

And, well, someobody needs to shake Harry out of his last illusions about things. She's just the person to do it. And, she can piss off Ron by supporting Hermione's stance on House Elves, and suggesting things to do about it once the war is over.
AloysiusWeasleyaloysiusweasley on August 23rd, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC)
I think OotP made it clear that Voldemort isn't the disease infecting the wizarding world. He's just the most noticable symptom, taking advantage of the real issues the wizarding world faces for his own ends. The problem won't go away once Voldemort is gone.

Good point! You said it much shorter and more clearly than I did - that's pretty much what I'm trying to say with each of the magical races. I don't think the magical races are entirely innocent, though, and that they don't contribute to the problem, but the WW has real issues it must find a solution for. Very clever of V. to come from a muggle upbringing and grasp the issues so quickly, as well as twist them to his own ends - but I still can't wait 'till he's exterminated. Something to do after the war for Hermione, indeed!
AloysiusWeasley: Inuyasha1aloysiusweasley on August 23rd, 2006 05:10 am (UTC)
Another good essay! I have only one nerf:
"So she's telling metanarratives we know: prejudice, slavery, and even legislative action against those who are different. Consider, for example, the law against underage wizards using magic. This is nothing short of institutionalized prejudice against Muggle-borns, because, as Dumbledore explains in the spider-infested shed at the Weasleys, the Ministry only knows that magic was performed, not who performed it. It would be impossible to prosecute an underage wizard born to a witch and/or wizard, unless the parents were really honest and willing to turn their children in. In short, it's a law that prevents muggle-borns from developing their talents during the summers while turning a blind eye toward established wizarding families."

Good point, but I looked at it from a different viewpoint. The MoM's main objective and purpose seems to be keeping the Wizarding world secret from the larger population of Muggles. They've had to take rather extreme measures to insure this secrecy, and undoubtedly, some poeple are bound to be tossed by the wayside (mistakes have been made, others will be blamed).
I looked at it in terms of the little we see of Hermione's relationship (or lack thereof) with her muggle parents: the laws on underage wizards affect muggleborns the most severely because they are mostly surrounded by, well, Muggles. Their parents may notice a few things odd by their offspring, but probably won't merely jump right to the conclusion their child is a wizard, something that isn't supposed to REALLY exist. I'm sure a half- or pureblood child would be punished just as severely, if not more, if they went out into the general population and did some random bit of magic. They can get away with it around their parents because one or more of them are wizards - simple as that.
I also find the laws against non-human magical, intelligent species to be somewhat repulsive, but I've tried to find ways to explain them logically. I'm most annoyed by the Werewolf codes (I really like Lupin!:), and fail to see why (especially with the WB potion around and about) perfectly capable people/wizards are prevented from performing to their full potentials. However, after the events of HBP, I'm forced to see that Lupin, like Dobby, Firenze, and perhaps Hagrid, many of the other races are treated unfairly by wizardkind because their actions leave the wizards no choice.
With the werewolves, many seem to follow the lead of Fenir Greyback, fighting back with violence and literally forcing others to follow their path by turning them. Though they may be discriminated against by by wizards, they essentially face the same choice HP (continually) faces, and Voldemort carelessly discards by the wayside - the choice of doing what is right Vs. what is easy. I think if they banded together, and got a patron or two who had some clout or political influence, I'd be willing to bet they could get the laws changed - but the fact remains that at the present time, most of them would rather work in other, far more...cruel and outright dangerous ways, to both wizards and Muggles alike.
As far as the giants go, Hagrid has been raised by his father, a wizard, and also in part by Dumbledore and perhaps whoever the previous gamekeeper was. He also has the advantage of being only half-giant. As we also saw in HBP, the rest of the giants seem perfectly happy and willing to savage each other and anything else that comes within their grasp. Despite seeing others of at least half their breed treated fairly well by the wizards (Hagrid and Madam Maxime), they still would rather take the route of instant gratification with the Death Eaters, even though it's clearly another choice of doing what is right Vs. what is easy. Even Grawp is violent and unstable - in all his time with Hagrid, I've seen very little progress made, which leads me to think it's something genetic.

travisprinzi on August 23rd, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Underage Restriction law - I'm not sure this reason is good enough though. The law is intrinsically prejudiced. Even if the initial lawmakers' motives were pure (which I doubt), it does not forgive the egregious error inherent in the law. It is the lawmakers' responsibility to be aware of those sorts of things when they make the laws in the first place.

Re: Laws against non-wizards. I think the logical reasons you bring up are definitely the talking points the MoM would use in justifying them.

But I don't think it's fair to simply say, "Well, the werewolves obviously want to be violent and anti-wizard, so we need those laws. I don't think the werewolves simply have a right vs. easy choice before them. I think wizarding fear and intolerance of werewolves drove them underground, into hiding, and eventually, into hatred of the wizarding world.

Same with the giants. Why would Dumbledore urge Fudge to extend the hand of friendship and offer them their freedoms? Do you think Dumbledore really wants friendship offered to a group of creatures that would simply turn and kill wizards? No, Dumbledore's concern for his students' safety alone would prevent him making such a reckless move. Like house-elves and werewolves, I think giants have been made what they are by wizarding prejudice, not only by their very nature.
AloysiusWeasley: Weasley familyaloysiusweasley on August 23rd, 2006 05:43 pm (UTC)
With the underage restrictions, that was probably the best they could do. I tried thinking of another way, but short of the WW pulling a changeling sort of thing and bringing magical children into their fold, I really don't see how they could accomodate the muggleborn witches and wizards and still maintain secrecy.

With the laws against non-wizards - *does the happy shiny dance to have figured out the MoM buzzwords!* Seriously, though: they're real issues. The magical races aren't entirely innocent, and do cause BIG problems for the WW, I'm sure.

I also think a better way could be found for the werewolves, especially now that there's the WB potion. Having Umbridge around sure doesn't help though. (time to send her to the centaur office....)

Considering the giants have killed almost ALL of their own kind in petty power struggles amongst themselves, I'm pretty sure they ARE naturally violent!

Good points, though! Keep up the excellent essays! :)
travisprinzi on August 23rd, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
With the underage restrictions, that was probably the best they could do. I tried thinking of another way, but short of the WW pulling a changeling sort of thing and bringing magical children into their fold, I really don't see how they could accomodate the muggleborn witches and wizards and still maintain secrecy.

Then the best they could do wasn't good enough, and they should not have put the law in place. Why "no magic at all"? Why not, "no magic around muggles who don't know you're a wizard"?

The magical races aren't entirely innocent, and do cause BIG problems for the WW, I'm sure.

I agree...there's fault on both sides. But which is the side with all the power?

Considering the giants have killed almost ALL of their own kind in petty power struggles amongst themselves, I'm pretty sure they ARE naturally violent!

Again, would Dumbledore agree with this? Could it be that Giants really mightn't have become that way had wizards not denied them their freedom? Think about it...wizards denied them their rights and freedom, and then Voldemort promised them their rights and freedom. Who are they going to take after in that situation?
AloysiusWeasley: Legolasaloysiusweasley on August 23rd, 2006 05:11 am (UTC)
I really hate the LJ posting limits!!!:

I don't believe we have enough backround with the house-elves yet to make much of a determination; perhaps that's coming in Book 7, but many of them, even when offered freedoms by Dumbledore, are HAPPY doing what they do. I'm inclined to think what the elves wish and what the wizards want tend to coincide more than with any other species - and perhaps the only enchantment on the elves is that they cannot go against the ones they've sworn themselves to, and they must keep their master's secrets. They only seem to object when they're treated very poorly (Dobby).
As far as the goblins go....I'm inclined to be very wary of them, as every version of them in any fantasy I've EVER read portrays them as evil. ALWAYS. As we've seen with the numerous mentions of goblin wars and rebellions, they're more than happy to resort to violence and trickery, even when perfectly reasonable venues were open to them to air their grievences (mentioned in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). I find it very foolish of the WW to entrust their money supply to them in Gringotts, and hope the wizards have at least SOME safeguards in place. (Watch your back, Bill!) I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see many of them part of V's arsenal in Book 7, if many aren't already.
With the centaurs and mermaids, as with the house-elves, we haven't much to go on. They are obviously proud and freedom - loving races, but they find wizardkind and/or it's laws intolerable. They live separately from wizards, and hopefully have enough sense to stay away from the Muggles - if they refuse, then the wizards are justifiably nervous.
In conclusion, I'm definitely NOT saying the WW and especially the MoM is perfect. Yes, many of their laws are unjust, and many of their officials corrupt and/or out for their own interests (No real life parallels THERE!:). However, the non-human beings they're attempting to aid/bring into their fold aren't exactly cooperative, either. And if JKR is trying to make close real-life parallels, I've got to say she's doing a rather poor job. I mean, is she trying to say other races of people are genetically different, and that's why the world has so many problems? It just doesn't seem to be the best way to get these things into the minds of the younger crowd, who might not be old enough to grasp abstract concepts, and might get some misguided ideas.

Just passing along my (whole bunch!) of cents! :)
ebailey140 on August 23rd, 2006 12:33 pm (UTC)

Well, it's likely the goblins had something to rebel over. If the giants are treated the same way as the centaurs, their hostility is understandable. It's also clear, from the confrontation with Umbridge, that it wasn't the centaurs' idea to be moved there. They were "relocated", as they used to say in South Africa. In American terms, think of the forbidden Forest as a Reservation.

I'm also sure the House Elf system wasn't the idea of the elves, with the wearing old pillowcases and being abused. I'm sure Jo isn't planning a pro-slavery message.

As for werewolves, a lot of them turn to Voldemort because they have nowhere else to go. They, and many others, have been screwed royally by the wizarding community for all these centuries, and here's someone offering to help them. It's to Remus's credit that he hasn't done that, himself, because, if it wasn't for his love for his friends, and these firm beliefs in right and wrong, he'd really have no reason not to join Voldemort. Most werewolves, one can presume, didn't have a group of unprejudiced friends like the Marauders.
AloysiusWeasley: Legolasaloysiusweasley on August 23rd, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC)
I'm not saying the non-human members of the magical community don't have a reason to be angry - they probably have been treated unfairly. I was just pointing out that they haven't really done anything to help change the situation in a sensible or non-violent manner. I think a good example of this is how no centaur has EVER used their support office at the MoM.
The goblins seem to have come a long way, as they now run the wizard bank (Which I again, think is a very poor idea on the wizards part) - I've never seen goblins portrayed in a good light, and I think they're trouble. I think of the giants the same way - I have a mental image of the giants being used as the cave trolls were in LotR, and one had better hurry and get out of their way, because they're violent, always had been, and always will be. They're killed off most of their own kind, and we heard quite clearly in HBP from Hagrid that they continued to do so, in a power struggle amongst themselves.
Good point with the relocation of the S. Africans - unfortunately, American Indians were treated the same way, as you pointed out about reservations. However, I also see the POV of the MoM - their main purpose is to keep the wizarding world secret, and the centaurs seem to be less than cooperative with much of anything. Perhaps the MoM had no choice but to move the centaurs to the FF "reservation" - maybe they refused to keep themselves hidden from muggles, and the whole wizarding world faced exposure. I'd be pretty mad too, if my whole world was about to come apart at the seams because a smaller group of people refused to act in a civil manner, and through their actions, put me and mine in real danger. Perhaps that particular group of centaurs refused to cooperate, and that's why they were moved there - maybe there are other herds out there running free. As for the merpeople, they don't seem to mind being in the lake - they seemed to work with Dumbledore well enought, in the second task of the triwizard tournament in GoF.
I've done some research on the real-life basis for house-elves, in myths and traditions. They seemed to guard properties, though whether it was the actual house or whether it was maintaining the land it was on is up for debate. Now that they can no longer look after muggle-owned properties as well, they look after only wizarding ones - the elves seem MORE than happy to do that, and that may be what they DO (look after magical property). The wizards seem to have only turned this elf perogative to their advantage - I do disagree very much with the mistreating of house-elves (the way they're forced to punish themselves is disgusting), but the only things the wizards seem to have done is enchant the race to insure they can't disobey the wizard owners of their properties, i.e. go running off to the master's enemies and spill all their secrets. With wizards like Voldemort running around, I could see how that could be a real hazard!
I think that the werewolves have gotten the rawest end of the deal out of all the magical creatures. Lupin is a quite capable wizard, and has real contributions he could have made to the wizarding community, had it not been for the ridiculous werewolf codes (another reason I LOATH Umbridge - she helped draft them). I'm sure there are other wizard/werewolves out there that could do the same - I'm glad Lupin has found friends and a niche in the Order. Reluctantly, I can also see part of the MoM's problem, as it isn't only wizards that are werewolves - Greyback and his followers have turned muggles as well, making their kind a BIG problem for wizards. I wouldn't be surprised if there were similar problems with vampires.

Anyhow, thanks for the reply! You make good points, too - I thought it'd be a sport to put myself in the MoM's shoes and see why they might do some of the things they do. I'm sure they're not all like Fudge and Umbridge - I'd like to think there are more like Arthur Weasley out there! :)
ebailey140 on August 23rd, 2006 05:43 pm (UTC)

Of course, as we've seen, even the Weasleys share a lot of these prejudices. The only one they don't share with the likes of the Malfoys is against muggleborn witches and wizards, as we'e seen with Arthur's condescending views of muggles, and Molly's desire for a House Elf slave. Even many of the more nice, liberal, magical families have these prejudices, view those not like themselves as naturally inferior to them.
travisprinzi on August 23rd, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)
I don't think Mr. Weasley is as much condescending towards muggles as he is ignorant and fascinated with them. I mean, he is the architect behind the Muggle Protection Act, isn't he?

That said, I agree...prejudice is widespread in the wizarding world.
AloysiusWeasley: Weasley familyaloysiusweasley on August 23rd, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC)
The Weasleys also don't see themselves as a superior family, even though they could be construed as pureblood as well. I never really saw Arthur as looking at muggles as condescendingly - he always seemed more fascinated by the ways muggles get along without magic. He seemed not to really focus on the muggles themselves, but more on their inventions, anyway. And the Weasley's may not have a house-elf because one was never part of their particular plot of land (or house), though I don't understand why Arthur doesn't go to the House-Elf Relocation Office and fetch one (maybe none are availible?). I'm pretty sure Molly was quoted as "wanting one to help out with the housework" (perhaps Ron said it instead), so then she could focus on other, better things, i.e. getting her career started for when the Weasley children are grown, magical inventing - who knows? And I haven't seen much of the idea of other races being "naturally inferior" to other races - Molly has NO problem with Lupin, and at the end of HBP, seems willing to allow Bill to marry Fleur (Unfortunately - I think one of the most bigoted people in the series is that bimbo).

Anyhow, I find it rather aggravating that the magical races, if they think they're treated so badly, don't try to find ways to make their plights heard. There ARE offices at the Ministry for just such a thing, i.e. the Goblin Liason Office, ect. And I didn't see Dumbledore jumping up and down in their defense, either - he might not of worked at the Ministry, but he seemed to have quite a bit of clout anyway, especially since he was on the International Confederation of Wizards. Also, aside from Dobby (the wierdo of his race), no elf has referred to themselves as a slave - I think they have different perogatives than humans, and such, really can't be judged in the same mold as humans. I think they like keeping "their" houses up to shape - they just wish to be treated civilly.

The fact is, (as I see it), that yes, the WW has prejudices and widespread misconceptions (and needs a MoM overhaul!) - but the magical races need to stand up for themselves in a reasonable manner. All the ones I've seen can speak a language - I can see how they could be angry at being mistreated, but it still doesn't in any way excuse them killing wizards (who also have a duty to protect their own). I think a big message of the HP series is that violence isn't the answer - and that seems to be the only real route the other magical races want to take...
(Maybe we're having a Magical Conservative Vs. Magical Liberal discussion - LOL)
travisprinzi on August 23rd, 2006 08:29 pm (UTC)
(Maybe we're having a Magical Conservative Vs. Magical Liberal discussion - LOL)

Ha! Yes, I believe we are. I'm a conservative (I hate that label, though), but I dare say Rowling's a liberal, so I'm trying to argue her point.

Whichever way you slice it, you're talking "willing" slavery. It's slavery, no matter how the house-elves have been conditioned to think. Rowling says it's the slavery story. Therefore, it simply can't be that house-elves are in the situation they prefer, unless we believe Rowling is advocating slavery.

Actually, I think Rowling is messing with both liberals and conservatives. She's telling us all that prejudice, especially when it's been institutionalized, is far more complex and difficult to resolve than we normally think as we shout out our political opinions. Yes, fault exists on every side. But who makes the first move? Those in power have the primary responsibility to work toward equality - i.e., the wizards in Rowling's world.

We don't know enough about the history of these things to comment with complete knowledge - goblins, centaurs, and other may have tried to make their voices know. But we saw all through Order how deaf the Ministry becomes when its laws and positions are challenged. It's quite possible the other magical brethren have just been ignored enough times to realize the "liaison offices" are just for show when it comes to making any significant change for the oppressed parties. Or they may have realized that right from the start.

I've argued elsewhere that Dumbledore's political tactic is to work for slow change by education over time, rather than "jumping up and down," screaming, or leading some kind of equality revolution. And once again, it's obvious that when he does do that sort of thing, the Ministry becomes temporarily deaf (as in Order).

Anyway, I appreciate your challenging thoughts. Keep 'em rolling!
AloysiusWeasley: Howlaloysiusweasley on August 23rd, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC)
Anyway, I appreciate your challenging thoughts. Keep 'em rolling!
*wriggles around in delight*
I've been told I have a knack at looking at things from a really different viewpoint, and so far I hadn't felt appreciated in the slightest :( I'm not sure where I am yet - I think I'm smack-dab in the middle, thinking the right wing is sometimes too strict, but that the left is loony. *mmmm..grey areas....mmmm*

Anyhow, you do have a great point about the house-elf plight, with "willing" slavery. That would be a rather poor message to send, and might confuse all the kiddies. I definitely agree with you on JKR's views, and you're right, she has said the house-elf plight is about slavery (*still finds it very annoying to paw through JKR interviews to find book tidbits and clues*). I do think the house-elves at Hogwarts were probably happy under Dumbledore - good clothes, treatment, ect.(and no shortage of cleaning with all the students around, if that's what they really like!) :D

I do wish Dumbledore had made more of a difference before he passed on - his idea for slow, gradual change beat the tar out of S.P.E.W (which made me want to do about the same, come to think of it!). Hopefully his views have influenced many of his students - perhaps that's why he never took the Minister position, as he saw getting his views for equality through would never pass as law until more of the wizarding population was in place to advocate and believe his ideas.

A probably stupid question, but have you read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? I've currently misplaced my copy (It's so small! It's too easy to lose!), but I'm pretty sure it has an introduction with a long bit on how the wizards tried to classify the beasts and beings. That's where I got some of my info, and my dislike for JKR's goblins.

Anyhow, keep up the great work! Your essays really help stem the twitching in waiting for Book 7. Friend?
travisprinzi on August 24th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC)
Yes - friend. I hear you about wishing DD made more of a difference, but I think that's where the whole notion of loyalty to him comes in. He'll never be gone as long as those who remain are loyal to him. Hence, Harry is "Dumbledore's man through and through." Dumbledore lives on through Harry.
ebailey140 on August 24th, 2006 05:08 am (UTC)

Again, though, Arthur discusses muggles like they're cute children, or clever chimps. And, again, we know Molly wanted a house elf slave.

But, after all, as nice as the Weasleys are, this is the culture they were brought up in. Again, we have to look at the pre-WWII parallels. For example, it's only relatively recently that The Merchant of Venice has been considered offensive. Now, we recognize it for being extremely anti-Semetic, but it took Hitler taking a then commonly accepted prejudice to the extreme to wake the Western world up. Notice Gandhi and the various Civil Rights movements took hold after WWII. That's not a coincidence. The Western World has had to stop and take a good look at itself. Change has come, since, slowly but surely.

The wizarding community, for all it's feelings of superiority to the muggle one, has fallen so far behind, culturally. Seeing this has been a big part of Harry's growth and maturity, his Hero's Journey. He started off seeing everything through rose colored glasses, as this was something far different than what he'd known all his life with the Dursleys. Upon meeting Draco, who immediately reminded Harry of Dudley, he began realizing the magical world isn't so perfect, after all. He's been learning more and more, ever since.

Bigotry is one of the main themes of this series, so I don't think Jo's going to come down pro-slavery and pro-oppression of minorities. The goblins certainly aren't the first or only folks to rebel against the British. Sure, English wizarding officials are going to paint the Goblin Rebellions in the most negative light possible, but the English Government painted William Wallace, Joan of Arc, George Washington, and Mahatma Gandhi in the most negative lights possible. The Scots, French, Americans, and Indians saw things differently.

I wonder if families like the Blacks know a little more about muggles than the Weasleys, that maybe Bella, as a child, knew about nukes, knew that a muggle thousands of miles away from her could end her life with the push of a button, knew about the poisoning of the air, land, and water, with an increasing frustration that the magical community was doing nothing about it.
travisprinzi on August 23rd, 2006 05:34 pm (UTC)
Do you really think JKR is following the "willing slaves" line of thinking with the house-elves? Rather, I think she's teaching us about psychological slavery - what a long time of enslavement does to a people. They only object when they're treated poorly because they've been taught to believe ridiculous rhetoric about their status. As Dumbledore said to Harry, the house-elves are what wizards have (unjustly) made them.

I understand your comment about the goblins...but wouldn't it be a pretty strong postmodern statement to turn the goblin story upside down?

And if JKR is trying to make close real-life parallels, I've got to say she's doing a rather poor job. I mean, is she trying to say other races of people are genetically different, and that's why the world has so many problems?

No, I think she's demonstrating the complexity of the problem. There is no easy answer or simple solution to any of the prejudice issues in Harry Potter. It'll take long, slow change. But I think she is being fairly clear in the view that the "other races of people" have been made as hostile towards wizards as they are due to wizarding prejudice.
rJo232rjo232 on August 24th, 2006 07:22 pm (UTC)
Jo has made a point to bring prejudices to the foreground of her story, but I very much doubt she'll resolve them in Book 7. Perhaps make strides, but I think that the complexity she's laid out (that has been commented on) of the prejudices will not be solved completely with a war. Just as attitudes and prejudices still exist today post WWII. It'd be unrealistic to leave the wizarding world in complete harmony, which is why I think she'll just settle for harmony and closure with the main plot.

I also think that it is very difficult to make a direct, detailed comparison between the discriminated against parties in Harry Potter and the ones of the real world. In the books, some of these parties are creatures, part humans, not of the same mentality, abilities or mindset as wizards. There is danger in trying to group all things together into categories they do not belong. They are physically and mentally different and some of them pose very real threats to not just wizards but muggles. Imagine if there were a person who lived down the street from you who, about once a month, got sick and this sickness made them try to sneak into your window with a shotgun. We'd want that person locked up, and in our society (imperfect as it is) we'd would lock them up. Unless of course, they became medicated. Its the behavior we fight, not the illness.

That said, I think Travis is absolutely correct in saying that Jo is using these books to outline prejudices and the pain, trouble and social uproar they can cause. However, I think her message is much more broad: prejudice is complicated, shows its head in different ways and is in essence bad, even if it looks alright (house elves). Diving into the details too much further only draws away from that central point.
Je danse avec le soleilpurple_ladybug1 on August 29th, 2006 02:36 am (UTC)
Great essay. You make a lot of interesting points.
samosasara on September 3rd, 2006 08:20 am (UTC)
this is an awesome essay. i really enjoyed it.

one other aspect i wanted to incorporate into this discussion was around class and the class critique rowling has been building throughout the series. we can see this particularly with the dynamics around the weasley family's working class living standards versus the malfoy family, as well as the way students and faculty interact with lupin. i think a lot of analysis around the intersections between race and class can be drawn from these relationships (considering that the weasleys are pureblood and lupin is a werewolf and how their experiences withlack of wealth differ...).

i also wonder, where does gender come into play? what metanarratives are being told around gender in harry potter? for example, i think the adversarial relationship between draco and hermione, while dominated by a pureblood-mudblood power dynamic, is also shaped by the fact that hermione is a strong, smart, outspoken woman. anyway, i'd love to hear any gender analysis you've applied to the series...

anyway, again, thanks for the essay. i haven't done a lot of cyber-reading of harry potter theories and it was truly such a pleasure to find something that applies post-modern/colonial theory to the harry potter world.