Harry Potter and prejudice and discrimination

Here is the second of three extracts from Beyond Early Reading, by David Waugh and Sally Neaum to give you a taste of the content and the approach. Let us know what you think.

Building on the earlier work of Gordon Allport, Karen Brown ( 2008 ) talked about four things that can lead to prejudice and discrimination: ignorance, indifference, insecurity and intolerance . On the surface, this theme is easy to explore and link to today’s society with its emphasis on inclusion. Thus in multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-cultural Britain the separateness in the Potterverse is clear to all. At its most basic level, there is the split between the wizarding world and the Muggle world. within the wizarding world there is the emphasis on blood status: as Aunt Marge says in The Prisoner of Azkaban , It all comes down to blood, as I was saying the other day. Bad blood will out ( Prisoner , 26). Thus, the pure-bloods represent the wizarding aristocracy; the half-bloods are next in the pecking order (and it is interesting to note that each of the Abandoned Boys – Snape, Voldemort and Harry – are half-bloods); and at the bottom of the social hierarchy are the Muggle-born witches and wizards – infamously referred to as mud-bloods by the (seemingly) evil Draco Malfoy, and including the incomparable Hermione, the cleverest witch of her age ( Prisoner , 253). Though what is clever about the series is the way J.K. Rowling portrays the notion of blood status and shows it up for what it is – meaningless.

In addition to the above, there are many other social gradations: squibs (non-magical folk born to magical parents); magical Non-humans such as elves and goblins; magical creatures; and so on. As suggested above, these are easily described and the lessons learnt are readily outlined. Equally clear is the prejudice and discrimination of the Ministry of Magic, especially, though not exclusively, when under the control of Lord Voldemort. Here again the links with totalitarian régimes, most notably Nazi Germany, are easily made.

However, there are two interesting examples of just how complex the Potterverse can be; and how what appears at fi rst glance commonplace is in fact far from it. Thus, in the fourth book, Hermione emerges as the champion of the oppressed house elves; so moved is she over their apparent (and probably real) slavery, that she forms SPEW, the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. This is clearly an act of compassion, and whilst the idea doesn’t really catch on with most wizards nor, it has to be said, house elves either, one can nevertheless only admire Hermione’s motives, until one is reminded of the similar motives of the more zealous missionaries who went to Africa in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, to bring the heathen to the light of God and to ‘civilize’ the lesser breeds beyond the law (Kipling, 1897).

In a similar vein, Arthur Weasley is fascinated by Muggles , and there is no doubt about his motives; throughout he is pro-Muggle and anti-pure-blood dominance. However, there is just the suspicion that he might fi nd Muggles fascinating in the same way that lost Amazonian tribes might be seen as fascinating by some Western anthropologists. Whilst these two examples don’t discredit Arthur Weasley’s and Hermione’s motives, for one is certain that they are honourable, there is nevertheless clearly an alternative interpretation. Indeed, it is the very notion of alternative interpretations that makes Studying the Potterverse so fascinating.

Click here for more details of Beyond Early Reading by David Waugh and Sally Neaum


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