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July 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the Complicated Identity Politics

I felt a tad hypocritical writing this new article, since just last week I proclaimed myself sick of all the bitter Harry Potter haters. And indeed, I'm a big fan of the books, having stayed inside all day Sunday to finish my copy of Deathly Hallows with the plan of writing an article about the series' politics. I wasn't sure what my thesis would be as I sat down to begin outlining yesterday, but as I gathered evidence from the parts of the story that seemed the most politically and culturally interesting, I found myself realizing that although the books are anti-violence and anti-authoritarian, there's a powerful current of social conservatism running through them. As I write in the piece, I think this is mostly due to fantasy's inherently conservative vision, and J.K. Rowling's tendency to hew rather closely to the classical rules of the fantasy genre.

Hope the article stirs up some debate, so let me know what you think!

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Comments

Dana

I don't think I buy the idea that Rowling embraces traditional gender roles. First, I think Hermione is consistently depicted as the most competent of all the students and is viewed admiringly by Harry, if seen as a bit of a grind. My recollection is that the Quidditch teams are co-ed and that the girls are treated very much as equals in this arena. Professor McGonigall (sp?) is tres formidable and its Harry's mother who saves his life in fierce battle with Voldemort.

I think Mrs. Weasley provides a source of love, warmth and comnfort otherwise missing from Harry's life. But I don't think she is a weak character or that she signals a world view in which women are passive.

(I can't believe I'm being pedantic about books that I once spent 4 hours riding back and forth on the DC metro and reading aloud to my kid.)

SPOILER ALERT!***DONT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED DEATHLY HALLOWS
Dana,

You're the one who's studied "cultural history with a focus on gender," so maybe you can call me out if I don't know what I'm talking about, but while Rowling does seem to slip into traditional gender roles and traditional fantasy tropes, I feel that the virtues she celebrates are "feminine" in some sense, or at least no masculine. Why does Harry defeat Voldemort - his capacity to love life, his rejection of instrumental rationality(Grindelwald's "Greater Good") , his refusal to fear death, his ability love and empathize with others, and having some emotion.

Now, there's no reason that these qualities are necessarily or essentially tied or connected to "women" per se, but they do have association with femininity. It's not everyday the male hero of a fantasy epic is victorious due to his following femine virtues. I'm not saying your points about gender roles are wrong, just that, as I'm sure you've acknowledged, it's a complex picture Rowling paints.

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