Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Harry Potter series as a social commentary?

J.K.Rowling’s series of novels designed for teenagers seem to me to have a deep socio-historical context that is not clear upon an initial examination. This is often portrayed in a humorous manner which allows it to become a rather satirical representation of modern life.
            For starters, the character of Voldemort appears to be an amalgamation of several historical figures as well as a figment of Rowling’s imagination. Whether these influences were intentional or not is unclear, but as one of them especially is a clear character in the world’s cultural consciousness it is easy to recognise him. This particular individual is Adolf Hitler. The key parallel between the two of them is his insistence on eradicating those not of “pure-blood” (in Hitler’s case those not of the Aryan race, and in Voldemort’s those not of wizarding blood). This drive to eradicate people whom these powerful men saw as inferior to them led to cruelly hunt people down and murder them often in their homes. As Voldemort becomes more powerful, it becomes unsafe for students of Hogwarts who are of mixed blood or who derived from muggles to travel unprotected. This mimics a similar situation in Germany when Hitler was at the peak of his power. The almost hypnotic power of these two men in securing followers is also similar as people dis whatever was asked of them out of both fear and respect for these despotic leaders. Moreover, the existence of the Order of the Phoenix seems to be a representation of the Allies in World War II: they exist to stop the increasing malevolent power of Voldemort.
            Another character which appears to be embodied in Voldemort is that of Satan himself. In previous times the name Satan, Devil or even Beelzebub was something spoken with a great deal of fear, and thus was something to avoid. In a similar way Voldemort is largely called “You-know-who” or “He-who-must-not-be-named” in order to avoid incurring pain from him or one of his followers. Voldemort is an embodiment of all evils in the text and is the source of them also; there is an awareness in the books that if Voldemort did not exist the use of dark magic on muggles or other wizarding folk would not have occurred. Indeed, he tempts people to join his side with thoughts of safety and adoration, just as the devil tempts people to join him.
            There are several other aspects of the series which have satirical social contexts and, when contemplated, are rather funny. The primary example of this in my opinion is the fact that goblins run a bank. These shrunken, ugly creatures whose only concern is for gold caricature the popular perspective of bankers. Moreover, the corruption within the bank which emerges quietly throughout the books mimics the loss of trust our modern day English public have felt in the banking system. Not only are several people’s vaults broken into (something that can only be done with the help of a goblin) but in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we are given a first-hand view of how a goblin will breach the bank he works for in order to seek personal wealth.

However, perhaps the most important aspect of the series which is most relevant to modern day life is the fact that how you perceive someone’s character is from the way they act is not their true character. In our modern society we are endlessly encouraged to understand the importance of beauty. Also, in the majority of modern texts we have lost the depth of characters that formerly existed in classical tomes. Yet J. K. Rowling has managed to bring this back, particularly in the characters of Snape and Professor Dumbledore. The immense plot twist towards the end of the series of books in which we realise that Dumbledore isn’t as much of a paragon of excellence as Harry understood him to be and that Snape does have a heart, at the centre of which is Harry himself, forces modern readers to accept that you can never truly know a person until you have been inside their head. This is an important lesson to learn as it highlights that we ought to suspend our judgements on everybody as you cannot know their nature or true motivations. This appears to be the most potent lesson for modern day readers to take in by reading these books and thus ought to remain with us for a long time after the reading of them has been completed.

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