Orphans in the Literature of J.K. Rowling
Etta Priest 15 December 2009 Major Literary Figures Orphans in Rowling’s Harry Potter Series An orphan is a child permanently bereaved of his or her parents through death. UNICEF reports that there are between one hundred and forty-three million and two hundred and ten million orphans worldwide and, furthermore, that five thousand seven-hundred and sixty minors become parentless daily. With the gargantuan quantity of bereft children, it is no surprise that literary protagonists are frequently orphaned.
From Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz by L.
Frank Baum, victims of parent loss have been molded into key characters. One of the most recent, and most famous, orphans in literature is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. However, in her seven book series, Rowling chose to bereave the antagonist of his parents as well, displaying an interesting line between the choices that are made that lead to good and evil. A common African proverb states that it takes a community to raise a child. The English term community originates from the Latin word communitatus, which can be divided into three essential features. Com-” is a Latin prefix that indicates togetherness. Public duties are associated with the root, “munis. ” The suffix, “-tatus” refers to something little or residential. Localities in which people reside under one government with common interests are commonly known as communities. While the beings within these groups will posses differentiating qualities, a homogenous element that bonds the people together must exist. In the Harry Potter novels, the wizarding world is set apart from the common humans, muggles, through the ability to perform magic and the passion to understand its potential.
Within the network of wizards, individual communities exist based on geographical locations, natural abilities, and a desire for improvement. Rowling emphasizes the necessity of community in order to mature repetitively. Within the school, Hogwarts, Potter experiences the bonds of brotherhood. Furthermore, he encounters relationships with fatherlike figures, as well as connections with the general public of the wizarding society. These associations are generally beneficial, especially for an orphan in adolescence; however, certain connections prove to be crooked and have ultimately negative results.
She displays these negative results through Lord Voldemort and his failure to create connections with others, other than the mark he left on the one he tried to kill: “ Displayed since infancy, Harry’s personal sign is inscribed by the evil sorcerer Voldemort in a murderous rampage that leaves Harry’s parents dead and the baby an orphan. Harry’s mark permits a public sign of recognition not only of his virtuous (distinguished, abandoned) identity, but also of the burden imposed by being special” (Robertson 201).
From the moment Rowling published Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, it has been clear that Harry lived in miserable conditions. Being forced to live in a cupboard, eat minimal amounts of nasty food, and put up with a spoiled brat all became normal to the boy who lost his parents at the age of one. Rowling begins almost each of her series with a strong reminder of Harry’s misery and how he is still suffering from the loss of his mother and father. Contrary to the development of Harry throughout his experiences at Hogwarts, Voldemort is portrayed an evil spirit, too weak to possess his own body.
By the second book readers learn his true name is Tom Marvolo Riddle, humanizing him minimally. Knowing that he once had a name suggests that he did not always have intentions of being a dark lord. Lord Voldemort’s birth origins are not unraveled until the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. It is interesting that Rowling paves a way to understand that this man was a child once who has made his own decisions towards the end of the series, while the readers experienced Harry’s growth during each year he spent at Hogwarts.
While Harry never had to opportunity to know his parents, James and Lilly, very well, his unconditional love for them is show clearly, especially in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Rowling describes Harry as having anger he had never felt in all his life when Aunt Marge cruelly criticizes his parents. While he lashes out, accidentally performs magic in the presence of muggles, and leaves the Dursley’s residence, these actions were truly courageous steps for a thirteen year old boy to take, which are followed by many more throughout the course of this particular novel.
Showing his growing independence, Harry buys his on school supplies and finished his homework alone in Diagon Alley. While students such as Ron have parents that help them gather essential items and encourage them to study, the Potter boy knows he owes something to his parents and desires to be the best wizard he possible can. The protagonist’s desire to succeed is not met with the easiest circumstances. When Harry learns that the claimed-to-be-killer of Lilly and James is Sirius Black, a seed is planted inside of him that seem to stem from his desire for revenge.
This stem grows due to his chilling encounters with dementors. His vulnerability is displayed greatly when he was the only student on the Hogwarts Express to faint in the presence of these deathly creatures. However, during extended visits with Professor Lupin, a bond is formed that is more profound that a simple student-teacher relationship. Through this connection, Lupin is able to explain why Harry was the only person to pass out on the train. The explanation was that he had seen death . Furthermore, Harry learns how Lupin was a true friend to James.
The mutual honesty between them resembles the candor that Harry could unfortunately never experience with his parents. While is in inarguable orphaned, lacking privileges that most students possess, this connection with his teacher is unlike anything he has felt with an adult before. As a parent would desire to protect his or her child, Lupin agrees to teach Harry how to fight off dementors and stay strong in the presence of emotionless creatures. As he practices the anti-dementor spell, he can actually hear the voices of his mother and father.
Lupin helps him to cope with the face that they are truly deceased and “listening to echoes of them won’t bring them back” (Azkaban 243). Thanks to his continued meetings with Lupin, Harry gains courage in his abilities, knowledge of the Patronus Charm, and admiration of a parent-like figure. Not all of Harry’s decisions are marked with maturity as Rowling reveals when Severus Snape brutally criticizes James for being “exceedingly arrogant” and going “where he wants to, with no thought of consequences” (Azkaban 394).
In response, the young boy burns with “rage such as he had not felt since his last night at Privet Drive” (394). As he continues to disrespectfully shout as his despised professor, Harry’s outburst only seems to give more credit to Snape’s accusations. Had he maintained a level-headed and humble disposition in the face of adversity, this mark of immaturity would not be so apparent. Lupin gives Harry the advice that takes transfers his life of vicarious resentment into the man his parents would hope to see on page fourteen, “Your parents gave their lives to keep you alive, Harry.
A poor way to repay them—gambling their sacrifice. ” As previously mentioned, the talk of Sirius Black’s return has infiltrated Harry’s mind and tempted him with revenge. At this point in the novel, he has bottled up his feelings of vengeance, but how he would use them would be a test of his maturity. The long awaited encounter with Black finally takes place, and while it seemed that Harry had every intention of taking his life, he made a very wise decision by listening to his elders.
Lupin and Black’s explanations resonate in Harry’s mind and open up yet another window into the lives of Lilly and James. Without question, every word concerning the loyalty and abilities of James gave his son a sense of pride and deep love. When faced with an opportunity to see the indisputable killer of his parents be put to death, Harry thought of what his father would do. This killer is revealed to be Peter Pettigrew. Just as Lupin and Black raise their wands to condemn him, Harry interjects, “I don’t reckon my dad would’ve wanted them to become killers” (Azkaban 275).
Not only did he protect the memory of James Potter, but he upheld the integrity of his father’s dearest friends, a remarkable trait in such a young wizard. The turning point of Harry’s growth takes place at the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when he and Hermione travel backwards in time and save innocent lives. In “real time: Harry and Sirius were attacked by a flurry of dementors, and a patronus in stag form had barely saved the boy. Most likely due to the fact that Harry wishes for visions of his parents, he believes that his very father had cast the charm to save him.
However, when he arrives on the outskirts of this scene, a realization unlike any of his discoveries thus far overtakes him. Initiative, bravery, advanced skill, and discernment combine in Harry’s body within a matter seconds. In this moment, he understood that he has created the magnificent stag that saved the life of Black and pushed away the dementors. While Lupin’s wisdom poured into the protagonist’s development during his third year, Harry’s fifth year was influenced through the many aspects of community.
As the new year at Hogwarts resumes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, headmaster Albus Dumbledore is proud to announce “a friendly competition between the three largest European Schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang” which would be a “most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities” (Goblet 187). The Triwizard Tournament was an instrument with the capability of introducing three unique circles to each other, giving them an opportunity to reach out of their comfort zones and adopt a willingness to be accepting.
Potter’s close friend, Hermione Granger, was unsurprisingly excited about this event, arguing that the “tournament’s supposed to be about getting to know foreign wizards and making friends with them” (Goblet 423). Her maturity contrasts Ron Weasley’s point of view immensely as he looks down up the boys of Durmstrang, referring to a champion of the competition as an enemy. Because of Granger’s status as an only child, readers may expect that she would be more inclined to scorn outsiders. Unfortunately, Weasley was trapped in his jealous world, and he ignored his best friends’ tolerance of the other schools as well.
He allowed the schools desire to host exchange students to pull apart his best friends. Ron Weasley’s unfavorable treatment was not the only situation to put a damper on Potter’s attitude. The knowledge that he had been so close to living with his godfather forever, then being stripped of this paternal affinity, was detrimental. Sirius Black, Potter learned at the age of fourteen, was the closest friend of his deceased parents. Growing up with cruel treatment from muggles, this would have been the boys first chance to live in one of the most intimate communities a child requires: family.
As a result of Black’s actions, his godson knows he is dearly loved; however, he must maintain secrecy for his own freedom and life. During most of the novel, Potter rarely communicates with his godfather through the Owl Post. As soon as Black learned of the pain in the boy’s scar, he made immediate plans of paying a visit, a natural reaction any devoted parent would have. Potter displays his mutual feelings towards him in his attempt to retract his claim, hoping that this father figure would remain in hiding until they could live without being in fear of the Ministry of Magic and Lord Voldemort.
Distance from loved ones breeds suffering, yet simultaneously elicits a sense of comfort. Potter had lacked this sense for almost fifteen years. Among various encounters with Cedric Diggory, Potter experienced new bonds of brotherhood, which provided him a new source of well-being. Although these two students lived in divergent houses at Hogwarts, they were coupled together as chosen participants in the Triwizard Tournament. Naturally, circumstances did not allow them to be the best of friends. The majority of their peers believed that Potter was a cheat who did not deserve to be titled a champion.
Experiencing ill treatment, he still revealed insider information concerning the first task: “Cedric, the task is dragons” (Goblet 340). when Potter’s intentions were questioned, he responded, “It’s just fair… isn’t it? We all know now… we’re on even footing” (341). Later, Potter’s morality is rewarded. Diggory returns the favor by offering his competition advice in order to proceed in the second task successfully. The younger competitor found it difficult to trust his opponent, not knowing if he would just make a further fool of himself. Potter realized that worrying about being foolish would not keep him alive.
By the final and most dangerous challenge, the perspective of “every man for himself” would be expected from the contestants. This was absolutely not the case. They discovered that two people have the ability to exceed that which one person would be able to accomplish when they concurrently “stupefy” their spidery assailant. Potter proves that friendship is greater than winning by rescuing his opponent in the maze and even allowing him to simultaneously touch the trophy, which would have resulted in a tie. The outcome of this tie was nothing comparable to what Potter could have imagined.
When the trophy turned out to be a magical method of transportation that hurled him into an oppressive graveyard, he witnessed the most negative form of any community, the death eaters. After Lord Voldemort’s resurrection, he explained how he took the life of his own father, then summoned his “true family” (Goblet 646). ironically, his group of inconspicuous followers consisted of the very wizards who believed he vanished forever. Healthy unions do not ignore supposed love ones for years on end. Furthermore, Voldemort forces his death eaters to plead for his re-acceptance.
The antagonist disregarded a “woman’s foolish sacrifice” years before and ignored the greatest evidence of kinship. Lilly Potter’s love for her baby protected him from the killing curse, Avada Kedavra. Without this relationship, his life would have been terminated (Goblet 297). From the beginning of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to the end, the protagonist constantly uses discernment to learn from the various associations surrounding him. Instances exist in the first half of the novel in which Potter’s immature reactions were a result of the cruelty encompassing him.
For example, he cruelly mocked Mrs. Malfoy and even cursed Draco Malfoy for taunting Granger. Evidence proves that Potter developed patience and wisdom; He remained dedicated when thwarted with media claims of his “disturbed and dangerous” nature (Goblet 611). additionally, he purposely forfeited winning first place in the second task of the Triwizard Tournament in order to ensure the safety of other students. Had compassionate friendships and concerned leaders not poured into the life of the Potter boy he may never have understood the consequences of conceit and the benefits of generous ambition.
Nothing could be successfully accomplished in solitary and awareness of community was imperative. Not until Rowling’s sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is the true story of Tom Riddle, or Lord Voldemort, established. In multiple chapters, Dumbledore shows Harry a series of memories all pertaining to the history of Riddle. The pensieve explains that Merope Gaunt used her power to force the muggle Tom Riddle, Senior to fall in love with her. Sadly, he abandoned her prior to their son’s birth. Gaunt dies soon after having the baby, who is sent to an orphanage where Dumbledore eventually invites him to Hogwarts.
While Riddle proves to be a talented wizard, he used his acquired skills to hurt those around him. Even though Dumbledore reached out to him, his revenge was too much to handle and he murdered his own father. Perhaps because he was conceived under the influence of love potion, Voldemort never gained the ability to love or be loved. Maybe because Harry died for love, he was destined to be loved all along. However, Voldemort and Harry are more than mere consequences of fate. The role of free will in the Harry Potter series is analogous to the way human beings function according to their beliefs.
Fundamentally, a higher power has knowledge of what is to come; however, it is the choices that people make that carry them to that conclusion. A specific example of this occurs when Dumbledore witnesses Trelawney’s prophecy. This prediction only becomes reality because Voldemort believes the subject is Harry, causing the latter’s life to be altered greatly. Voluntary decision also stems from this prophecy based on Harry’s decision to fight back against his enemy. In, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he discovers that “neither can live while the other survives” (501).
Both the hero and his opponent choose to react to the prophesy based on their own beliefs and interpretation of one witch’s world. The greatest difference between these two powerful orphans by the end of the series is the different applications of discernment. In a speech Rowling delivered at Harvard entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” she stated, “Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places. Separated from any other creatures, humans have the capacity to discern. Harry exercise this ability frequently while Voldemort continued to do the opposite, causing his ultimate demise. Their difference in judgement is displayed through the unexpected irony that accompanies Severus Snape during the entire Potter series, and especially The Deathly Hallows. As the final novel commences, Snape is depicted as a ruthless Death Eater, revealing insider information to the despicable Lord Voldemort. Snape gives the Dark Lord the date that Harry Potter would be transported from the residence at Privet Drive.
Rowling donates a few chapters that allow her readers to question the motives of Snape; however, in Chapter Five, this insider information is proved to be true. For the Death Eaters attack the brigade of Harry Potter look-a-likes and aurors, managing to sever hope, from the beginning, that Snape has a method to his madness. Due to this initial negative sensation that flows from this slimy character and further events throughout Rowling’s seventh novel, not until after Snape’s death does the irony that he represents come into the light.
Throughout The Deathly Hallows, the glimpses the readers receive of Snape further display that he is a Death Eater. One moment occurs when it seems that Lord Voldemort has finally pervaded the one establishment that always upheld good: Hogwarts. Snape is becoming the school’s headmaster which could only mean that it was doomed, for at this point he seems to be the right hand man of the Dark Lord. His cruelty is also displayed when he bumps into Harry Potter and Luna Lovegood in their dangerous excursion through their old school.
From under the cloak of invisibility, Harry “had forgotten the details of Snape’s appearance in the magnitude of his crimes, forgotten how his greasy black hair hung in curtains around his thin face, how his black eyes had a dead, cold look” (Hallows 597). His thoughts display that Snape is still as vile as he always has been with no hints of remorse or room for improvement. Ultimately, this results in the rushing of Professors Sprout and Flitwick to battle Snape, forcing him to flee. Why would he have cowardly run away from these wizards unless he was a true villain?
In chapter thirty-two, “The Elder Wand,” Voldemort and Snape have their final encounter with one another. The Dark Lord concludes he must kill the latter to ensure the success of his plans of being the true master of the most powerful wand ever crafted. Therefore, Voldemort orders Nagini to bite Snape, leaving him alone to die by deadly venom. Neither of these men knew that Harry had witnessed this event from underneath his cloak of invisibility. Feeling urged to approach the dying wizard, Harry went up to Snape as he gargled out his last words, “Take … it … take … it …” (Hallows 57). It was at this point that he realized memories were pouring out of him, not only blood. Once again the pensieve reveals new background information through the memories of other characters. In this instance, the old visions of Snape that Harry views change his perspective immediately. For the first time, the reader can understand the intricacy that Rowling crafted this character with. Therefore, “The Prince’s Tale,” is a monumental turning point in the character development of not only Snape, but the protagonist and antagonist as well, for they are directly connected to this man.
In this chapter, Harry visits multiple memories concerning the childhood of the deceased which all include his mother, Lilly. While Snape always seemed to have a shady persona, his attraction to Harry’s mother was never cloaked. Even though he did become a Death Eater for a span of his life, it becomes apparent that the death of his childhood love leads him back into the light. “If you love Lilly Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear” is Dumbledore’s claim as Snape is suffering greatly when he learns that this childhood friend has been murdered by Voldemort (Hallows 678).
More of these specific situations bring sense to everything that once seemed contradictory. It is clear that Snape had no purpose of severing George Weasley’s ear, but he was truly saving Lupin’s life. Also, even though he did divulge the date of Harry’s departure, it was Snape’s idea for his friends to drink polyjuice potion in order to divert the Death Eaters. Significantly, Harry learns that the silver doe Patronus belonged to Snape all along, therefore, it was he who led him to the Sword of Gryffindor in the Forest of Dean.
The irony is that his actions all along were all caused by his love for Lily, not hatred of her son. Due to Voldemort’s inability to feel love, he believed that Snape acted for the latter purpose, hatred. If Rowling’s main character and his greatest rival had not been orphans, the significance of their lack of parents and influence from others would not have been as powerful. While both Potter and Voldemort gained the strength to produce such advanced magic that all fully grown wizards struggle with, they both dealt with this gift in different manners.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore suggests, “Curiosity is not a sin… But we should exercise caution with our curiosity” (598). Through Harry, it is clear that following this advice is crucial; through Voldemort it is apparent that forsaking this advice is devastating. On the subject of orphans, Mother Teresa of Calcutta stated, “ I have come to realize more and more that the greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to be just nobody (to no one)” (Frangsmyr 5).
While the key orphans in the Potter series experienced all of these terrible feelings, their ultimate destiny lay in the way they chose to discern. Keep in mind that Harry endured with generous ambition. Works Cited “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination | Harvard Magazine. ” Harvard Alumni Magazine. N. p. , 5 June 2008. Web. 2 Dec. 2009. . Nobel Lectures, Peace 1971-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frangsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co. , Singapore, 1997. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2007. Print
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