An Exploration in Equality: Racism an Slavery in the Magical World of Harry Potter

Topics: Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling Pages: 10 (3566 words) Published: March 28, 2011
Slavery and Racism, as contributing factors to human history, are frequent themes in literature across the globe. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is littered with references to slavery and racism, as well as related topics. The story is told as a seven-part saga, focusing on Harry’s life in the wizarding school Hogwarts. Harry is a boy, orphaned by the evil Lord Voldemort, who learns of his parents’ lives as witch and wizard and thus of his own status as a young wizard. Throughout the series Harry develops as a wizard, fighting for the ultimate destruction of the man who murdered his parents. The books explore many complex ideas prominent in society using the wizarding world, which is displayed as a microcosm of the real world. The series discusses these ideas using the fictional story as commentary which is both easily comprehensible and entertaining for all audiences. JK Rowling uses her Harry Potter novels as a means to criticize human society by creating parallels between the real and magical worlds. The series documents the negative effects of slavery, using House-elves as the enslaved of the magical world. The elves, who are required by ancient magic to serve their masters dutifully and unrepentantly until they are freed (Chamber 14), perform chores around the house as well as run errands at their masters’ bidding. The expectations that their masters have of them are high, and any failure to complete a task requires the elves to punish themselves, generally with physical pain (Chamber 14). Their working conditions are rough, and relations between elves and their masters are not often amiable. Rowling clearly depicts the elves as a suffering species, indicating that their enslaved status is leading to their unhappiness. The sorry fate of the elves very closely resembles that of many enslaved people throughout history, especially that of African Americans in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Described by Carey as “bondage,” the elves have practically no control of their lives; they are forced to act on their masters’ whims, no matter how menial the task (Revisited 160). Instead of living as free agents, they are simply puppets for the desires of their masters. The enslaved people of the world lived (and live) as such, unable to act in response to their own wants and needs. Rowling, in expanding on the wretched lives of the House-elves, is criticizing the morals of societies who use slavery. The elves are treated unfairly, and since they are both cute and pitiful, with big eyes and a small body, they are easy to empathize with. She clearly wants the reader to sympathize with the elves and view their slavery as evil and cruel. She feels slavery as a whole is a foul part of society, and her depiction of it convinces readers of the same. The elves are forced into submission without any sort of payment or even time off. They are not allowed “sick leave and pensions” (Goblet 182). They work tirelessly in “abject servitude” (Dendle 165). They do not even have the right to their own emotions. According to Winky, an elf employed by Hogwarts, “house-elves has no right to be unhappy when there is work to be done and masters to be served” (Goblet 538). Thoughts and feelings, which ought to be inalienable rights to any being capable of them, have been totally replaced in importance by the desires of their masters. Unfair as it was, this was the reality for many slaves in America as well, living only to do their master’s bidding, forbidden to allow their emotions to alter their performance. The social commentary Rowling provides opens her readers’ eyes to the harshness of slavery, and convinces them of its cruelty. Not only are the tasks that they are forced to do reminiscent of the African Americans forced into slavery, the status that House-elves are given is also comparable. The elves are not educated, giving the appearance of being dim-witted and stupid. As described by Rangwala, “the elves use childish...
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