Gender Roles in Harry Potter

Topics: Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Pages: 10 (4146 words) Published: March 26, 2013
Girls in young adult fantasy novels tend to fare rather poorly, especially in the light of Susan from the Chronicles of Narnia. When Aslan admits the Pevensies into paradise, Susan is barred because she has forgotten Narnia and is more interested in stockings and the real adult world, because she has dared to want to grow up. Jill Pole comments: “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitationsâ€1. C.S. Lewis presents a conservative view of girls in the fantasy genre, that they will be drawn into their own adolescent fantasies and will abandon the secondary world. Philip Pullman compounds this with his treatment of Lyra in the His Dark Materials trilogy where she is the protagonist in the first novel but cedes decision making and power to Will through the remaining narrative. Hermione Granger starts out challenging this conservative view but ultimately she is turned into a mother and sidelined from the world of action. Her role changes through the novel and this is not due merely to the maturation of the character as she ages but also the needs of the male dominated groups around her, from the school group with Harry and Ron to the Order of the Phoenix. A quick glance offers the view that between 11 and 15 she is more rebellious whilst between the ages of 16 and 17 she takes on a sisterly role before her final appearance as a mother. In the Harry Potter novels Hermione is variously a bookish individual who supports and guides Harry through her research and work. She is the dominant force in Harry’s success until the sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, where her role as Harry’s educator is taken by Dumbledore. Eliza Dresang sees Hermione as being far more successful than she is made out to be by Farah Mendlesohn. Hermione gains agency and is able to take more control of her situation than Mendlesohn gives her credit for through her own actions, finding “evidence in the text to be considerably more optimistic about Hermione’s self-determination than does Mendlesohnâ€2 through her determination about being sorted by the Hat and “refuses to be deterred from her purposes, whether it be learning, admonishing about rules or … championing the underdogâ€3. Mendlesohn comments that “Hermione is accepted in the social structure of the school only because she is Harry’s friendâ€4 and that “[r]adicalism, as embodied by Hermione, is irrational, ignorant, and essentially transientâ€5. Though her attempts at freeing the house-elves are doomed, she is more successful at galvanising her peers and enabling Harry’s success through her contributions. There is another issue to consider though and that is one of genre. The first five Harry Potter books are clearly school stories. Motifs, such as the annual arrival via the steam train and the term times with the enforced stay over Christmas, come from this genre. Instead of only competing in sports for honour such as Quidditch, house points are awarded or taken away for behaviour or acts of bravery. In the final two novels, the structure of the novels change to being a more conventional fantasy series wherein Harry must defeat Voldemort in a final conflict. This switch to the fantastic, in particular a male dominated fantastic world, means that Hermione must change roles to remain in the world since we rarely see any lone witches who have not turned to Voldemort such as Bellatrix Lestrange. This change of genre changes the expectations placed on the characters by readers and the roles which they play. School stories, in the mould of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers or St Clare’s, offer the reader a tale of a group of children who go on adventures limited in scale by location, an isolated school, and time, terms end and the year is punctuated by holidays. They offer a degree of carnivalesque expressed in the capers of the students which are tamed by the teachers but also a continuing discourse of maturation and acculturation to the wider...
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