Harry Potter And The Interminable Class Divide
Harry Potter reads like the classic tale of good versus evil. Harry Potter and his friends defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and peace is restored to the magical community. But it is legitimate to ask, how are good and evil defined in the series?
The community is administered by the Ministry of Magic, one of which’s main purposes is to conceal the existence of the community from the non-magical majority — the muggles. Supporters of Lord Voldemort resent this secrecy, as they believe that wizards and witches are superior to muggles, and should be dominating them, instead of the other way round. Voldemort finds it relatively easy to gain control over the ministry, and although manages to take over the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, cannot overcome the internal resistance who rally around Harry Potter, who eventually kills Voldemort.
In the Atrium of the ministry stood a fountain, depicting a goblin, a centaur, and an elf looking adoringly up at a pair of humans. Goblins are a magical hook-nosed money-loving species who are employed by humans to manage their gold, but hold grievances against the humans due to misunderstandings concerning property rights, and the humans refusal to teach the goblins wand-lore, which they believe grants the human superiority over them. Elves are a servile species, in the employ of institutions and older wizarding families, who often mistreat them. When the fountain is destroyed, Voldemort’s supporters replace it with a monument depicting a witch and wizard sitting on thrones made from oppressed muggles, with the slogan, Magic is Might.
While the series raises important challenges to the racist worldview, it doesn’t do enough to counter it. We read little about goblins in the worldview of Harry and his friends, and what we do read is overwhelmingly negative. Harry’s friend Ron has no issue with trying to deceive one, while the goblin in question is himself portrayed as deceitful for failing to trust Harry and friends.
Giants also feature sporadically. They were generally persecuted by the magical community, with only Voldemort promising them any form of dignity, although one is adopted by Hagrid and taken to Hogwarts, where it assists in the fight against Voldemort. Dumbledore did send a delegation to recruit them to the good side, but their half-hearted efforts were unsuccessful. Ron describes them as “vicious… like trolls”. Only one troll ever features, early in the series. Its murder is celebrated. They also appear to be humanoid, or a less intelligent specie. Giants can interbreed with humans, though prejudice against part-giants is rife, as is prejudice against werewolves, though these prejudices are frowned on by Harry and friends.
House-elves are treated most sympathetically in the series. It is only in the fourth year that Hermione decides to act on behalf of elfish welfare, founding two societies to do so and recruiting an obviously reluctant Harry and Ron to join them. Amazingly, she thinks to involve not a single house-elf in either society, nor even considers consulting them on how they wish to be liberated, if at all. It is unknown whether she ever tried to recruit Viktor Krum to her organizations, or tried to put pressure on the school to change their policies, even though Dumbledore himself is seen as being concerned for their welfare.
As an individual she tries to be friendly, perhaps patronizing, towards Kreacher, yet it is Harry who gives Kreacher what he wants. Again, elves are forbidden from obtaining wands, but have a powerful magic of their own, which begs the question of how they came to become the slaves of the humans in the first place. Even Dobby, the only elf known to have wanted to be freed, doesn’t want “too much freedom”. In the Battle of Hogwarts towards the end of the series, Kreacher leads the elves in the fight against Voldemort, to “fight for the defender of house-elves, Harry Potter, and master Regulus”, though how exactly Regulus earned Kreacher’s admiration more than any other member of the Black family is unexplained, but perhaps it was due to his leaving the Death-Eaters due to Voldemort’s treatment of Kreacher, and subsequently sacrificing himself to help kill Voldemort.
The fate of the nonhuman communities after the victory over Voldemort and the speciesism of the mainstream community is never mentioned.
JK Rowling makes a show of including characters who have black, Asian, Jewish and Irish heritage, though how these heritages are reflected in the magical world isn’t shown. There appears to be no physical or learning disabilities in magical world, or no communal means of overcoming them, and although perhaps the community is able to cure these, for some reason they cannot improve eyesight, and at no point are Harry’s or other people’s visits to opticians mentioned. If the magical community exist off the map, surely they must possess some of their own, as they have their own medical practitioners? Off topic, it would have been impossible for them to hide the existence of Platform 9 ¾ or the Hogwarts Express from the muggles.
For a starker picture of Rowling’s attitude towards social division we can read her novel The Casual Vacancy, focusing on life in the parish council of Pagford and the tensions surrounding a farm estate. The token ethnic minority is represented by the family of a doctor, who stereotypically pressures her daughter into self-harming.
Despite the existence of an entire “deprived” neighbourhood, only one working-class family, the Wheedons, feature, as a case for the social services, plus one drug dealer and all-round baddie, Obbo. Terri Wheedon is an addict, and although her family disapprove, they do not live on the estate, apart from her grandmother, who is a racist.
The family are a barometer of how the middle-class councillors relate to the unfortunate working-class. No ordinary working-class feature, nor does anyone think of consulting the working-class community on the plans the council has for them. When the novel ends, the middle-class councillors and their families’ problems are resolved, but not those of the working-class community.
Rowling would appear to regard minorities and oppressed classes not as communities in their own right, but purely as vehicles for middle-class bourgeoisie compassion and values. Equality is far from her worldview, as is a world in which everyone is given the same opportunities.
In the fight against the forces of separation and oppression, equality, rather than compassion, should be the driving motivation for social and economic change. And without changing the worldview of patronage into one of comradeship, ridding the world of totalitarianism and fascism will be impossible.