I finally got around to reading this book. I buy far too many books. My To-Be-Read pile is growing exponentially.
I am really surprised there haven’t been more books written on the topic of prejudice in the wizarding world. I think this is the single most important issue in the book because prejudice is the reason why everything in this series transpired.
Brown tackles the issue of prejudice fearlessly. I say this because for some strange reason people still tip toe around the idea of prejudice. Perhaps it is due to the “politically correct” movement of today. Or perhaps society has deluded itself into thinking that the issue does not exist as much because society is “tolerant.” Granted I may be cynical to the issue of prejudice as I am an attorney and have worked on a number of discrimination suits.
In her book, Brown defines prejudice as
A feeling, favorable or unfavorable, toward a person or thing prior to, or not based on, actual experience.
-Brown, page 6.
Using this definition, Brown critiques the Harry Potter series. She notes that J. K. Rowling does not just merely use the characters readers expect to be evil, but rather she predominantly uses the “good guys” to show exactly how pervasive prejudice in society is. She uses the beloved Ron Weasley as an example.
Brown goes on to summarize each of the seven novels concentrating on the incidences of prejudice revealed in the book. Then she defines the social hierarchy in the wizarding world as well as discusses the concept “humanity.” In the next chapter, Brown discusses how social hierarchy is maintained through ignorance, indifference, insecurity, and intolerance. She illustrates her point by citing the treatment of giants, goblins, and elves by wizards in the book. Of all these magical races, she spends devotes a whole chapter to the house-elf using sociological principles to determine how the wizards managed to enslave the elfs. She also goes on to discuss how the enslaved perpetuate the oppressors ideology in the future generations by way of the mother. She notes that it is the female elfs (Winky) reinforcing the wizards thoughts about house-elfs, while the males (Dobby and Kreacher) constantly buck against the social structure in place.
Leaving no stone unturned, Brown next considers the prejudice towards the disabled in the magical community: Squibs and Werewolves. Now Brown seems to feel that the wizarding community has in the past as well as present done something wrong in its treatment of Squibs. She points to Deathly Hallows as showing that in the past, Squibs were encouraged to integrate into the Muggle world and that in the present (and undoubtedly past as well) that Squibs were denied magical education. I disagree slightly. Squibs have little to no magic whatsoever. Yes they are able for instance to see Hogwarts and the Leaky Cauldron, but they don’t have enough magical ability to pull off transfiguration. While I don’t think forcing Squibs into Muggle society is necessarily the right course, I don’t think I can blame them for not letting them into Hogwarts. Really what would be the point? They wouldn’t be able to function. Now that’s not to say that there shouldn’t be any education for them; but what would be the effect on the children of being placed in a school were they will always fail? Now werewolves are a different matter entirely, except for their once a month affliction there is nothing that stops them from honing their magical skills as evidenced by Prof. Lupin in the series.
One of the most interesting chapters in the book is Chapter 5 entitled “What’s Wrong with Hermione Calling Herself a ‘Mudblood’?: Examining the Politics of Naming and Self-Naming in the Series.” She goes into detail regarding the social reasons that Voldemort changed his name and also forbade his name from being spoken and how that can on one hand empower an individual and other the other hand render and individual impotent. You’ll have to read that for yourself.
She also considers the role parenting plays in prejudice. I highly recommend every parent to at least read that chapter. Then she discusses the differences in rule breaking evidence between Harry and Lord Voldemort.
As a further point of interest, Brown does reconcile the Epilogue in Deathly Hallows. I know many people didn’t like it because the characters (Ron) in particular still evidenced prejudice. However as Brown notes in her book, eliminating prejudice that has spanned generations will take generations.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book! I found it thought provoking. Brown pointed out instances of prejudice that I hadn’t even seen in the book. I think it is an excellent corollary for our own world. As an attorney who has worked on discrimination suits, I can tell you that those who believe that race, gender, religion and like are not issues anymore are sadly mistaken. We still have a very long way to go. I think the book does an excellent job of showing the mindsets that lead to prejudice. My feeling has always been that if you can understand why you are doing something that is the first step in making a change.