Thursday, 29 July 2010

Character Connection: Four Men, Harry Potter Edition

character connection

Character Connection is hosted by Jen at The Introverted Reader every Thursday.

We all have characters we love. Let's spotlight these fantastic creations! Whether you want to be friends with them or you have a full-blown crush on them, you know you love them and want everyone else to love them too!

 

(Massive Series Spoilers Ahead!)

This character connection is going to be a bit different because it isn’t about one person. It is about four people from the books of Harry Potter. They are:

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Albus Dumbledore, Lord Voldemort, otherwise known as Tom Riddle, Severus Snape and Harry Potter.  

Each one of these characters represents one of Rowling’s most prevalent themes: that of choice and the consequences and responsibilities that come with it. She does not condemn people for making the wrong choice, because that is part of life and no one person can be perfect. There are consequences, but just because you chose the wrong way does not mean that you cannot turn back and make the better choice later on. Each one of these characters conveys part of that message.

These four men all entered Hogwarts as outsiders, they shared similarities in personal experience and yet they all turned out completely different.

Albus Dumbledore

Dumbledore is first introduced as a wise, grandfatherly wizard. He is the greatest wizard alive and the only person that Voldemort fears. He is headmaster of Hogwarts and has always been relied upon to have the answer to everything. He is always so calm and so caring, so loving and compassionate. For six books he comes across as just that – a figurehead of wisdom and trust. No one bothered to question him, as Voldemort was evil, Dumbledore was good. This of course is never the case – in book seven the truth about Dumbedore’s past reveals him as someone not so perfect as everyone thought. What makes a person that they are today? What drives them to act as they do? No one is simply born good or bad, it is down to their upbringing and their choices.

In the seventh book we are shown a different side to Dumbledore, one we don’t want to know about and don’t want to accept. As a young man he was carried away with his own greatness, he was arrogant perhaps and seeking glory. Yet he had a troubled past. His sister Arianna had been abused by muggle children and her magical powers turned in against herself. His father was sent to Azkaban for killing muggles and his mother was left alone to care for his mentally damaged sister whilst he and his brother went to Hogwarts.

Dumbledore entertained ideas of wizard rule over muggles – his wild ideas were not so dissimilar from Voldemort’s only that they were born more from the idea of creating a great society where wizards didn’t have to be in hiding – rather then the wish to wipe muggles out completely and rule supreme. When his sister died in a tragic accident involving a fight between Dumbledore, his once old friend Grimdelwald and his younger brother – all his big dreams and wild ideas came to an end. He spent the rest of his life fighting against what he almost became and never recovering from the feelings of guilt and regret. He sort to redeem himself.

Dumbledore’s weakness was for power, not unlike Voldemort, but he recognised this weakness and chose not to take it when offered. He became a teacher and then Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Dumbledore, for all his greatness seemed to have no one close to him. His brother would not forgive him for what happened and though he had the respect of many, he never had anyone who was really close to him. Even Harry whom of them all he was possibly the closest to – but the reasons for that were not born out of paternal concern. Harry Potter was the key to defeating Voldemort and though Dumbledore came to love Harry as a person, he never forgot the greater purpose he needed him for. The only other person perhaps – was Severus Snape although again, out of necessity.

Tom Riddle, otherwise known as, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, You-know-who, the Dark Lord or Lord Voldemort

Tom Riddle’s existence is a sad story. His mother was the poor, abused daughter of Marvolo Gaunt who ran away with a muggle she entranced with a love potion who would never love her. She gave birth to Tom Riddle in a muggle orphanage and died, leaving him unhappy and alone.

Personally, I think Voldemort’s story is much more simple and not so much about choice. He was a psychopath and his choices were as much genetic as they were personal. Maybe he’d have been different if he had grown up in a loving family, or at least a proper home. Harry Potter grew up under not so different circumstances – and though he hated the Dursley’s, the hate never became malignant.

Voldemort, like Dumbledore was a magical genius and also like Dumbledore, he entertained ideas of a wizard rule, but he took his ideas much further then beyond paper – he started putting them into action when he was a teenager – developing a following and murdering his remaining family. Voldemort always saw himself as different, special and above everyone. The thing he feared most was death and so he went to extreme lengths to prevent it, by creating Horcruxes.

Voldemort had no friends, he did not want any friends – he wanted only to be at the centre of greatness. He made many terrible choices and he never learnt remorse and never wanted to know love. Dumbledore never trusted him, but he gave him the opportunity to turn back and choose a different path.

The only time he seemed to express regret, quite ironically, was when he killed Snape. It wasn’t remorse, nor really regret I suspect – more of an inconvenience of losing a good soldier.

Severus Snape

Perhaps the most complex and fascinating character I have ever read. From the moment he entered the page, Snape became a character you were not likely to forget. He is a nasty, miserable, small-minded man who allowed past prejudices and grudges to turn him into a bitter man full of anger and hate. There is no real justification for his behaviour throughout the books, although it might have been harder to do his job had he acted in a friendly manner towards Harry Potter.

Snape is, despite all this, my favourite character in the series. I cannot help but like him, despite his many faults. I do not think I would like him were I to actually meet him or a person like him in person – but as a character I do like him. He is ambiguous from the very beginning – one moment trying to get Harry expelled and the next trying to save his life.

He is a rather tragic character and I can’t help but feel for him. He obviously had a rather difficult upbringing with a violent muggle father, growing up in poverty in a poor, deprived neighbourhood. It is perhaps understandable that as a child, he grew up hating his father the muggle, and dreaming of a time when he could escape to Hogwarts. His mother was from Slytherin and so that is where he was probably conditioned to to think he should go.

He was socially awkward, skinny, poor and weird. He first met Lily as a child, before Hogwarts although his first encounter went wrong and he was left feeling bitterly disappointed. I think this was a common trait in Snape’s life. He was a lonely child and Lily was his first friend and of her he was possessive, hating anyone who came between them. Lily became his only true friend.

Snape was not a confident person, he had many insecurities and lacked self esteem. He bottled up grudges and stored them close to his heart, never relinquishing them throughout his life. Snape lacked confidence and self esteem – he probably felt worthless and unable to see himself as just himself. He had to find a bigger stronger power – he aspired to become a death eater. He never admitted to Lily that he loved her – he could not see that he, himself on his own could be attractive. He was too afraid of failure and of rejection and grew infuriatingly jealous of the more popular, attractive people, especially that of James Potter and Sirius Black. He knew James fancied Lily and he wrongly perceived him as a threat. He was never able to rise above his bullies and could never stand up for himself properly. When angry he loses control and become incoherent, in the end his lack of confidence in himself causes him to sink to low standards – cursing and hexing rather then being able to come back with a smart remark.

Had he chosen to listen to Lily and hear what she wanted – he might have chosen to give up his fascination with the dark arts, stand up to his bullies and have become a better person. Rowling said in an interview, post-Deathly Hallows that Lily loved Severus as a friend and might have come to love him romantically. But she didn’t – because Snape could not separate himself from his fears and he broke her last straw by calling her a Mudblood because his pride had been too broken.

I’m not sure what Snape would be to love – he would have been possessive and selfish. Even when he turned against Voldemort and told Dumbledore what he had done, he did not think that James or Harry’s lives were worth saving if only Lily could survive. After what must have been about four years as a Death Eater he probably did some quite unforgiveable things. I doubt he was ever happy – his loss of Lily, the only tie he had to becoming a decent person cast him off into that dark world. I think there must have been something good in him though for Lily to have been friends with him for so long. She must have seen that light in him.

He was the victim of bullying as a child and yet he ended up becoming the bully. If he had been born with confidence perhaps he would have been the bully to begin with – who knows, some people are like that – they learn to behave from the examples they have been given. It is unfair to lumber the child with all the responsibility of becoming a good person. Changing the way you think and feel isn’t easily done. However, Snape had the chance – Lily gave it to him, but he turned her away.

I suppose though, that acting as a double-agent and having to lie to Voldemort – he could not have changed too much. He would need to maintain close contacts with the Malfoy’s and treating Harry Potter with any kind of kindness probably wouldn’t go down well with Voldemort. Maybe the trick to becoming good at occulemency is to be as miserable as possible. The only time Harry managed it was when he was feeling the loss of Dobby.

Dumbledore forgave Snape because he had chosen the wrong path too – perhaps had his sister not been killed he would have gone down a different past. He blamed himself for providing Grindelwald with ideas that he put into motion. Dumbledore knew the influence of guilt and regret. There is no one that hates Snape more then himself.

Afterwards, when he changed sides, I think he came to redeem himself. In the chapter ‘The Prince’s Tale’ when Harry visits Snape’s memories – Snape said that lately the only people who died were the ones he could not save. Snape would never become a nice person, he would forever be a miserable git. Some things after so long I guess, you just cannot change. He bottles all his feelings up like a potion, and stores them alone near his heart, never letting them out unless it is in a fit of rage or jealously. Yet, from the moment he realised his gravest of mistakes – he worked closely with Dumbledore to protect Harry Potter and defeat Voldemort. He was indeed a very brave man and also, incredibly loyal.

Harry Potter

And finally, the forth generation. An orphan after his parents were killed by Voldemort and brought up by his Aunt and Uncle who treat him so badly I wonder why he never phoned Child Line. Harry is very much like Snape in that he was brought up in an unloving family and suffered many the same kind of humiliations and feelings of loneliness. Unlike Snape however, he didn’t lack confidence or self esteem and he could stand up for himself without losing control.

At a very young age, Harry Potter made an important choice. He chose to enter Gryffindor rather than Slytherin. However, had he not met Ron Weasly at the King’s Cross maybe his life would have gone in a slightly different direction, who knows.

Also, unlike Dumbledore, Voldemort and Snape Harry developed some very close friendships, especially with Ron and Hermoine and these are what kept him strong – and probably the reason why he’s alive. He never became over enamoured with his fame or powers, as Dumbledore and Voldemort did and he chose a different path then Snape, not allowing his past to effect his future.

Harry Potter was surrounded by love. Love from his parents who died for him, love from his friends who would fight beside him and would have died for him. Love from Dumbledore. Even in a way – Snape’s love also influencing his life. It all sound rather sappy, but Rowling's message strongly promotes the idea of love and friendship being the strongest qualities that a person can hold. Her message is etched into each of these four characters, but the message is subtle and doesn’t patronise or preach.

These four men are all linked with each other and together – Dumbledore and Voldemort, Snape and Harry. They are the polar opposites of each other and yet they are all the same. Harry Potter is the youngest – and the product of the other’s life’s learnings, successes and failures. He is I think what they could have all become had they had the right friends and made the right choices.

Dumbledore and Snape both made grave mistakes in their earlier lives which resulted in a death or deaths of people they loved and many others. Both of them redeemed themselves. Voldemort never felt remorse despite being given the opportunity. Harry Potter felt guilty for everyone who died for him and felt remorse for every single one – well apart from the Death Eaters perhaps.

Each of these four men represent an important journey in the Harry Potter series and an important moral story that carries through each book until the very end.

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5 comments:

  1. Great summaries on each character! All four have such a significant part throughout the books! It is amazing how one can absolutely adore the kindest character who could do no wrong (Dumbledore) but find out he had a less than present past. On the flip side, I was shocked to find myself really disliking Snape until I learned the truth behind his past and his true feelings-I then felt sorry for him and was sad I ever hated him. I absolutely love the multidimension of the characters! What a fun post!

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  2. Great analysis! You did an excellent job showing the connections between the characters & how their situations were all similar but choices different.

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  3. Great Character connection!

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  4. Wow! Great post and great insights.
    I agree with you on Snape all the way.

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  5. Wow, Fiona, what a great post! You spent a lot of time on this one! I loved everything you wrote.

    It's easy for me to remember them all as being good or evil (well, except Snape), but you've reminded me that they weren't. They all could have been something else if they had chosen to be. I really need to re-read the entire series sometime now that I know Snape's entire story. I couldn't ever like him or trust him.

    What would Harry be without the Weasleys? It's impossible to think about. Even if they hadn't met at King's Cross, they would have met on the train or something. But what if he met them after he had chosen Slytherin? I just can't even think about that. *shudder*

    You've outdone yourself with this one.

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