Aspects of Race and Parallels with the "Third Reich" in J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

by S. L.-Görg

Bachelor Thesis 2014 52 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Harry Potter as Fantasy Novel

3. Race
3.1 Aspect of Race in the Third Reich: Hitler’s Beliefs
3.2 The Pure-Blood Agenda - Racial Hygiene as a Consequence of Racial Hatred
3.3 Race in Harry Potter: Wizards and Muggles
3.4 Differentiation between Pure- Blood, Half- Blood and Muggle- Born
3.5 Racial Hygiene as Result of Racism in Harry Potter

4. Parallels between the Third Reich and the World presented in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
4.1 Infiltration of the School System by the Government
4.2 Adaptation of new Laws- Educational Decrees
4.2.1 Educational Decree Number Twenty-four
4.2.2 Educational Decree Number Twenty-five
4.2.3 Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven
4.3 Friend or Enemy?
4.4 Voldemort’s Death Eaters in Comparison to Adolf Hitler’s Schutzstaffel as Executive
4.5 Underground Movements and Resistance Groups

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

7. Appendix

1. Introduction

Although ‘Pottermania’, as the newspapers have called the huge hype around Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, has come to an end, the Harry Potter series can still be seen as the most influential and most popular fantasy novels of our time. Children and adults around the world have read the stories of how the adolescent wizard Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione fight against Lord Voldemort and his followers. Professors of the Anglistik and Amerikanistik, such as Prof. Dr. Kullmann even claim that Harry Potter has the potential to become a classic and can be mentioned in the same breath with Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit (DieWelt2012). Despite all the praise for the novels, also many critics have reflected about and commented on J.K. Rowling’s novels.

In my bachelor thesis I am going to take a more critical look at the Harry Potter series, focusing mainly on Rowling’s fifth novel titled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which builds the basis of my text oriented analysis.

As the title of my bachelor thesis: Aspects of race and parallels with the Third Reich in J.K. Rowling ’ s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix already reveals, I will examine the novel in terms of its hidden parallels towards the beliefs and practices in the Third Reich as well as the aspects of race and racism which become obvious while analyzing the novel.

Before defining the aspect of race and racism and applying it to the beliefs of Adolf Hitler and to the ideas conveyed in Harry Potter in the first part of my paper, I will shortly point out why children’s fantasy books are worth analyzing, what kind of a fantasy novel Harry Potter is, and which approaches I used for my analysis.

The second part of my thesis is going to focus on the parallels between the Third Reich and the world presented in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. My focus here is going to be on political changes, such as the infiltration of the school system or the establishment of new laws made during this specific period of time as well as on the consequences these changes had for society. Finally I will point out how it was possible to fight against and finally beat the Lord Voldemort by taking a closer look at underground movements such as the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore ’ s Army.

2. Harry Potter as Fantasy Novel

Before starting to analyze Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it is essential to point out the relevance of children’s books and to define to which kind of fantasy novel Harry Potter belongs. Furthermore it will be pointed out why a children’s fantasy novel is important in order to understand culture.

First of all, children’s books are by no means trivial, but “powerful literature” (Hunt 1) which is valuable to analyze because “it is a cultural and ideological construct explicitly or implicitly transporting adults notions of social, ethnic, cultural, gender and literary-aesthetic norms” (Bimberg 321). In detail this means that children’s literature is a “debased form of an adult text” (Hunt 4) that often depicts the same cultural and social problems adults have, but transfer it to a different level for the child reader. Besides, children’s literature offers not only “links with literary and cultural studies” but also with “history, politics, sociology psychology, psychotherapy and pedagogics” (Bimberg 322). Consequently, children’s books such as Harry Potter can be called a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary work that is important to analyze due to the hidden parallels to the adult world and to the criticism which is “closely associated with general/adult literature, culture, theory and criticism” (Lesnik- Oberstein 25; 27).

Concerning the classification of Harry Potter within the field of fantasy literature, one first of all has to note that fantasy is a genre that is “resistant to attempts at quick definition” (Grenby 144) because even the broadest attempt to define fantasy as “fiction involving the supernatural or impossible” (Manlove 3) bears complications. Difficulties might arise because the supernatural as well as “the impossible and the unreal are not fixed” (Grenby 145). For example as time goes by, capabilities of what people can do, change. Stories that might have been considered fantasy stories in the past, because they for instance involved flights to the outer space, can no longer be called fantasy stories because for astronauts, flying to the outer space is now taking place on a regular basis.

Consequently one has to add that “fantasy literature depicts things which are contrary to the prevailing ideas of reality, rather than which are incontestably supernatural or impossible” (Grenby 145-6). Accordingly, Harry Potter is a fantasy novel, because it includes not only wizardry, but also mythical creatures such as Thestrals or Unicorns. Nevertheless it is important to take into consideration that although fantasy depicts something ‘unreal’, fantasy must not be regarded as excluding reality, because fantasy and realism are by no means “exclusive categories” (Grenby 146) but can embody realistic anxieties. This is also what makes Harry Potter so interesting and valuable for analysis, because it connects aspects of history and reality with fantasy, giving it to the reader to find parallels. Moreover, it invites to cross-reading and symbolic-reading, two more strategies chosen for the following text-oriented analysis (see chapters 3; 4).

As exemplified above, the study of fantasy novels is more complex than it might seem at first sight. Furthermore, within the fantasy genre one distinguishes between ‘High Fantasy’, which implies the creation of a separate world in which the action takes place, and ‘Low Fantasy’, where the story is “set in the world we know” (Grenby 144). Here again difficulties arise, trying to assign Harry Potter to only one of these categories because the main plot is primarily taking place at Hogwarts, a boarding school only for wizards far away from the non-magic civilization, which can be seen as a separate world, where the daily life includes ghosts and magic. Still in the process of the series, the action is more and more set in the world we know and even taking influence on the ‘normal’ non-wizarding world. The Ministry of Magic and the Diagon Alley, a shopping avenue for wizards and witches, for example are settled in the middle of London just hidden from the eyes of Muggles, people who cannot perform magic. Due to these aspects, I would assign Harry Potter to both, ‘High’ and ‘Low’ fantasy and even overlapping with the famous school story. Additionally one can assign the Harry Potter series to the ‘Ptolemaic fantasy’, for which it is typical that

the “child characters become more powerful and important, although in their real worlds, they have been weak” (Grenby 160). Also Harry Potter himself is a subordinate in his so-called “home world[s]” (Grenby 160), where he is being treated like a worthless creature, not even deserving an own room with a real bed, but having to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. But as soon as he enters the fantasy world, he is famous and it will turn out that “no less than the fate of the world rests on [his] their shoulders” (Grenby 160).

In conclusion, Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are not only written for children, but also an educated reader will “appreciate it on different level” (Sullivan 311). Whereas children can be called ‘naive readers’, not being able to transfer knowledge of the daily life to the book, the adult reader is able to detect intertextual references and draw connections between ‘real life’ and the life presented in the novels. As emphasized before, children’s fantasy books offer an insight to culture and sociology, and are therefore important for cultural studies. My approach to the series is therefore text-oriented as well as reader-based, finding parallels between historical events and events taking place in the fictionalized world.

3. Race

Ever since Bernier’s attempt to construct the first “racial classification of mankind” in an article published in the Journal de Savants in 1684 (Collier’s 587), people have tried to divide human beings into different groupings according to what they believed makes them different from one another. When talking about race1 and later about racism, it is important to distinguish between the different definitions of race. In general, one has to note that the definitions of race have changed over the past decades and that they focused on different aspects such as physical characteristics, psychological criteria, genetics, or blood types. I have chosen the following definitions of race not only because they are the only ones that are at least to an extend scientifically verifiable, but also because they reflect the wide gap between actual definitions and highly objective ones that were and still are misused to discriminate others.

In biological terms, race is a “biological grouping within the human species, distinguished or classified according to genetically transmitted differences” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 876). This means that a person’s DNA has to be examined in order to assign him or her to a specific ‘race’. Although it might be fairly easy to distinguish a “North European from a West African Negro” (Collier’s 588) just from the physical appearance, it is far more difficult, if not impossible to assign a “population such as the Germans, the French, or the English to any of the specific races into which Europeans have been subdivided” (Collier’s 589). By simply looking at the outward appearance of a person it is impossible to draw exact conclusions about his or her ‘race’ because “the pattern of human variation is predominantly one of within-group variation, so that it is impossible delineate clear boundaries between groups” (Cambridge Encyclopedia 885).

The ‘”traditional racial” (Cambridge Encyclopedia 885) classification goes hand in hand with the previous definition, but puts less stress on the genetic pool of humans.

In the Cambridge Encyclopedia ( 885) it is stated that race typically emphasize [s] external features such as skin color or hair type, but other genetically-determined traits such as blood groups or enzyme variants tend to cross-cut the classical categories based on superficial features.

In this definition only the outward appearance determines to which race someone belongs. Nevertheless, assigning someone to a certain race just by the physical appearance and without taking into consideration his genetic pool is no longer reliable, because people have mixed their biological strains as colonization and emigration progressed (Collier’s 588). Nevertheless, this type of separation is still predominant in some parts of the world, where people have to give detailed information about whether they are African- American, Caucasian etc. and it is perceived as similar to stating whether you are male or female. Furthermore, “a race in its strict zoological sense is a subdivision of a species, and its criteria are primarily, if not exclusively, anatomical features” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 587). This definition of race is very important because it is “the only one that can be recognized scientifically” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 587).

As one can see, the main definitions of race typically include a division by genetic differences, which have an effect on the outward appearance of the person, but do not define the character of a person or a race in general. Additionally one can observe in the definitions that race is something that a person is born with because his genes and his representations assign him to a certain race. Though it has to be noted that in all Encyclopedias the aspect of race was often closely connected to words like “racism”, “controversy” and “uncertain” (Collier’s 588), demonstrating that the field of racial research is not as precise and scientific as it might seem. When looking at aspects of race and racism in the Third Reich and in Harry Potter, it is important to keep these scientific and verifiable approaches to what race actually is in mind, because it will be shown that Adolf Hitler and also Lord Voldemort have a different opinion on what races are, how one can distinguish them and especially how one should treat them.

3.1 Aspect of Race in the Third Reich: Hitler’s beliefs

For Adolf Hitler, who ruled in Germany for almost 12 years, and whose ideas on ‘race’ and ‘racial purity’ have shaped a whole country, the major racial distinction had to be made between the superior ‘Aryans’2 and the inferior ‘Jews’, which were claimed to be the exact opposite of ‘the Aryan’ (Geary 7). He based his division not only on the biological, but also on a very questionable psychological definition of ‘race’, that was proposed by the French ethnologist Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau. He was the first to “attribute a profound value to race in the interpretation of history and biography” (Collier’s 587) and moreover the first one to assign psychological and personality attributes to various races which were also “regarded as determinative in the rise and fall of nations and empires” (Collier’s 588).

As Hitler ascribed specific personality attributes to Jews as well as Aryans, he made use of this psychological definition of race. He used this pseudo-scientific definition in order to create an enemy who would be hated by the Germans on the one hand, and to form a community that is united in his national identity as ‘the superior Aryans’ on the other hand. To him this definition served as a proof for his anti-Semitic believes, as well as instrument for his later propaganda. Concerning the ‘evil characteristics’ of Jews, he was of the opinion that “the Jew was incapable of sacrificing himself for greater, communal good; he was materialistic and untouched by idealism” (Geary 7). Additionally he wrote in Mein Kampf that Jews possessed “eine oft himmelschreiende Borniertheit, die nur durch die manchmal geradezu erstaunliche Einbildung übertroffen wird” (Hitler 352). Hitler’s proclamation that ‘the Jew’ was an embodiment of pure evil who had to be destroyed before he could destroy the ‘Aryan race’ gets underlined by him declaring that the personification of the devil as image of all evil takes on the shape of ‘the Jew’ (Hitler 355). By stating that Jewishness is not a matter of religion, but rather inherited and therefore biologically determined, Hitler uses ‘scientific evidence’ to justify and promote his anti-Semitism (Geary 7).

One can observe that in the Third Reich it was created a certain negative image of the ‘typical Jew’ by assigning to him characteristics that were not valued in German society at that time. ‘The Jew’ became a scapegoat for everything bad that had happened to Germany in the past, such as the First World War (Geary 7). Furthermore, Jews were “likened to rats, vermin, disease, the plague, germs, bacilli” (Geary 7), all things that one has to eliminate because they bring sickness and decay. A quote which underlines this, as well as it serves as the basis for the systematic killings of many thousand Jews can be found in Dick Geary’s Hitler and Nazism, where it is indicated that “Jews did not have to be treated as human beings. If Jews were ‘vermin’, then they were to be treated as such: that is, eradicated” (Geary 8).

On the other hand, Hitler used the psychological definition of race in a rather positive way, in terms that he assigned personal characteristics to Aryans that were perceived as positive by society and which should unite the Germans. Hitler based the superiority of the Aryan race on the fact that they embodied valuable characteristics for society, such as “the capacity for work, the fulfillment of public duty, self-sacrifice and idealism” (Geary 7). These positive qualities of ‘the Aryans’ were also “not created by society, but were genetically determined” (Geary 7), such as Jews were genetically determined to be brutal and without any moral concerns (Hitler 354). Moreover, he underlined the superiority of ‘the Aryan race’ by pointing out how much the Germans had endured and survived historically. Taking into consideration the widely spread idea of social Darwinism with its theory about the ‘Survival of the Fittest’, the Germans were predestined to rule over others because they have been able to win out over all threats (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

However, Hitler did not only assign specific characteristics to Jews and Aryans, based on inherited and ‘scientifically proven’ psychological and personality attributes typical for ‘their race’. He additionally linked these values to the rise and fall of nations and empires, as it was also defined in Gobineau ’ s definition of race (Collier’s 588). In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated that:

The peoples of the world could be divided into three racial groups: the creators of culture, the bearers of culture (people who can imitate the creations of the superior race), and inferior peoples who are the ‘destroyers of culture’ (Geary 6-7).

As a matter of course ‘the Aryans’ were declared to be the creators of culture because they managed to build small and well-organized groups, full of ambition to sacrifice themselves for the communal good and who “conquered larger numbers of inferior people and brought to them the values of culture” (Geary 7). ‘Jews’ on the other hand were viewed as the destroyers of cultures and therefore inferior to ‘the Aryan’.

After having pointed out by which evolutionary theories and racial definitions Hitler was inspired and which were used to justify his later procedures, it is important to recall the definitions of race made in the previous chapter. As explained in the introduction to the topic of race and its definitions, the only definition that is scientifically verifiable, is based on genetic differences. Neither differentiation by psychological and personality attributes, nor by interpretation of history and biography can be proven scientifically. Moreover, these practices are highly dubious and there is “no evidence for biologically-determined differences between populations in such ability or character traits” (Cambridge Enzyclopedia 885).

Consequently the genes are not responsible for personality and character of people, but the environment, which influences and shapes them. Furthermore, “personality is an elusive thing, difficult to measure with scientific objectivity and reliability, and at that period there was not even a scientific method available for the procedure” (Collier’s 588). Hitler basically based his whole ideology on “more or less superficial reading of history and the uncritical use of culture” (Collier’s 588).

3.2 The Pure- Blood Agenda - Racial Hygiene as a Consequence of Racial Hatred in the Third Reich

Even though Hitler’s beliefs could not be proven scientifically, they still influenced and shaped a whole society. What started out basically as an idea of ‘superiority’ and ‘inferiority’ soon developed into racial hatred and the “furchtbarste Verbrechen der Weltgeschichte” (Hofer 80) as the systematic mass killings of Jews and others who were of no ‘biological value’ for the community were called (Geary 60).

As mentioned before, Jews became scapegoats for the poor economic situation of Germany after the war and furthermore everything else that did not go its right way in society was blamed onto them (Aleff 79). Racist and anti-Semitist beliefs, today also known as ‘rechtes Gedankengut’, manifested themselves within society and in order to ‘benefit’ society, Hitler promoted the deportation and the killings of Jews. As some scientists claim, “Die Vernichtung der Juden Europas war das zentrale Ziel seiner Politik“ (Hildebrand 82). But for Hitler it was not enough to only ‘clean’ the country from Jews, he furthermore wanted to ‘wipe out’ all traces of Jewish blood because he believed that „[a]lle großen Kulturen der Vergangenheit gingen nur zu Grunde, weil die ursprünglich schöpferische Rasse an Blutvergiftung abstarb“ (Hitler 316). Here again comte de Gobineau had built the theoretical ‘proof’ and ‘basis’ for these views in his famous Essai sur l ’ in é galit é des races humaines, 4 vol, by stating that: the fate of civilizations is determined by racial composition, that white and in particular Aryan societies flourish as long as they remain free of black and yellow strains, and that the more a civilization’s racial character is diluted through miscegenation, the more likely it is to lose its vitality and creativity and sink into corruption and immorality (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

An “Orden des guten Blutes” (Himmler 31) should be created and the blood of the Jewish spilled “zum Heile der germanischen Rasse” (Hofer 268). As a result of these understandings, the so-called ‘pure-blood agenda’, which promoted marriage between Aryans and condemned interracial mixing with Aryans and Jews, came into being. Hitler wanted to prevent intermingling between Aryans and Jews and by establishing the Law for the Defense of German Blood, he “prohibited marriage and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews” (Geary 74). The Blutsreinheit became more important because it was assumed that “die verlorene Blutsreinheit allein zerstört das innere Glück für immer, senkt den Menschen für ewig nieder, und die Folgen sind niemals mehr aus Körper und Geist zu beseitigen“ (Hitler 359). Children that resulted from relationships between an Aryan and a Jew, called ‘Mischlinge’, were also declared as dangerous. Extremists even argued that “partial Jews were more dangerous than full Jews because their mix of German and Jewish blood would enable them to lead the state's enemies with the skill of Aryans” (Noakes, Pridham). By crossing Aryan and Jewish bloodlines and “sin[ning| against the blood” (Geary 7), Hitler believed Germany sealed its doom. The mixing of the master race with its inferiors in his eyes, “led to racial deterioration and inevitable decay” (Geary 7).

Consequently Hitler saw “die “Ausrottung des jüdischen Volkes” (Hildebrand 83) and the cleaning of the impure as his mission in order to prevent Germany‘s downfall. Racial hygiene, cleaning the race by exterminating poisoning blood, was promoted and caused the death of millions of innocent people.

3.3 Race in Harry Potter: Wizards and Muggles

Also in Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the aspect of belonging to a certain ‘race’ plays a major role and is a recurring theme in each of her novels. The major distinction made here is the distinction between Muggles, people who are not able to perform magic, and wizards. Although it is important to point out that in the series, racial differentiation and prejudices work in both directions, the following outline will focus on the categorizations made by wizards, or to be more precise, by wizards believing that their ability to perform magic makes them superior to others. Lord Voldemort, the main villain in Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, is one of those wizards who believe that his ability to do magic makes him superior to Muggles. Although nobody knows how magical abilities are being passed on, he feels to be benefitted with this ability for a reason, namely to “establish a wizard rule over Muggles” (Rowling Hallows, 292). Similarly to Hitler, who believed that ‘the Aryan race’ was destined to rule over ‘the Jews’ due to their ability to create culture, Voldemort believed that, as the slogan, “Magic is Might” (Rowling Hallows 294) suggests, wizards were to rule over Muggles because of their magical skills. In his point of view, wizards were born with the “right to rule” (Rowling Hallows 294) and the fact that all actions, no matter how cruel or inhuman, were done for “the Greater Good” (Rowling Hallows 294), served as justification.

Also Voldemort assumed that the current situation of wizards, namely their separation from the Muggle-world, was the fault of the Muggles who had forced them into hiding (Rowling Hallows 159). Muggles became scapegoats for wizards just like Jews became scapegoats for Aryans. Furthermore, in the eyes of Lord Voldemort and his followers, Muggles were “like animals, stupid and dirty” (Rowling Hallows 462) which underlines their inferiority and unworthiness of living. “Die gedankliche Nähe zum Faschismus” (Nitzschmann 56) and to the racist beliefs of the Third Reich already become visible within this racial distinction. But before analyzing and comparing the effects of the differentiations made within the novels in chapter 3.5 in more detail, the following chapter will briefly introduce an even more precise specification within the wizarding race that is undertaken by Lord Voldemort and his supporters.

3.4 Differentiation between Pure- Blood, Half- Blood and Muggle- Born

It was already hinted at the fact, that the aspect of race is far more complex than it might seem at first sight, when dividing mankind into either Muggles or wizards. Nonetheless, over the course of the novels, the reader comes to know that also within the race of wizards, some people like Lord Voldemort or Lucius Malfoy make further distinctions. By considering the “blood status” (Rowling Hallows 207), one can namely make subcategories within the wizarding race and divide wizards into Pure-blood wizards, Halfblood wizards and Muggle-born wizards.

As the name already reveals, Pure-bloods such as Draco Malfoy come from a family that is claimed to be free from Muggle-blood. Families, such as the Blacks or the Malfoys, who were very proud of their noble heritage, tried to only marry other Pure-bloods to preserve their royalty (Rowling Order 104). If members did not do as they were told, they were simply erased from the family tree and so their blood stayed ‘clean’ from bad and poisoning blood (Rowling Order 105). As a consequence, the race of Pure-bloods was often times seen as the wizarding elite. Half- bloods, such as Harry Potter on the other hand come from families with Muggles as well as wizards as their closest relatives


1 The word race without inverted commas only serves the purpose of classification and is not intended to be negatively connotated, whereas ‚’race’ in inverted commas should stress the fact that at this point race would be used in a negative way by the authors of the works I have analyzed

2 In the following chapters I will use the terms ‘Aryan(s)’ and ‘Jew(s)’ ‘with inverted commas when specifically emphasizing that at this point they would be or were used in an overgeneralized and negative or positive way by National Socialists These terms without inverted commas are nevertheless not meant offensively but serve as root term for people of Jewish faith and Aryan background


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  • S. L.-Görg



Title: Aspects of Race and Parallels with the "Third Reich" in J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"