Table of Contents
1. The Success of the Harry Potter Series
2. The Role of Women within the Harry Potter Series
2.1. The Feminist Debate
2.2. Examples of the Depiction of Females
2.2.1. Fleur Delacour
220.127.116.11. Fleur and the Triwizard Tournament
18.104.22.168. Fleur as a Member of the Weasley Family
22.214.171.124. Fleur: a Molly Weasley 2.0?
2.2.2. Dolores Umbridge
126.96.36.199. Dolores Umbridge in Hogwarts
188.8.131.52. Dolores Umbridge`s Comeback in the Ministry of Magic
184.108.40.206. Dolores Umbridge: The Personification of Real Evil?
2.2.3. Hermione Granger
220.127.116.11. Hermione – Unimpressive and Insecure?
18.104.22.168. Hermione’s Sense of Justice
22.214.171.124. Hermione as a Love Interest
126.96.36.199. Hermione’s Essential Role within the Golden Trio
188.8.131.52. Brains and Bravery – Hermione as an Unusual Female Character
2.3. J.K. Rowling and the Importance of Context
3. Humanism on the Road to Success
1. The Success of the Harry Potter Series
“It all ends” says the poster of the highly anticipated final Harry Potter film adaptation, the second part of the novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In 2011, when the last film out of eight was released, the Harry Potter saga officially came to an end after fourteen years of hype which had begun in 1997 (cf. Bradshaw).
American business magazine Forbes lists J.K. Rowling as the first person to have become a US-dollar billionaire from writing books (cf. Yandoli). Until today, the Harry Potter merchandise is still a flourishing business. The website Pottermore, with authorised content offered by J.K. Rowling herself, has earned 13 million US-dollars up to today and is growing steadily (cf. Forbes.com).
Contrary to what readers expected, the Harry Potter series is not over yet and in fact followed by a sequel. In July 2016, the highly anticipated play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which directly connects to the epilogue of the last book of the Harry Potter series, premiered in London. The play was written by two screenwriters, based on ideas from J.K. Rowling herself. Harry Potter is now a 37-year old, tired employee of the Ministry of Magic and his teenage son Albus is an outsider in Hogwarts (cf. Röhling).
Still not calling it quits, Rowling continued to write about the Harry Potter universe. Only this month, Rowling herself released three E-books named Pottermore Presents with new stories around Hogwarts and some of its characters. The E-book Pottermore Presents Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists for example includes a whole chapter about Dolores Umbridge, a list of the Ministers in the Ministry of Magic and a short bit about Peeves, the notorious Poltergeist wandering around in Hogwarts (cf. Balleer).
But how has the Harry Potter series become so famous all over the world? Starting with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the author J.K. Rowling sure knew how to get to young readers all over the world. Throughout a series consisting of seven novels, the Harry Potter universe became a place every child knew and wanted to go to. Children of approximately Harry’s age in the 1990s started off with the first novel and grew up together with the protagonists of the series.
Nevertheless it would be too easy to speak of the Harry Potter saga as being exclusively written for children. What renders the series attractive to readers of any age is the fact that Harry Potter and his friends Ron and Hermione grow up throughout the process of the series. They become young adults who no longer have to go to Hogwarts in order to obtain good grades, there is far more beyond this light and entertaining universe which is fun to read and escape into.
The wizarding universe around Harry Potter suffers from its own social and political issues, centring the defeat of Lord Voldemort which also lead to Harry being an orphan. Also, the Dark Lord’s slow but inexorable resurrection from the (almost) dead in order to re-gain his dictatorship from years gone by marks the basis of the series. Basically, Harry Potter centres on the fight between good and evil: this has always been a well-known guarantor of success in literature. This thrilling concept, along with J.K. Rowling’s ability to thoroughly draw each character individually and to give it its own development throughout the series, is what makes the Harry Potter universe likeable by almost any reader around the world.
Younger readers, especially, like to identify with characters from novels they are reading and this often happens with the protagonists in fictional literature. In the Harry Potter series, the Golden Trio, as Harry and his two best friends Ron and Hermione are named in the Harry Potter fandom (cf. Lord), offers a combination of three different characters which makes it possible to identify with at least one of them. Harry is the selfless and brave hero of the series, accompanied by Ron, his loyal and sometimes hilarious friend, and Hermione completes the Golden Trio, being the brains behind their adventures in the wizarding world. Many young girls identify with Hermione Granger who definitely represents the most important female within the Harry Potter universe. Hermione is smart and brave and thus a female character which girls are proud to identify with.
However, there has been criticism on the role of Hermione within the Golden Trio as well as on the general representation and depiction of women within the Harry Potter series. Critics are wondering whether J.K. Rowling, who describes herself as liberal feminist (cf. Just 80), really tries to overcome stereotypical depictions of women in novels.
For that reason, the criticism around the Harry Potter series will be presented and three different and diverse female characters in the Harry Potter universe concerning their representation and the depiction of stereotypes will be examined.
2. The Role of Women within the Harry Potter Series
2.1. The Feminist Debate
Generally speaking, when it comes to the identification of the role of females within the Harry Potter series, critics are notably divided here. According to Anne Collins Smith, there are two different directions of interpreting J.K. Rowling’s work; the ones who see feminism supported and thoroughly depicted in the books and those critics who think of the Harry Potter series as being sexist (cf. Collins Smith 80).
The critics who point out the sexism within the Harry Potter series are directed by writers such as Elizabeth Heilman, Trevor Donaldson and Christine Schoefer.
Christine Schoefer’s article is titled Harry Potter's Girl Trouble and was published on the release day of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It focuses on the alleged sexism within the Harry Potter series. She states that J.K. Rowling’s message to the reader of her series is that boys should be the leaders in the world and girls are hardly likeable and thus play the role of the supporters of the male supremacy – at best (cf. Schoefer).
Matching Christine Schoefer’s thoughts in many points, Elizabeth E. Heilman and Trevor Donaldson have published their essay From Sexist to (sort-of) Feminist: Representations of Gender in the Harry Potter Series. These publications are strongly based on the idea of the Harry Potter series being a reinforcement of gender stereotypes (cf. Schoefer, cf. Heilman and Donaldson 139). Here, Heilman and Donaldson especially criticise the “absence of powerful females” (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 139). Females always fulfil secondary positions within the books, concerning power and authority, and the Harry Potter series follow typical stereotypes for both males and females (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 139). It is stated that the book series contains far more important male characters: 115 females mentioned in the series are barely more than half as many characters as the 201 males which are included. Also, according to Heilman and Donaldson, the more dominant characters are almost exclusively male. Here, they especially refer to evil characters such as Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, Wormtail and of course Lord Voldemort (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 141).
However, they admit that female characters become more and more important throughout the development of the series, even though they interpret this change as being too forced and unrealistic. Also, they point out that female characters of further importance are either stupid or gossipy like Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown who can only be found paired whispering to each other, irritating like obtrusive Daily Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter, eccentric Professor Trelawney or prissy Petunia Dursley, or giggly and very emotional like almost all the female pupils in Hogwarts (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 142, 149).
Especially the girly sounds all the Hogwarts girls make are often mentioned when the representation of females within the book series is examined. Christine Schoefer feels as if the girls are notably less aware of what is important because J.K. Rowling always depicts them as being overwhelmed by their emotions (cf. Schoefer).
Heilman and Donaldson focus on two special female characters of the series: Hermione Granger and Professor Minerva McGonagall. Taking these two characters into account, Christine Schoefer, states that “[n]o girl is brilliantly heroic the way Harry is, no woman is experienced and wise like Professor Dumbledore” (Schoefer).
Hermione Granger and McGonagall are described as “the helper females” (Heilman and Donaldson 146). This means that Hermione and Professor McGonagall solely follow the purpose of supporting and caring for the male main characters (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 146). Hermione is depicted as often frightened and unable to show real bravery and thus only the “enabler of Harry’s and Ron’s adventures, rather than an adventurer herself” (Heilman and Donaldson 146) as she supports them with the theoretic background to perform charms or brew potions (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 146-147). She has the brains but not the skills to really perform heroically but mostly acts rather sensible throughout the first three books of the series (cf. Schoefer).
Professor McGonagall plays the part of Professor Dumbledore’s supporter and she barely makes any decision without his consent (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 148). She is described as beady-eyed and rather unattractive, looking stiff and eager to follow all the rules but is still overwhelmed by her emotions in critical situations (cf. Schoefer).
Resulting from that, the authors interpret this powerlessness of these two women as an emphasis of the female weakness in the book series (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 149). This phenomenon in general is, according to Heilman and Donaldson, also shown in the traditional depiction of families which often consist of a working father and stay-at-home mothers; this can be observed for example in the Weasley family as well as in the Dursley family.
The relationships between men and women are determined by men, for example when Ron decides to see Hermione as a love interest or Harry makes a romantic step towards Ginny (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 153). Also, the constellation between Ron, Harry and Hermione is only fixed when the boys save Hermione from a troll in the first book, before that they did not like her at all and this relationship suggests some sort of Hermione’s dependence of the boys (cf. Schoefer).
Nevertheless, Heilman and Donaldson also insist on male characters of the book to be depicted stereotypically. They are strong, adventurous, never cry and are not giggly at all. Harry’s masculinity is sensible, beginning with his urge to save the whole world of wizardry and the will to achieve this goal on his own. Heilman and Donaldson state that there are only few male characters who struggle to fulfil their positions as powerful males such as Percy Weasley or Draco Malfoy. Also, there is only one male who depends on his looks, which is Cedric Diggory (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 156).
This phenomenon can be seen far more often when looking at females like Parvati Patil and Fleur Delacour. Also, there are male characters which show no masculinity at all, such as Professor Flitwick, Professor Slughorn or Gilderoy Lockhart. These men are emotionally sensitive, eager to have an attractive appearance and like to dress in colourful robes. These openly feminine traits suggest the stereotypical imagination of homosexuals, even if the reader knows that at least Gilderoy Lockhart is not gay at all (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 156-157).
Heilman and Donaldson conclude that J.K. Rowling willingly confronts the readers’ already existing stereotypes of females and males in order to gain their reading pleasure. According to them, readers should gain the ability to achieve common sense ideas about femininity and question gender ideologies, thus taking a side in the discussion and creating their own identity within the gender debate. As this idea is applicable on J.K. Rowling’s work, to Heilman and Donaldson, Harry Potter can have a sort of feminist message. However, the series should still be read critically as to them, the Harry Potter series themselves are not feminist at all (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 159).
Christine Schoefer, on the other hand, is quite harsh with her overall impression of the series. According to her, the readers secretly feel consoled by the stereotypical roles that are implied on the series’ characters as this depiction of males and females is traditional and well-known to the world and makes it unnecessary to step out of the readers’ comfort zone (cf. Schoefer).
Nevertheless, there are also critics who see a feminist message within the Harry Potter series, such as Ximena Gallardo-C. and C. Jason Smith, who point this out in their article Cinderfella or Katrin Berndt, who treats this question in her work Hermione Granger, or, A Vindication of the Rights of Girl. Both publications admit that Harry Potter sometimes follows stereotypical depictions of gender and especially females, however, it is stated that these stereotypes are often only visible on the surface of a character (cf. Berndt, 161, cf. Gallardo-C. and Smith 191).
This assumption implies that all the criticism around the sexist depiction of female characters within the Harry Potter series surely has some elements that are undeniable but must be seen from a more liberal point of view, regarding the different characters on a more intense level. Anne Collins Smith speaks of both ways of interpretation as “not completely black-and-white” (Collins Smith 81). J.K. Rowling’s characters are very ambivalent most of the time.
Looking at Harry, for example, it is wrong to assume that his masculinity is really that sensible. It is rather that Harry is a very compassionate person and feels the urge to rescue the ones he loves as he already had to cope with the loss of his parents in early years. Harry blacks out on a regular basis, an aspect which is often ascribed to females in literature (cf. Just, 68). Also, he does not hesitate to cry in front of Hermione other than critics try to depict him (cf. Rowling, Deathly Hallows 267). Of course he does not cry that often like girls do, but anything else would be unrealistic. There are male characters who struggle to fulfil their positions as powerful males, but not only Draco Malfoy and Percy Weasley do so. Harry Potter, who does not know if he can bear the burden of being the Chosen One (cf. Rowling Half-Blood Prince 541), Ron Weasley who struggles with the mission he promised to complete together with Harry and Hermione (cf. Rowling, Deathly Hallows 251), and even Professor Dumbledore who never forgot that he was not able to save his sister from Grindelwald (cf. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 475-477) are further examples for main characters who are not always depicted as powerful males. Stereotypes can hardly be found here, even if it is undeniable that certain traits of characters are sometimes foreseeable.
Simultaneously, it can be argued, whether the depiction of female characters is really that stereotypical or rather a more realistic one. It must be taken into account how realistic a novel about teenagers would be if there were no giggling girls, as this is a usual reaction for adolescent female children. Also, the role of Professor McGonagall is not that subordinate as Heilman and Donaldson assume. She is the one leading the resistance movement in the Battle of Hogwarts (cf. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 496) as well as she is the one who always takes care of Hogwarts whenever Professor Dumbledore is not there. Professor McGonagall speaks up to her personal worst enemy, Professor Umbridge (cf. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 296-298), as well as trying to help Harry through running the gauntlet of Professor Umbridge without letting the Ministry of Magic know (cf. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 230-231).
It is questionable whether the critics are always right with their assumptions on the relationships between males and females in the Harry Potter series. Especially Hermione’s position within the Golden Trio is often criticised after being analysed not too accurately which maybe falsifies her real role within the hierarchy of the Harry Potter series.
Taking a closer look at three different female characters within the Harry Potter universe in the following, the criticism on the series shall be investigated and, from a more differentiated point of view, be tested on its validity. A closer look will be given to their alleged stereotypical depiction as well as the importance of the character within the series. After that, it will be examined to what extent J.K. Rowling’s depiction of women is really sexist or feminist and if these two features really exclude each other within a novel.
2.2. Examples of the Depiction of Females
2.2.1. Fleur Delacour
Fleur Delacour is, at first glance, the stereotype of a female every girl wants to be. She is more beautiful than any other girl around her, has long silvery hair and is of slight, admirable build (cf. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 277). She is girlish and manages to get every boy she wants. Her name is French for flower of the royal court, and Fleur acts just like a frail, white flower from royal descent in public. She smells good, she has manners which are perfect in form and her French accent emphasises her sophistication. Criticism says that Fleur’s depiction is full of clichés and remains flat throughout the process of her character. Martin-Christoph Just states that unlike her typical ambivalent configuration of characters, J.K. Rowling fails to render Fleur more complex and forgets to add a hint of irony to Fleur’s character (Just 79).
However, in opposition to existing criticism, Fleur Delacour is far more cunning than anyone would believe at the first glance. Also, her role in the Harry Potter series lasts longer than expected and Fleur’s character is more complex than the reader might think in the beginning. Being more than only what her outer appearance suggests, Fleur is worth being examined more carefully.
184.108.40.206. Fleur and the Triwizard Tournament
Fleur Delacour enters the Harry Potter universe in book number four in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as a competitor in the Triwizard Tournament . The Triwizard Tournament requires three wizards from different wizarding schools all over the world, thus pupils from the French wizarding school Beauxbatons and the Eastern European school Durmstrang arrive at Hogwarts over the process of the Triwizard Tournament. Fleur Delacour is elected Triwizard champion for her all-female school Beauxbatons, which can be roughly translated into “beautiful wands” (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 296).
On the first glance, “beautiful” is what defines Fleur (and also all of her schoolmates). “A long sheet of silvery blonde hair fell almost to her waist. She had large, deep blue eyes, and very white, even teeth” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 277). Ron correctly assumes that she is (partly) a Veela, a superhuman fairy which is more beautiful than any woman in the world (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 116). This is probably why she is drawing all the boys’ attention towards her outer appearance (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 277-278). The reader automatically supposes that Fleur is beautiful and thus relies on her looks instead of her brains. This assumption is supported by the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Here, Fleur is played by French actress Clémence Poésy (cf. ImdB, Clémence Poésy), who is of course as frail and delicate as described, wearing discreet colours such as blue, silver and white (see fig. 1).
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Fig. 1. Fleur Delacour in her Beauxbatons uniform. “En Images: Harry Potter et la Coup de Feu.” Challenges, n.D. http://toutlecine.challenges.fr/film/0001/00018287-photos-harry-potter-et-la-coupe-de-feu.html. Viewed 27 Sept. 2016.
However, it also becomes visible that Fleur is a quite arrogant young lady who is absolutely aware her position among the Beauxbatons pupils as well as her impact on boys. She does not take authorities like Professor Dumbledore seriously (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 276) and does not hesitate to speak up to them when she sees her power or success threatened. This can be seen when Harry is elected the fourth participant of the Triwizard Tournament by accident and Fleur is the only one of the champions who really insists on re-electing the champions in order to re-gain the order of three Triwizard champions (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 302). She justifies this demand referring to Harry’s age, as he is only fourteen years old while the Triwizard champions should be at least seventeen years old (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 302). However, it is clearly visible that Fleur and her headmistress Madame Maxime do not like the thought of having to compete against three rivals instead of two (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 303).
Throughout the course of the book, the reader sees that Fleur is willing to cheat in order to win the tasks of the Triwizard Tournament and does not hesitate to show her disappointment when she fails. It is criticised that Fleur is the only girl competing in the Triwizard Tournament but nevertheless struggles to stand her ground against the three other champions (cf. Heilman and Donaldson 147). It is questionable whether J.K. Rowling’s intention was to show Fleur’s inferiority during the Triwizard Tournament just because she is female, but it can be assumed that it is natural for a frail young woman to perform worse in tasks which require bodily strength over mental capacity, especially when her competitors are talented Quidditch players. The Triwizard Tournament in general is no problem for Fleur when it comes to solving the question of what the tasks will be about. She cunningly finds out about the dragon task together with her headmistress (cf. Rowling Goblet of Fire 384 ) as well as managing to perform a charm which allows her to breathe underwater (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 551). Here is where Harry for example struggles a lot and only finds a solution for both tasks with the help of Hermione and Dobby.
Fleur passes the first task with no further problems and manages to go on to the second task (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 394). She still shows a lot of competitiveness but she fails to rescue her sister from the lake as Grindelohs attack her (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 549) and Harry saves her sister Gabrielle from the lake. Here, a stereotypical depiction of Fleur can be seen. She is the weak woman who is not able to stand for herself and needs to be rescued by a man who shows courage and compassion, and the sufficient strength to complete what she has begun. Heilman and Donaldson go further and mock Fleur because Harry takes the lead and fulfils Fleur’s task as “she gets tangled up in weed and cannot save her own sister” (Heilman and Donaldson 147). However, this statement is full of sarcasm and, above all, wrong. Fleur failed to reach her sister whom she loves so much, but not because she simply got entangled in some weed. Fleur has severe cuts on her face and on her arms because she was attacked by Grindelohs. Nevertheless, she does not care about her injuries as she is so worried about her sister’s health (cf. Rowling, Goblet of Fire 551). The assumption that Fleur is too girlish for the Triwizard Tournament and simply failed because she did not like the weed in the lake is wrong and is evidence of superficial reading.
After Harry rescued Fleur’s sister, she feels as if she owes Harry a certain loyalty, even if she is mocked for this devotion later on, especially by Hermione and Ginny (cf. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 76). The reader might think that Fleur’s behaviour towards Harry often is quite ridiculous as everyone is sure that Dumbledore would not have let her sister really die if no one had rescued her. On the other hand, it is questionable whether any other of the competitors would have acted the way Harry has. It is also possible that Fleur simply is that thankful towards Harry because she has recognised how compassionate and trustworthy Harry is. Nevertheless, her newfound and unbroken fidelity towards Harry throughout the rest of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is something generally uncommon the reader perhaps would not have expected from her.
220.127.116.11. Fleur as a Member of the Weasley Family
Fleur’s loyalty continues during the rest of the Harry Potter series as her character does not simply vanish after the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix it becomes clear that Fleur is engaged to Ron’s brother, Bill. This connection seems quite odd at first, but it is revealed how Bill and Fleur met:
“Remember old Fleur Delacour?” said George. “She`s got a job at Gringotts to eemprove ‘er Eenglish-“
“And Bill’s been giving her a lot of private lessons,” sniggered Fred. (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 65).
Fleur raises hackles, especially with Hermione and Ginny who think Fleur does not fit into the Weasley family because of her artificialness (cf. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 76-77). Here, the stereotypical catfight between women can be seen. It is quite strange that Ginny and Hermione seem jealous of Fleur, even if she is no direct competitor for them as she is at least three years older than Hermione. However, it is possible that they simply feel threatened by Fleur’s beauty. The reader knows that especially Ginny has always had feelings for Harry and it can be assumed that Fleur’s typical kisses on Harry’s cheeks make her jealous. Even Molly Weasley cannot but have concerns about Bill and Fleur’s relationship, perhaps because she is afraid of Fleur not being seriously interested in her son (cf. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 77). But this alleged artificialness everyone fears about Fleur is a wrong assumption which shall be revised.
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- Harry Potter Feminismus Feminism Hermione Granger Fleur Delacour Dolores Umbridge Analysis