Prejudice in the Harry Potter series

Alexis Rapoza – Anchor Contributor

With 7 books, 8 movies (10 if you include “Fantastic Beasts”) and a theme park, it’s hard to imagine a series with more cultural impact than Harry Potter.

J.K. Rowling has created a completely immersive world with characters that people have fallen in love with over the past two decades. As with any fantasy world, there are different social and cultural norms that we learn about as we read and watch the movies. However, one of the underlying themes in Harry Potter is something that relates to the very real society we know.

Graphic courtesy of Pottermore

Prejudice is something that is very prevalent in the Harry Potter series and it’s something we learn very early into the books. In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” we learn that 11 year olds are sorted into four houses, all revolving around different personality traits. If you’re smart then you’re in Ravenclaw, the loyal are sorted into Hufflepuff, the brave into Gryffindor and the cunning (more often portrayed as evil) go into Slytherin. It honestly seems extremely problematic that at 11 years old you’re separated from your peers based on nothing except what a century old hat thinks your best personality trait is.

As Rubeus Hagrid stated, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Throughout the series, those in Slytherin are often displayed as inherently evil, which we know to be untrue. However, Harry and his friends seem almost entirely convinced. It’s not fair to generalize an entire group based on a select few people who went bad. When discussing the different houses, people often tend to forget the fact that there were indeed wizards and witches who weren’t in Slytherin that did go bad. For example, Peter Pettigrew and Professor Quirrell who were in Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.

When we have preset beliefs on people based on where they come from we often chose to ignore anything that contests those beliefs. This is also represented by the wizarding world’s prejudice towards those from non pure-blood families or different races. Remus Lupin was shunned his entire life because he was bitten by a werewolf as a child. Although he is a kind and loving man and professor he has trouble finding work because of his werewolf status. Andromeda Tonks is removed from her family for marrying a muggleborn. Draco Malfoy uses slurs such as mud-blood in order to express his superiority over those of lower blood status, and the Slytherin Quidditch team seems to refuse to allow girls to join.

Reading these books as an adult has opened my eyes to what I believe is J.K. Rowling’s commentary on race relations and other modern issues in today’s society. Racism, misogyny and ableism are all issues we deal with in our reality. I think it’s a really great idea to use fantasy to portray bigger issues in our world and help people think about things with an open mind.