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Essay: Showing prejudices like racism and classism in Harry Potter

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays Media essays
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  • Published: June 12, 2021*
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  • Showing prejudices like racism and classism in Harry Potter
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J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series is among the few pieces of literature which have equally gained immense popularity, critical acclaim and success worldwide. The seven Harry Potter movies are based off of the Harry Potter series written by J.K. Rowling. The series has earned around $7.7 billion in the box office and is known as one of the highest grossing film franchise (Kim, 2012).

The popular series is about Harry Potter, a young orphan who lost his parents at an early age. He learns on his eleventh birthday that he is the son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers. Harry was raised by his aunt and her family, the Dursleys. Dursley’s have mandated Harry to live in a cupboard under the stairs, forced to wear his cousin Dudley’s hand-me-down clothes, and live in miserable conditions. However, Harry’s world gets turned upside down when Hagrid, a powerful half-giant wizard, informs him that soon he will be attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Upon, starting his first year of school he meets two other students: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who eventually becomes his best friends. In the later movies, Harry Potter meets the antagonist, Voldemort, also known as ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’. Throughout his time at Hogwarts, Harry overcomes various obstacles, which helped him become an extraordinary wizard. Harry’s strength lies not only in his ability as a wizard but in his character. It was his perseverance, goodness, instinct in combat, skills in practical magic, unfailing courage, and his strong bond with friends that made him an extraordinary wizard.

Despite the popularity and moral themes, prejudices like classism and racism are prevalent in all of the movies. J.K. Rowling is able to portray these issues in the movies by the mistreatment of various characters and the assigned classes to students based on their blood-lines. The movies were able to portray these prejudices through the usage of rhetorical devices such as audience, pathos and purpose. According to Carroll, audience consists of “those who are the (intended or unintended) recipients of the rhetorical message,” (Carroll, 2010). Even though the target audience is children, a majority of the viewers are teenagers and young adults. In this specific case, the audience was able to connect with the prejudices, at hand, because of the way the issues were presented. For example, the suffering class were represented by “cute” characters like Dobby and strong personalities like Hermione. The second rhetorical device used in the series was pathos. Pathos is the use of emotions to make an appeal to the audience. There were copious scenes in which emotions was the main mechanism used to gain the audience’s attention. The third rhetorical device used was purpose, purpose it the reason to why something is done which in this case is the creation of the Harry Potter series.

The world of Harry Potter sheds light on the cruelty and harsh treatment of certain magical creatures. House elves like Dobby, in particular, are treated with great disrespect by most of their wizard masters. House elves, despite being magical and quite intelligent, are kept only to do housework and chores, and for the most part, have to endure harsh treatment from their masters. In the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we witnessed Harry’s kind behavior towards Dobby when he comes to visit him prior to his arrival at Hogwarts for his second year, and it becomes apparent that Dobby has been maltreated and ignored his entire life. Harry politely stated, “Sit down,” pointing at the bed. To his horror, Dobby bursts into tears – very noisy tears. “S-sit down!” he wailed…” Dobby has never been asked to sit down by a wizard – like an equal” (Potter, 2012). This shows that when Harry treated Dobby with respect, it is too much for Dobby to handle. The shot showed Dobby’s reaction, when Harry told him to sit down, he was shocked because as an enslaved elf, he received no respect from anyone hence, the camera focusing on his tears in the shot. By using a cute little hopeless elf, the directors were able to not only gain the audience’s attention but also represent the social issue. By using a young fictional character, the audience, which is prominently children, was able to connect and understand the classism and division within the movies. This scene also relies heavily on pathos, since Dobby expresses his confusion through emotions. By having Dobby cry in this scene, the audience was able to sympathize with him and understand the mistreatment of the minorities and the prejudices presented throughout the movies.

In the Harry Potter series, there are many characters who are mistreated based on their wizardry social class. Hermione was a prominent character, who was a victim of racism and classicism. She was a Muggle-born, which means her parents are humans, which makes her a human. As we discovered in the film that Muggle-borns are witches and wizards with magical abilities but non-magical parents. The fact that Hermione was a Muggle-born she was always a victim of bullying. She was bullied by various characters throughout the series. Rowling portrayed Hermione as a logical, book-smart and brave young girl however, she was still psychologically affected by other comments. In movies when one sees bullying occur it evokes emotions, such as sadness or even anger. The technique is called pathos, “you’re appealing to your readers’ emotions to convince them of something,” (Firestone, 2019). An example of pathos is when, Hermione was referred to as “Mudblood” because of her “dirty blood.” It was a deep shot scene in which Malfoy called Hermione a “filthy mudblood,” as a result of which Hermione cried. This scene was shot using a deep focus technique with which we saw Hermione’s face expressions and tears. Moreover, the camera also blurred out the background to further emphasize on Hermione’s emotions (Watson, 2018). Through the emphasis of Hermione’s facial expression, it evokes emotions in the audience and make them sympathize with Hermione and really gain the audience’s attention which is a really useful technique.

Deep focus shot was taken to show Hermione’s emotions and blurred out the rest to build up the emphasis on her emotion when Malfoy called her a “filthy mudblood” in the movie where Mudblood is seemed to be “dirty.”

One of the main purposes of the movies was to highlight the issue of classism, which is prominent in our society, to this very day, and to teach children that it is wrong to classify and group individuals. Classism has a negative psychological effect on an individual, especially on the youth. Hence, it was an exceptional idea to highlight these problems in a children movie. In all the movies, classism is depicted by the clear division among the students, not only based on their wealth but also the school they were placed in. At Hogwarts, students from different schools believed that their social groups define their power in society. For example, Harry hanging out with Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid, placed him in the lower social class, as well. Whereas, Malfoy believed that him and his friends, who were purebloods are better and much more powerful than the other social classes. Harry’s best friend, Ron, who belonged to a family of blood traitors pureblood thought of himself as weak and less capable of magic powers. In Harry Potter’s world, a blood traitor is a person who doesn’t subscribe to the racial superiority and sympathizes with non-magical communities. Ron was placed in a low class, therefore, had low self-esteem. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Draco and Ron got into a fight over Hermione, as a result of which Ron spelled Draco, but his slug’s spell backfired and he started throwing up snails (World, 2017). In this scene, the technique of bird’s-eye view was used to further emphasizes the purpose in which it showed the effect of Ron’s spell and how it literally brought him down to the ground, in a way it symbolizes how Ron believes that he isn’t as powerful as Draco.

In conclusion, throughout the Harry Potter series, prejudices like racism and classism are just as rampant in the wizarding society as they are in our society today. The portrayal of these prejudices is quite similar to the social issues such as injustice towards minorities and bullying in schools, in current day. The directors and producers did a phenomenal job at capturing these problems and educating the audience through the usage of several rhetorical devices. Through rhetorical devices like pathos, engaging the audience, and purpose, we were able to explore the world of Harry Potter and all the societal problems within. The character choices combined with the class structure highlighted the vivid social division among the muggles/creatures and the pureblood. Likewise, there is a strong tension among the various racial classes in America today, as seen through in the news and the movements taking place on a daily basis. Keeping all this in mind, Harry Potter managed to keep the movie entertaining and colorful, while still sending the strong message to the viewers. When one watches the movie for the first time, it is easy to miss the prejudices, but with a little analysis of the present rhetorical devices, it becomes prevalent that this infamous children’s movie is more than an entertainment piece.

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