No. of Recommendations: 3
I love the series, but I do find the whole house elf thing to be a bit of a sore spot. I'm curious to know how she will resolve it. Some of you will groan for me saying this, but the whole "happy slave" thing is not cool with me. "I is going to do this for Master" sterotypical slave talk bothers me as well. Though I read one article that suggests Rowling is trying to play on mainstream America's (former?) perception of slavery - that slaves wanted to be both ignorant and slaves.

Yuck. In this respect, I am rooting for Hermione, and I'm irritated that no one else will take her seriously. Dumbledore says that the house elfs are what their owners made them to be, so they want to be slaves because their masters want them to be? Well then, let's not want them to be slaves anymore.



Might be spoilers:

















Depending on how Rowling decides to resolve this, the issue of the house elves may prove to be another of the many issues of moral ambiguity which make these novels so rich.

The question of the status of house elves parallels, in some ways, the issue of the status of Muggles and Muggle-born wizards and witches, as well as the attitudes of the "magic community" to giants and goblins. The world she has created is populated with "peoples" with varying characteristics and powers, and the central theme of evil, represented by Voldemort and his followers, concerns the notion of "racial purity." It was this notion which broke apart the friendship which originally existed among the founding members of Hogwarts, and it is this issue -- along with issues concerning wealth, ambition and power -- which infuses the struggle between the "good" wizards and those on the "dark side" of magic.

We've learned, along with Harry, how painful it can be to recognize that no one is perfect, and that each of us has a dark side. Harry's father, with accomplices Sirius and Lupin, proves to have been no paragon of virtue, taking joy in the unnecessary tormenting of the young and unpopular Snape -- and Harry's vengeful tormenting of Dudley early in the book mirrors this very human attempt to exert power over others. We still don't know the details of the relationship between James Potter and Snape, but we do know the details of the relationship between Harry and Dudley, and we see how Dudley's treatment of Harry for 15 years results in a power struggle between them, with Harry in the ascendency.

Part of the theme of the overall work, I think, is captured in the line about the measure of a man being a function of how he treats his "inferiors." It isn't merely the issue of the proper uses of power that Rowling is examining here, I suspect, but the issue of what right we have to call others "inferior" in the first place. So even the "good" wizards have their prejudices -- against giants and goblins, for instance -- and their blind spots with regard to dignity -- in their callous enslavement of elves. The whole "half-breed" issue is raised again with Firenze -- centaurs being yet another set of creatures with issues about superiority and control.

As the cause of Syltherin's original breaking away from the others, as the central tenent of Voldemort's philosophy of power, and as a pervasive theme infecting all inter-species relationships with wizards, one of Rowing's most urgent concerns, I suspect, is to connect the problem of racisim with the even more basic problem of the very human -- and very destructive -- urge to power and a sense of superiority over others, whether it's reflected in the acts of a group or the acts of individuals.

How well she manages to "teach" this issue to the young people who are her target audience will, to a large extent, I think, determine the importance of the overall work. She has two more books to write in which she'll have the opportunity of clarifying the moral lessons I think she intends, and to resolve the ambiguities she's so expertly laid out before Harry. If she goes in the direction I sense she's going, this series of books could prove to be something much more valuable than a casual reading would reveal.

I, for one, hopes she pulls it off.

SLL
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