Thursday, September 11, 2014

Harry Potter, the War against Evil, and the Melodramatization of Public Culture: A Quote

Melodrama is defined in the Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary as, "a dramatic form that does not observe the laws of cause and effect and that exaggerates emotion and emphasizes plot or action at the expense of characterization."

The laws of cause and effect can be somewhat synonymous with the question why? In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has surely written "in a melodramatic mode" (Bousquet, 178). The author, instead of focusing on the question why (in the context of Harry Potter's struggle from birth), uses the actions and emotions inspired by characters such as Voldemort, the Dursleys, and Hagrid, beginning in the first book in order to sway the audience in favor of Harry. On the surface level (even on the back surface of the first book), Harry Potter is immediately depicted as a victim. 
Throughout the series, starting in the first book, Rowling alludes and sometimes explicitly mentions the idea of good vs. evil, and uses certain characters such as Dumbledore, Hagrid and Harry's mother and father, versus other characters like Voldemort, Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy early on, in order to get the audience on Harry's side/the good side.

I think that a few interesting quotes come towards the end of book 1, in Chapter 17, when Harry encounters 'The Man With Two Faces', also known as Professor Quirrel.  First, Harry is confused to meet Professor Quirrel, as he thought it was Snape who he would see.  Here once again, Rowling uses Harry to allude to the idea that Snape is evil. Harry is then also confused when he learns that Snape was "muttering a countercurse," (289) while trying to save Harry. This swing in emotion towards Snape now causes confusion in the reader's mind on his or her judgement of Snape, as it continues to throughout the rest of the series. By evoking such emotion, Rowling leaves more character judgement up to the reader, rather than being explicit in her characterization judgement in each case. Later on page 290, Harry says, "But Snape always seemed to hate me so much." Quirrel responds, "Oh, he does, heavens, yes. He was at Hogwarts with your father, didn't you know? They loathed each other. But he never wanted dead" (290). Again, we as the audience are questioning why, while here it is not outwardly observed (until later in the series).

The main quote I would like to highlight comes shortly thereafter, following Quirrel's mentioning of his "master."

"He is with me wherever I go. I met him when I traveled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it . . . Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me. He does not forgive mistakes easily. When I failed to steal the stone from Gringotts, he was most displeased. He punished me . . . decided he would have to keep a closer watch on me . . ." (291).

The most powerful line to me in this excerpt is when Quirrel says that there is only power, rather than good and evil. This line is quite philosophical, as Quirrel, quoting his master Lord Voldemort, declares that good and evil do not exist, but there are people who seek power. This line can be interpreted in other melodramatic contexts as well, such as in that of the "Bush administration's 'War Against Evil' rhetoric" (Bousquet, 184), as well as in really any melodramatic context. J.K. Rowling's line about Voldemort's view of power is very strong and substantial, and I think that it is worth thinking about in the bigger context. 

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