Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Quirrel's Comments on Melodramatic Rhetoric
“The Man with Two Faces,” the 17th chapter of the first Harry Potter book, has already been pointed out as essential in the book's development as a melodrama. Professor Bousquet's article says that “the corollary to the revelation of the hero's identity is the revelation of the villain,” and that such a revelation occurs when the seemingly helpless and innocent Quirrel turns out to be the servant of Lord Voldemort. Furthermore, Natalie describes in her post how Snape is often thought to be on Lord Voldemort's side, yet by the end of the series is shown to be “one of [Harry's] biggest protectors.” Though Natalie was commenting on the series as a whole, the same happens in the first book-- Snape is suspected of trying to harm Harry, particularly during the Quidditch match described in chapter 11, but in Chapter 17 it is revealed that Snape was all that kept Harry from being thrown off his broom.
However, shortly after Quirrel admits to being in league with Voldemort, he says something particularly relevant to our topic that it seems nobody has commented on yet. The passage may contain one of the most-quoted lines in the whole series, and is as follows: “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.”
This little monologue shows that Quirrel is aware he's on what most people would see as the wrong side of a good/evil dichotomy, but believes that the dichotomy doesn't really exist, and doesn't consider himself to be any worse a person than those who would protect Harry and fight Voldemort-- people like Snape. Quirrel completely rejects the system melodrama is based on (summed up in Professor Bousquet's article as “pure good versus unmitigated evil”), and, in doing so, shows just how unmitigatedly evil he actually is. Rowling makes sure not to confuse her readers by giving Quirrel his own sense of what is right or good, which could make the readers wonder if his side deserves some sympathy, and instead portrays him as disregarding the concept of goodness altogether. Quirrel makes it clear that while in his youth he did, in fact, possess a moral compass, he is now concerned only with serving Voldemort, who, with his appellation “Lord” and his preoccupation with power, seems to fit beautifully into the mold of an aristocratic villain.
By putting a statement contradicting melodramatic rhetoric in the mouth of an unquestionable villain, J. K. Rowling actually reinforces the clear boundary between good and evil, and strengthens the melodramatic motifs that, as Professor Bousquet's article points out, so strongly characterize the first few Harry Potter novels.