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True Power Through Denial of Power: Renunciation as Core Value in Harry Potter, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1162

Essay

Introduction

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, aside from being a cultural phenomenon, are typically viewed as life-affirming works which inculcate values of responsibility and ethical behavior in their readers of all ages. There is certainly a “fabulous” quality to them, in that they reflect traditions of fable wherein human virtues overcome dark forces.  Then, given the number and complexity of the series, there is ample room for many human attributes and failings to be presented as shaping character and directing events.  Throughout the entire story, however, there is a distinct message or ideology at the heart of Harry’s adventures, and one reaching fruition in the final conflict: that of Harry’s goodness arising, not from action necessarily, but by a consistent unwillingness to advance his own personal interests and an equal commitment to achieving the modest satisfactions of living as a decent human being.  In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories, renunciation is the ultimate guiding principle by which the true power to live happily is granted.

Argument

     That renunciation of power is at the core of the Potter books is relatively easy to overlook, given the circumstances and trajectory of the earlier novels.  These establish the boy as, first and foremost, a victim, so there is an initial impetus to observe this changing as the story progresses and Harry comes into his own as a wizard.  This does occur, certainly, but in a way indicating different priorities in Harry.  From the earliest representations of Harry, he is motivated, not by a desire to gain authority or power, but to merely be accepted and permitted to lives reasonably.  His victimhood is profound; his parents were brutally murdered and he must live with relations who resent and despise him.  It would be usual, then, for the boy to develop deep-seated resentments of his own, which could be exercised through the acquisition of power.  Such power, in fact, is potentially his, as he begins his wizarding education.

Harry’s actual ambitions, however, are consistently modest.  Abused by his guardians and feeling neglected by his new school and friends, Harry is a despondent boy, but his emotional response is not that of seeking to reverse his circumstances, or even escape; rather, he craves only basic, friendly contact: “What wouldn’t he give now for a message from Hogwarts?  From any witch or wizard?”  (Rowling 8).   This is particularly telling in that, again, the boy has come to understand that he possesses great power.  Time and again, the earlier novels reveal a Harry whose chief struggle lies in only finding a means to enjoy security and minimal comforts.  In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the odious relation Aunt Marge taunts Harry into erupting in anger and using his magic, but this is against his nature.  It is only the cruelty of her abuse that draws Harry’s fire: “Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia usually encouraged Harry to stay out of their way, which Harry was only too happy to do”  (Rowling  25).   Importantly, he does not wish to attack because conflict, a necessary aspect of power, is alien to his character.  If submission is forced upon the young Harry, it is also true that his nature turns to renunciation because, essentially good, he is uninterested in overcoming his subjugated state through the use of power.

As the story progresses, it becomes more evident that the key to Harry’s character, which is reflected in his dismissals of ambition and power, is an ability to care.  His innate nature as a loving boy is his core, and so strong that it is manifested in the most demanding circumstances.  It is, moreover, a kind of “ordinariness” that affirms Harry’s trait of renunciating that which is not centered on human relations or welfare.  For example, his aunt’s intervention when his uncle seeks to evict him from the safe Dursley home triggers his care: “For the very first time in his life, Harry fully appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother’s sister”  (Rowling  38).  In the midst of growing danger, and when power would be most helpful, Harry’s focus is on the plain and human, and his appreciation responds.  Rowling is essentially foreshadowing Harry’s realization of his own, true power, which is completely in contrast to that of Voldemort, or even Dumbledore.  It also seems that, lacking in typical ambition, he has difficulty in recognizing the value of his own greatest power, as when Dumbledore clarifies matters for him: “’So, when the prophecy says that I’ll have power the Dark Lord knows not, it just meant…love?’”(Rowling  509).   In a sense, he is coming to the realization that this power, based on renunciation and unconcern with the self, is the only force capable of combating the tangible power of evil.

This realization builds and has its climax in Harry’s victory, not over Voldemort, but over what he himself might take on.  Having won the right to wield the Elder wand, Harry is poised to be supremely powerful.  Moreover, as it is long established that he is good, there is no sense that he will inevitably be corrupted by it.  The actual exercise of great power, however, is not the issue, certainly for Harry.  He has consistently followed a course of denying acquisition of power, not because he fears it or is unable to gain it, but because his character comprehends the inherent conflict – and danger to all – power itself represents.  The less-than-sensational discarding of the wand emphasizes the strength of his conviction and character.  There are no grand speeches, but only a young man’s plain appraisal: “’That wand’s more trouble than it’s worth,’ said Harry”  (Rowling 749).  Ultimately, Harry gains his greatest power through the understanding that denying power over others is the stronger, better course.

Conclusion

It is certainly true that, throughout the story, Harry demonstrates any boy’s interest in being able to create change, particularly as his gifts allow him to do so in ways that protect himself and others.  He does not shy away from using power as people do in order to better shape and conduct their lives.  Given the scope of potential power of the story, however, these are meaningless demonstrations, and do not convey the true essence of both boy and tale.  This essence culminates in Harry’s discarding of the most powerful wand in existence, which reinforces his life of simply seeking to love and be loved.  It is the renunciation that crowns the pattern of renunciation marking Harry’s life, emphasizing his acceptance of “non-power,” or love, as paramount.  As Rowling’s Harry Potter stories reflect, renunciation is the chief guiding principle by which the true power to live happily is granted.

Works Cited

Rowling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2007.  Print.

Rowling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2005. Print.

Rowling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  New York: Scholastic., Inc., 2004. Print.

Rowling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2001. Print.

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