An original editorial by Tammy Nezol
Although I was not surprised by Percy’s actions in Book 5, I found myself cursing the rat-faced weasel. Why? Percy has shown signs from Book 1 about how far he takes his ambition. Ron has even taken the time to warn us that Percy would betray his family for prestige and power. Why should I be angrier at Percy than I am at Voldemort or even Umbridge? What is it about this character’s betrayal that cut at me deeper than Umbridge’s conniving smile?
After my third read, and hours of thinking, I believe I finally understand why Percy gets to me. Unlike Umbridge or Voldemort, Percy has shown redeeming qualities since day one. Although ambitious, Percy has always tried to do what is right and has shown care for his family. When I think of Percy, I think of the middle of Book 4 when Ron comes out of the water after the second task. Percy turns pale as he runs to see if his brother is okay. He forgets about his demeanor and his place at the tournament, he throws all appearances away to make sure that Ron is okay. But, how can I reconcile this image with the heartless Percy in Book 5?
Thus, it occurs to me that we are given two separate Percy’s throughout the five books. On one hand we have the Percy that embraces pride. This is the ambitious Percy that follows rules stringently and looks down on anyone that crosses even the thinnest line. This is the Percy that lusts for prestige and sides with those who have power. On the other hand we have the Percy that embraces love. This is the Percy that had (has?) a girlfriend. This is the same Percy that drops everything to make sure Ron is okay. Now that I recognize these two very different and opposed facets of Percy’s character, the question remains of how to reconcile them into the one person.
It is my belief that we cannot simply take Harry’s view of things as the only view to understanding the characters. Through Harry’s eyes, Percy is an older brother, the Head Boy that went off to work for the Ministry, and the boy that sat at Harry’s hearing as though Harry and Percy had never before met. But who is Percy through Percy’s own eyes?
True, Percy is one of Ron’s older brothers, but Percy is also a younger sibling. How easy was it for him to follow in Bill and Charlie’s footsteps? Bill and Charlie were the first two children that got to grow up before the house filled with five other children. Both Bill and Charlie were successful, though perhaps a little rebellious (fang earring, anyone?). How would this middle position make Percy feel and act? With Percy growing up with both younger and older siblings he had to do well and set examples. Like many older siblings, Percy took the role of father when the kids were away at school. In Book 2, he forces Ginny to take medicine and lectures Ron about going into girls’ restrooms. Perhaps this is a large part of where Percy’s ambition came from. It’s not easy growing up in a big family, much less getting lost somewhere in the middle. True, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have always given their kids lots of love, but was it that way from Percy’s view? Did he feel that he had to do well to earn attention? It is a large possibility.
Whatever Percy’s reasons for wanting prestige, it is clear that this is a defining part of his personality. Percy wants not only power, but he wants a clear-cut world where all rules are followed and those deemed important and leaders are out to do what is right. And there perhaps is the real reconciliation of Percy’s character. While he wants power and admiration, Percy wants to do what is right. Yes, he may feel important for little things such as working on shabby cauldron cases, but he does mention that it bothers him because people might get hurt. Yes, Percy may have sided with the Ministry, but doesn’t he make it clear that he does this not out of hate for his family, but because he feels the Ministry is correct.
Take a look at the letter Percy sends to Ron. We can learn multiple things in this letter, such as the fact that Percy still cares about Ron, warning him about what Percy thinks is a danger. Remember, Percy has cut off all ties to his family in order to remove the stigma of being a Weasley (298, US Edition), but yet he is trying to reach out to Ron; if caught he might be re-stigmatized. Also, Percy truly believes the Ministry that Dumbledore is wrong. “I am sorry that I was unable to see more of you over the summer. It pains me to criticize our parents, but I am afraid I can no longer live under their roof while they remain mixed up with the dangerous crowd around Dumbledore….” This line may drive us to punch the nearest wall, but in Percy’s eyes he is only saying what he feels is true. “I sincerely hope that, in time, they will realize how mistaken they were and I shall, of course, be ready to accept a full apology when that day comes.” Again, Percy is removing himself from those he feels are breaking the rules.
Taken from this view, perhaps Percy is not so evil after all. Perhaps Percy’s real flaw is naivety. Striving for power and ambition, Percy has blinded himself to what is real. He honestly believes that people in high places are there because they are honest and good men. He looks up to them, and wants to follow in their footsteps. Examining Book 4, we see much of this in how he hero-worships Crouch. How many times does he defend Crouch and blindly believe whatever is happening? When it comes to Winky picking up a wand, Percy is all about the rules and image. He truly thinks that Crouch is blameless as long as he follows the rules. So what happens when Crouch turns out to have broken some major rules? What happens when the letters start coming with orders? Percy follows the letters to his own detriment. Surely someone in a high position couldn’t hurt him, right? Yet, Crouch did break rules, and everything fell apart. This, more than being a Weasley, stigmatized this once prefect.
After years of searching for ambition, trying to do what is right, and living with the Weasley name, Percy is foiled by his own ignorance. How low must this have made him feel? How angry must he be at his father for adding to this stigma? In Percy’s eyes, he has done nothing wrong, has followed the rules, but yet he has constantly been pushed down.
Now take this same ignorant Percy and look at how his character acts in Book 5. It starts to make a lot more sense. “I count myself very lucky to have escaped the stigma of association with such people– the Minister really could not be more gracious to me– and I do hope, Ron, that you will not allow family ties to blind you to the misguided nature of our parents’ beliefs and actions either” (298).
After all the bitter disappointments in Book 4, Percy finds himself at a crossroads. He can either believe that world is upside down with corrupt leaders and evil men, or he can choose to remain ignorant and believe the world is as it ought to be. When Fudge offers him an assistantship, it was a saving grace to Percy. His career is not only not finished, but he can even be promoted. He can have the prestige he always wanted, and someday outdo Bill and Charlie in excellence. True, his parents would look down on him now, but from his view this would change when they learned the error of their ways.
So Percy, believing (or convincing himself) that he is right, continues to work for the Ministry. He enters a world where it is all or nothing, and he must cut familial ties to survive. He sends back the Christmas sweater and doesn’t even visit Arthur in the hospital. It makes us as a reader mad, but not necessarily surprised. Yet, there is comfort in knowing he is doing what he feels is right. This means that once he learns that he is in fact the one in error, he may find redemption in the love of his family. For even if he is willing to turn his back on them, I do not believe Mr. and Mrs. Weasley could ever turn their back on Percy.
Perhaps my first inclination to be madder at Percy than at Voldemort or Umbridge is a hasty one. Percy is not yet a bad guy, just misguided. He angers me because he could know the truth if he didn’t allow himself to so easily be blinded by ambition. Yet, I know that Percy is at heart a good man. Despite every transgression he commits in the fifth book, I still picture him running to help Ron. To me, this is the true look into his character. When it comes down to what’s right, Percy will drop appearances and all else to help out. For unlike Voldemort, Percy does love. It is my hope that this love will bring him back home where he belongs.