More Alike Than Different: Gryffindors And Slytherins
by Siria Ciraux
We usually think of Slytherins and Gryffindors as opposites; good and evil, pitted against each other. Gryfindors are good guys, Slytherins and bad, and Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws are somewhere in the middle. I think, however, looking at the psychology of the characters, that Slytherins and Gryffindors and essentially the same; Gryfindors just have an extra helping of Superego, while the Slytherins got a little extra Id.
Both Gryffindors and Slytherins are opinionated, vengeful, goal-oriented, self-reliant/prideful (if not sometimes conceded), smart, brave, resourceful and quick-tempered (keep in mind these are general characteristics; someone may be in a certain house by default, or be a bit mixed-housed but leaning towards one side). But the main difference, at least I think, is that Gryffindors are self-conscious; they care what everyone thinks of them. Thus, along with having vengeance, ambition, ext, they really care what they seem like, and how other people view them. Thus, they end up having “good” honor. For example, what made Harry a Gryffindor is his want not to be a Slytherin. What did he know about what it was like to be either? He barely had any idea about Hogwarts, he didn’t know the teachers, the Quidditch teams, the “experience”, shall we say, all he knew was that “bad” wizards were in Slytherin, and “good” wizards were in Gryffindor (or, anything but Slytherin, at that time). Thus, Harry just didn’t want to be a “bad” wizard, whatever that entailed. Thus, he became a Gryffindor.
Slytherins, of course, have quite a bit of “honor,” at least in their own opinions. They have a lot of pride. They also are conscious of how their viewed, but in a rather “snobby” way. Instead of having a need to prove them, they want to look sophisticated; thus, they have “honor” in a more selfish way.
We see constantly in the book that Gryffindors are always proving themselves and worrying what other people think. Sometimes this is good, and other times it can get in the way. For example, some of Ron’s first sentences are that he needs to prove himself against his brothers, glumly expressing that “so if I do something good, it’s no big deal,”.
Harry has a huge need to prove himself, especially in Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. In GoF, one of his problems with telling Ron about his scar hurting is the not that Ron, but Fred and George would think he was losing his nerve. He doesn’t even include his dream to Sirius, even Sirius, because he “doesn’t want to seem too worried”. This may not have been a good idea; perhaps if Harry had told about the dream, a connection with Voldemort and Bertha Jorkins would have been made sooner, or Dumbledore may have been able to interpret it and learn general locations and status of Voldemort. But Gryffindor pride, including this need to prove oneself, got in the way. In OotP, American version pg. 157, he doesn’t mention how he wished Dumbledore had been closer to him because he thinks it would seem “childish”. Harry is always trying to prove himself, as are many other Gryfindors, and thus, at least for Harry, he can become introverted to an extent and not mention what he thinks people will view as “losing his nerve”.
Gryffindor and Slytherins are also both very vengeful and full of, shall we say, “classic” honor. Harry loves to see Malfoy suffer. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve it, but it seriously brings him joy. In PoA, he is overcome by the thought of doing nothing when Sirius is free, since he killed his parents. Granted, I wouldn’t be happy with Sirius either, but I couldn’t see a Hufflepuff feeling a need to personally do justice to Sirius. Harry is even disappointed in himself for not being able to kill Sirius in the Shrieking Shack. Perhaps the vengeance was not so great that he could kill Sirius in cold-blood; but it’s the ideology, that he thinks he should have killed Sirius, that he is somehow honor-bound to kill him, that is important. Lupin is nearly manic with revenge when he finds Pettergrew. In the beginning of OotP, Harry goads Dudley, a type of revenge for his childhood. But here, we see the distinct difference between Slytherin and Gryffindor; while a Slytherin would goad Dudley also, they would not save him in the end. Thus is an almost tragic personality facet in Gryffindors that makes them vengeful, brave, energetic, even at times violent, but then self-conscious about that nature of theirs, and therefore having enough conscious to prove one self’s moral. And thus, Harry knows he must save Dudley, even if he hates him.
Slytherins also have an honor thing going on. This leads to prejudice for them. They manifest it in this need to be pure-blood, or “honorable.” Slytherins are as vengeful as Gryffindors; perhaps this is why they are so pitted against each other. Snape, after all, is still seeking revenge on Harry for what his father did. The Gryffindor and Slytherin could never speak again after dividing. They share this. They both are daring and brave. And, need I mention, have a certain “disregard for rules” in general. This perhaps comes from the confidence in their abilities (the self-conciseness is in their morality). Harry does indeed overestimate his abilities. He is experienced, intelligent and brave, but let’s face it; he’s a little too self-reliant in the third book thinking no one should be worried about him and Sirius, that he can look after himself. In the fifth book, he tries to single-handedly save Sirius from Voldemort. I know Harry’s got a niche for Voldemort fighting, but realistically, could he have saved a wandless Sirius from Voldemort had he been there? Not likely. Slytherins are also like this. They feel they are better, beyond the rules. They take risks for honor, for fighting, because they do have confidence in their own abilities. Slytherins, of course, only risk this for themselves; they would pull out if it were for another.
This is why Sytherins and Gryffindors are so pitted against each other; they are so similar. Every Gryffindor has Slytherin in him, just Gryffindor along with it; thus they have the need to prove themselves. And thus, we have Gryfindors, fighting like no-ones business against the “Dark Arts”.