The North Tower #43: Hermione’s Punishment
Hello everybody. Thank you for waiting so patiently for this update. Unfortunately, this is most likely how long there will be between articles this fall. It would be great if my only responsibility was writing HP articles, but alas, other people think I should do stuff for them too, such as my professors, my students and the people I’m working for. I’ll do my best to keep the NT a monthly column, I think that’s a realistic plan for the coming year. Anyway, on with the article.
Today’s article will be about Hermione and about what I think will happen to her in the last part of the series. I have a feeling that what I’m about to say will strike many of you as highly controversial, or even blasphemous, and that the hate mail for this article will create an even higher pile than what I received after writing about the house-elves. I’m okay with that. The only thing I ask is that you read the entire article before pressing the feedback button. Thanks.
So, what does the title, “Hermione’s punishment”, even mean?
Well, it all started when I read OotP and started thinking about Hermione’s character and how much she was changing from the earlier books. She started out as a know-it-all with very poor social skills in PS/SS, and I found her both charming and pitiable. She doesn’t know how the game is played between people her own age, which shows in the relationships she forms and doesn’t form. She knows how to satisfy adults (the teachers), but not her classmates. It’s primarily through Harry and Ron that she starts to really socialize with the other children, it seems.
Becoming Harry’s and Ron’s best friend gives her more confidence and it makes her more relaxed when it comes to breaking rules. The way I interpret this is that she shifts her priorities, as well as her admiration, from the teachers at Hogwarts to Harry and Ron. At the same time, she starts to become more self-centered and she slowly goes from using her brilliance to help others to helping her friends to helping herself. She also becomes steadily more ruthless. I’ll exemplify this.
Hermione lies to McGonagall about going after the troll to get Harry and Ron (who just saved her life) out of trouble. She helps Hagrid get rid of Norbert, she sets fire to Snape’s robes (and puts them out as soon as he stops jinxing Harry’s broom) and she puts the body bind on Neville when he tries to stop the Trio from protecting the Stone.
These are all essentially selfless acts, which doesn’t seriously harm anyone.
Hermione brews the Polyjuice Potion to help discover Malfoy and stop the Basilisk from eating the student body. She warns Penelope Clearwater to use a mirror to round corners.
Also very nice.
She helps Hagrid with Buckbeak’s trial and she uses the Time-turner to help Sirius escape. Her stubborn streak becomes more pronounced when Scabbers dies and she shows herself to lack tolerance as far as Divination is concerned. She cant just leave the question open or simply not care — she needs to prove to everyone that she’s right (e.g. the case of Lavender’s dead rabbit.)
The stubbornness and close mindedness that start up in PoA become stronger. Her work with SPEW show good principles (that slavery is bad), but completely ignores the ways of the Wizarding World (i.e. that the elves don’t want to be free). Hermione simply doesn’t care about what the elves themselves want, because it’s not what they should want according to her. She also puts Rita Skeeter in a jar, which is questionable behavior, I think. Sure, she’s a horrible person and she’s broken the law, but instead of reporting her and letting the Aurors handle the matter (which Hermione from PS/SS probably would have done), she puts her in a jar and blackmails her, saving her for future use. I don’t know about you, but to me, this is a fair bit more callous and calculating than Hermione behaved a few books earlier.
In the first chapter of this book, Dolores Umbridge sends two Dementors after Harry. This is attempted murder, or at least entrapment to get him expelled and perhaps even thrown into Azkaban. Further along in the book, she gives Harry a permanent scar on his hand by forcing him to write lines in his own blood. Now, Umbridge claims she does this to protect the Ministry and I actually believe her. I think she actually does believe Fudge and thinks that Harry is out to destroy the Ministry. From where she stands, she’s doing the right thing, protecting the things she believe in.
Now, Hermione takes Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest with the admitted agenda of getting the Centaurs to “take care of her”. Now, Hermione has been in the Forest several times, and even though she is painfully ignorant as to the ways of the Centaurs, she knows that they are dangerous and that the Forest itself is a dangerous place to be. To lure Umbridge into the Forest and handing her over to the Centaurs is also, essentially, attempted murder, though Hermione probably doesn’t think that far. A bit earlier in the book, she puts a curse on a piece of paper, leading to a girl getting her face totally destroyed. From what we see in HBP, these scars also seem to be permanent. It’s a very nasty hex, and I can’t help but wonder, yet again, whether the punishment doesn’t really seem to fit the crime. This feeling grows stronger as we watch her continue to blackmail Rita Skeeter. Further, her closed mindedness is underlined through the way she talks to and about Luna.
I frankly thought Hermione was a pretty awful character in this book. The girl who used to have great respect for rules now has a clear double standard: when someone else breaks them in a way which doesn’t benefit her, or worse, is negative for her, it is wrong (e.g. the fanged Frisbee’s, how Harry slips luck potion into Ron’s drink before a game or how Harry uses the Prince’s book in Potions). When she needs or wants something, on the other hand, the rules can be bent. Sure, she’s been breaking rules since PS/SS, but the way she does it now is far less noble. She ruins Maclaggen”s audition for Keeper to make sure Ron gets the part, and when hurt, she’s vindictive. She sends birds to pick on Ron, dates Maclaggen just to spite him and her know-it-all ways have turned spiteful and condescending, even towards her friends (e.g. Harry in Potions). She’s just not that nice anymore.
One might argue that Hermione’s negative moral development is simply what happens to people growing up. Teenagers in general do tend to be ego-centric and bratty. Also, love has made many a wo/man behave very strangely. Rowling does paint a very realistic portrait of a girl growing up, and gives us a character that’s well-rounded and human. She has her flaws, simple as that.
I do find it very interesting, however, how the girl who started out in a “McGonagall light” grows more and more into a “Dolores Umbridge light”.
It’s just not a good way to go. And shes getting herself piles of enemies along the way. She’s not the only vengeful character in the books, and the list of people who will want to hurt her before the end of the series is getting longer.
Lucius Malfoy, whom she helped put in prison, Rita Skeeter, whom she kept in a jar, Dolores Umbridge, whom she put at the mercy of the Centaurs, Trelawney, whom she’s deeply offended several times, Draco Malfoy, most of the other Slytherins, Bellatrix Lestrange and the other DE’s at the DoM are a few of the people who are very probably out to get her if they can. Oh, and Voldemort, of course, whose plans she’s helped destroy so many times now.
I think that Hermione will be punished before the series’ end, in the sense that something bad will happen to her as a direct result of her actions in the earlier books. She has always been a know-it-all, but in the last two books, I personally think that the confidence she has in her abilities and her tendency for moral relativism and vindictiveness are getting a little too close to the Ancient Greek sin of all sins: hubris. She’s a bit too sure of herself and is playing a bit too much with other people’s lives not to have somebody’s wrath come down on her, in my opinion – at least if JKR wants to keep some kind of moral to her story. Just because you’re on the “right” side doesn’t mean that you can behave however you want. The end doesn’t justify the means. We’re already had Crouch Sr. as an example of that. I’m not saying that Hermione will go the same way, but I do believe that her past “triumphs” will have consequences. Bad ones.
If you want to read more on this subject, I warmly recommend the article Rita Skeeter and other enemies.”
Until next time,