Is Ambition Bad?
Think about some of your least favorite characters in the series: Umbridge, Voldemort, or perhaps even Percy Weasley. What do they all have in common? They are all often described as being ambitious and overextending themselves. With characters like this, it almost makes it sound as if having ambition is bad. Umbridge and Voldemort are some of the most hated characters in the series, and part of what makes them so evil is their desire for success. Even Percy Weasley and Theseus Scamander, while obviously not evil, were both hated by many for being annoying and described as pompous and arrogant. And of course, you have Slytherin House, which is hated on throughout much of the series, which indirectly suggests that those with ambition should be hated.
In comparison, the heroes of the series, like Harry and Ron, are actually quite lazy. Obviously, Harry never decides to be the Chosen One, and frankly, he just kind of fell into his other leadership roles, such as the head of Dumbledore’s Army. In fact, it was Hermione’s desire to set up a pseudo-Defense Against the Dark Arts class after she was dissatisfied with Umbridge’s teaching. Furthermore, even when both boys were trying to pick classes in their second year, they randomly decided based on what they thought would be easiest rather than choosing a serious path for their future careers. And when they do begin to think about possible career goals, the idea is placed in their head by Barty Crouch, Jr. pretending to be Mad-Eye Moody.
The portrayal of these two types of characters serves as a sort of dichotomy throughout the series. While there is certainly a difference between Voldemort’s evil intentions and Hermione’s studiousness, they are still often grouped together in a portrayal that makes it seem as if being ambitious is a bad thing. You have Umbridge, who terrorizes so-called “half-breeds,” and Voldemort, who pushes a pure-blood superiority. This negative perspective of ambition continues throughout most of the series and even in the Fantastic Beasts series when you compare Newt Scamander to his brother, Theseus, or Tina Goldstein to her sister, Queenie.
Especially on a first read through, you lose the idea that being ambitious can be a good thing. For one thing, you have Hermione, who is the butt of so many of Harry and Ron’s jokes, but without her, the boys would have died numerous times over. Plus, it was her constant persuasion that got Harry to teach Dumbledore’s Army – a club that later helped all of its participants. On a more underrated note, I believe Arthur Weasley actually demonstrates a surprisingly large amount of ambition. Percy believes his father has stalled in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, wasting away his time, but that is not how I see it. Instead, he has a strong desire to do what is right for Muggles. While everyone else often views Muggles as nonexistent or even second-class, Arthur makes sure that no one takes advantage of them with Muggle-baiting tricks and that every bit of the law is upheld. The fact that Arthur is so driven to do this in the face of ridicule makes it even more ambitious.
These underrated examples should be highlighted more in the series because if not, the overall message suggests that being driven and determined is unacceptable. Not only is this untrue, but it also completely contradicts the otherwise empowering messages that J.K. Rowling encompasses in her work.