The Deathly Hallows carry enormous significance in the Harry Potter series, so much so that they lend their name to the final book. Yet what I find most interesting about the Hallows is not their incredible power, but rather the different appeal each Hallow has for the main characters. I find that Harry, Ron, and Hermione's choices of which Hallow they would most want to have are very telling about them. As a refresher, in Chapter 21 of Deathly Hallows, after Hermione reads The Tale of Three Brothers, the Trio has the following exchange:
"It's just a morality tale, it's obvious which gift is best, which one you'd choose â"
The three of them spoke at the same time; Hermione said, "the Cloak," Ron said, "the wand," and Harry said, "the stone."
They looked at each other, half surprised, half amused. [DH page 414]
Wow, talk about a difference in opinion! There have been countless editorials, for as long as I can remember, about the members of the Trio being different but coming together as the separate parts of a whole. Arguably the most popular of these is the notion that Hermione represents the mind, Ron represents the body, and Harry represents the spirit. This theory is supported by a quote of Jo's from her March 2008 interview with Adeel Amini:
"...when they come into the room which examines death at the Ministry of Magic - Hermione, the ultimate sceptic and a hyper-rational person, hears nothing behind the veil and is scared of it. Ron is just uneasy; Ron is someone who does not grapple with anything deeper than beer, if he can avoid it. Harry's drawn to it, and therein lies Harry's slightly reckless, almost morbid streak, because Harry does have a hint of that dangerous adolescent trait which is the attraction to death." [i]
Hermione is described as being a "skeptic" and "hyper-rational," which is the function of the mind. Ron doesn't do the thinking in the group; he is even associated with beer, which is known to shut down the mind and kill brain cells. So Ron's the body. And that leaves Harry as the spirit, which makes sense, because the spirit is much more closely associated with death than either the mind or the body; both of those do their utmost to prevent death and become obsolete once death actually occurs. And together, these three parts come together to form a person, just like the Trio comes together as a unit. This case is no different. If Ron and Hermione's characters had not influenced Harry in some way, I doubt he could have become master of death. So let's see what each character's choice reveals about him or her.
"We've already got an Invisibility Cloak," said Harry.
"And it's helped us rather a lot, in case you hadn't noticed!" said Hermione. [DH page 415]
This response is just so typical Hermione. As she has done throughout the whole series, she goes with whatâs tried and true. She acts based on what she can learn from books, including only using magic that other people have tried and found that successful. Over the years, as Hermione correctly observes, the Invisibility Cloak has been an absolute godsend to the Trio; it's so indispensable to the story that it is one of Harry's first magical possessions. Harry would have had quite a hard time sneaking around without the Cloak on, and I can't imagine how the books would have progressed without Harry's sneaking around. So Hermione chooses what she knows won't fail them. If we look to the parallel of mind-body-spirit, this fits in perfectly. The mind learns to rely on things that have worked in the past, and prefers what is familiar.
However, this tried-and-true method can also be a shortcoming. Hermione is so caught up in foolproof ways of thinking and acting, that she is sometimes closed to new ideas. I will admit, the existence of the Deathly Hallows or the Crumple-Horned Snorkack is a somewhat ludicrous idea (even though the former is true - as to the latter, we may never know). However, we see a glaring example of Hermione's closed-mindedness in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry is making potions with the Half-Blood Prince's help. Harry makes a flawless potion for once (and let's face it, he was never exactly an excellent student in the subject). Yet Hermione's potion, for once, isn't exactly as it should be (and we know that it usually is, because even Snape fails to find criticism for her potions). Despite clearly seeing these results, Hermione trusts so much in her tried-and-true school texts that she refuses to accept the novel ideas of the Half-Blood Prince, however conclusive the results they yield are.
I'd like to think that Hermione becomes more open-minded after finding out how miserably wrong she was about the Hallows, but sadly this would happen after the final battle, too late for us to properly observe her behavior afterwards. In any event, this is not necessarily a very serious shortcoming. Going with what works is a smart and usually safe way to act. Besides, it was Hermione's logic that helped the Trio prevail in Sorcerer's Stone, both against Quirrellmort and in the House Cup. Also, Hermione usually listens to books, and the book containing the story does clearly instruct to choose the Cloak.
However, I'm sure Hermione must have thought about it before making the choice, and eliminated the other two. She, like Harry later on, realized the awful consequences of having the wand. And as evidenced at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Hermione is scared by what cannot be logically explained, particularly death. All one has to do is note her reaction to the Veil in Chapter 34: she is absolutely terrified and wants to leave the room immediately. The connection to death would eliminate the Stone for her. So we can clearly see why Hermione's logic would instruct her to choose the Cloak.
"You're supposed to say the Cloak," Ron told Hermione, "but you wouldn't need to be invisible if you had the wand. An unbeatable wand, Hermione, come on!"
[...Hermione said,] "Whereas the wand would be bound to attract trouble -"
"Only if you shouted about it," argued Ron. "Only if you were prat enough to go dancing around, waving it over your head, and singing, 'I've got an unbeatable wand, come and have a go if you think youâre hard enough.' As long as you kept your trap shut â" [DH page 415]
That's good old Ron for you! The first thing that can be seen here is that he does not have a very high regard for books and what they say. The second thing is his lack of logic in the statement about not needing to be invisible if you had an unbeatable wand. Let us take this scenario: the Trio Apparates into Hogsmeade, setting off the alarm, and a dozen Death Eaters come running to catch them. What would be more useful, an unbeatable wand or an Invisibility Cloak? An unbeatable wand might help them take out a few more Death Eaters before eventually being taken out through sheer force of numbers. The Cloak would hide them as they escaped unscathed, perhaps with some help from Aberforth. As is clearly demonstrated, the Cloak would still be very much needed, whereas the wand might only help a bit.
The next thing to notice is how Ron chooses the simplest answer. Harry's is arguably the most complex since he is not thinking just about practical uses, Hermione went with the tried-and-true, and Ron simply goes for the obvious: the most physically powerful one. This is actually one of Ron's flaws: that he's often too impulsive and goes for the obvious. Since Ron represents the body, he is always focused on the physical aspect of things. For example, when students are being Sorted and during other important events, Ron just focuses on how hungry he is. So for him the choice is perfectly clear: the most physically powerful object is the best.
Now before my long-time readers invoke my dislike of Ron and say this is bias, let me say that this is not always so. In fact, the instances when he doesn't act rashly are usually where he shines. The best example is, once again going back to Sorcererâs Stone, Ron's chess game. In chess, a player cannot go for the obvious move, he has to really think things out. Ron does just that, and helps Harry get to Quirrell and assists Gryffindor in winning the House Cup. But the majority of the time, Ron does shoot for the simplest option.
The last thing to notice here is how Ron is always trying to circumvent the rules. Hermione tells him that history is littered with the disastrous owners of the wand, and how they always met a sticky end [DH page 415]. Ron tries to argue that he would get around that and just wouldn't brag about having the wand. Ron has never exactly been a stickler for the rules, and this is constant throughout the series. And this is not a trait that goes away as he gets older. Even in the Epilogue, Ron is still breaking rules by Confunding the Muggle in charge of his driving test [DH page 755]. I believe there are laws against using magic on Muggles, but Ron does not seem to regard these laws very highly. It is clear to see why Ron would choose the wand: he thinks the most obvious way to win against Voldemort is to have physical power. Actually, it is slightly disconcerting that he wants the wand even after the war is won. When Harry decides to get rid of it, Ron has "the faintest trace of longing in his voice as he looked at the Elder Wand." [DH page 749] This shows that Ron, after all is said and done, does have a slight longing for power... probably because it would finally give him a way to outshine all his brothers. The good news is, he doesn't actively pursue this.
"So why would you take the stone?" Ron asked him.
"Well, if you could bring people back, we could have Sirius...Mad-Eye...Dumbledore...my parents..."
Neither Ron nor Hermione smiled.
"But according to Beedle the Bard, they wouldn't want to come back, would they?" said Harry, thinking about the tale they had just heard." [DH; 21 page 416]
Harry is somewhere in the middle between Ron and Hermione - he's very impulsive, like Ron, but he also has a fixation with the tried-and-true (remember his continued use of Expelliarmus?). However, Harry tends to be a bit caught up in wishing for the dead to be alive once more - something perfectly understandable, since just about every parental figure of his has died, one by one. I actually identify with Harry the most here, because I also lost my father when I was ten, and my grandpa two years later, and my grandma four years after that. Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could bring them back.
Harry has it even harder, because just as he starts coming to grips with one death, another one occurs. After a while, he comes to grips with his parents' deaths, likely at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, when he thinks he has seen his dad, and then realizes that it was not actually his dad, but that James lives on in him [PoA 427]. Only a year later, Cedric dies, and Harry takes it really badly, having nightmares about it for months [OotP 238]. Just as he begins to dwell less on Cedric, Sirius dies [OotP 806]. This is probably the worst death of all for Harry to bear, as is evident by his attempts at revenge and at circumventing Sirius's death. He spends the entire summer locked in his room dwelling on this. And not a year later, Dumbledore dies. Harry dwells on this almost constantly in the days following, always thinking "What would Dumbledore do?" After this point, in the seventh book, the deaths are so numerous that Harry begins to take them in stride. But I think he finally accepts all of these deaths as he walks into the forest (more on that later).
If Harry does indeed represent the spirit, this fits right in. The spirit is the part that deals with death more than the other two, and Harry deals with death a lot more than Ron or Hermione, particularly in the first few books. Also, it can be said that by the seventh book, his spirit is somewhat hardened; he does not mourn his fallen comrades nearly as much. While the body obviously cannot get used to death, and neither can the mind since death cannot be rationalized, the sad truth is that sometimes one's spirit can get used to death. For example, the soldiers in a war, as they watch their comrades fall... and that is essentially what Harry is.
Something that speaks volumes about Harry's character, in my opinion, is the fact that he realizes what's wrong with his choice - that the Stone would not benefit anyone in the long run. This is something neither Ron nor Hermione can do: see the flaws in their choice. After some reflection, Harry understands that the Stone would not help him after some reflection. But the fact remains that his initial choice is the Stone, showing that he is largely focused on death.
Uniting the Hallows
As the seventh book reaches its climax, Harry eventually unites the Deathly Hallows and becomes "master of death". This happens as he is walking into the forest in Chapter 34, "The Forest Again." At this point, he technically owns all three Hallows: the Cloak has been his from the start, the Stone is finally retrieved from the Snitch Dumbledore left him, and Harry is the rightful owner of the Elder Wand even though Voldemort currently has it. In the ensuing battle, he utilizes all three. He uses the Cloak to make it safely to Voldemort. He uses the Stone to get comfort from his parents, Sirius, and Remus (and to ward off dementors). And he uses the power of the Wand to finally defeat Voldemort.
Additionally, he is also aided by unifying the best aspects of each member of the Trio. First, using Hermione's logic, he tells Neville to kill Nagini [DH 695-696]. Truth be told, if Neville had not killed Nagini, Harry's job would have been a whole lot more difficult. Second, Harry uses Ron's straightforwardness when approaching Voldemort. He does not try to sneak around and eliminate Death Eaters, or to somehow defeat Voldemort by hitting him from behind. Instead he walks into the clearing, head held high, and faces what he knows is coming. And third, he finally accepts death, by intending to sacrifice his life in order to save his friends and save the world. So, just like Harry needed all three Deathly Hallows to triumph, he needed the different aspects of the Trio's characters to triumph over Voldemort in the end.
[i] Amini, Adeel. Interview with J.K. Rowling. Edinburgh Student Newspaper. March 2008. http://gallery.the-leaky-cauldron.org/picture/207260