ABSTRACT: An examination of Voldemort and Harry's similar childhoods to determine why they turned out differently.
A piece of Voldemort's soul is latched onto Harry's soul, and Harry's blood runs through Voldemort's veins. They speak parseltongue, share brother wands, and can access each other's minds and feelings. Both of them are orphans who found a home at Hogwarts. So why is Harry a good person while Voldemort is not? It can't simply be boiled down to the choices they made. Each of them had forces driving their actions that were beyond their control.
Voldemort's conception was the start of a very torrential existence. His mother, Merope, was either very naive or completely delusional for thinking that love potions would lead to actual love. She selfishly held Tom Riddle Sr. captive; not giving thought to his feelings or the needs of their unborn child. Her plan failed, and one after the other, Voldemort's parents abandoned their makeshift family, leaving him alone. All wizards have magic residing in their blood. But what if that magic is forged and dark? The result seems to be something like Voldemort. He's almost like a bad experiment. His mother held his father hostage, so her intent with the love potion was desperate as well as sinister. Voldemort was not a product of real love but rather a product of deceit and obsession.
As a child Voldemort harbored a pure soul that was guided by a defective mind. While it may be the case for some, he was not a person who made poor choices because of the environment he grew up in. He was a psychopath from the beginning (due, most probably, to the circumstances in which he was conceived combined with a family history of incest.) He demonstrated abnormal behavior, like hardly ever crying as a baby, long before he was even self-aware. Once he did discover his power he used it to hurt and frighten the other orphans. Unfortunately, there weren't any good choices for him to make because he was incapable of being a decent and normal human being. Comparing Voldemort's life decisions to Harry's doesn't work. Harry always had a conscience to follow. Voldemort never had one, so all of his choices were based solely on his desire for power and immortality. Like Jo Rowling said, "[Voldemort] is a raging psychopath devoid of the normal human responses to other people's suffering."
You might be wondering why Harry didn't end up like Voldemort. After all, they were both neglected orphans with horrendous living situations. Harry even suffered from relentless verbal abuse and occasional starvation. Any child who is abused is prone to mental disorders. So how come he wasn't plotting revenge while he cooked and cleaned for the Dursley's? The reason is he had one year of unconditional love and care. It's easy to forget that Harry was fifteen months old when his parents died. According to Susan Gannon, professor of psychology at Sacred Heart University, "The treatment of an infant in their first twelve months of life is the most crucial for healthy psychological development. It is the period in which a person's brain is wired by making countless connections through their senses. When babies are comforted by their parents they feel secure, and are able to explore and learn effortlessly. When babies have needs that are only met sporadically, or not at all, they learn to rely on themselves and shut other people out. It's quite typical with orphans." The only simulation baby Voldemort received was from caretakers who had numerous other children to tend to. That type of attention was nowhere near as beneficial as having two full time parents like Harry did. The slight chance that Voldemort could've been rehabilitated went out the door with his mother.
It's clear that Harry had a wonderful start to life. The photo he found, that came with his mother's letter to Sirius in Deathly Hallows, paints an excellent picture of life inside the Potter home. Harry was riding on his toy broomstick as his father chased him around; laughing without a care in the world. His parents went into hiding and did everything they could to keep him out of harm's way. When Voldemort turned up they both made the ultimate sacrifice, which enveloped Harry's soul with love that Voldemort couldn't bare to touch. In the film version of Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry explained the memory behind his patronus to Lupin: "I was thinking of him [James]...and mum. Seeing their faces. They were talking to me. Just talking. That's the memory I chose. I don't even know if it's real. But it's the best I have." That scene, while not in the book, was an excellent method of conveying how Harry's parent's love is what fuels his soul. He can still feel it, even though he can't fully remember them. It's a testament to the impact that those first fifteen months had on his life later on.
Despite their similarities Voldemort and Harry could not be more different. The driving force behind Voldemort's actions is his fear of death and weakness. It is unhindered by a conscience or compassion, so his destructive potential has no bounds. The driving force behind Harry's actions is the love he feels for his friends and mentors. It was instilled in him by his parents and laid dormant until his first trip to Hogwarts. And unlike Voldemort, Harry was conceived from love, not lies. When Dumbledore said, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more then our abilities (pg. 333, U.S.)," it really struck a chord with me. It's a beautiful quote, and I think of it often. The main problem with choices, though, is that we can't choose the life we're born into. Voldemort did not choose to be mentally unstable, and Harry did not choose to be The Boy Who Lived. The best bit of knowledge that can be gained from analyzing Voldemort and Harry is that love is so important. It cannot be faked or forced without disastrous results. Real love makes people strong and gives them hope. So the best choice anyone can make is to give love and be open to it in return.
July 18, 2007 - The New York Times posts an early review of Deathly Hallows which sets off fury among fans and J.K. Rowling herself. The NYT, however, sticks with their original intentions and keeps the review online.