Summary: I'm arguing that this question ("What are the benefits and drawbacks of the sorting process? Is it inherently flawed?") puts the author in either a position to argue that the sorting process is flawed or to defend the sorting process. Due to this, I'm arguing that it is a false dichotomy because there are legitimate arguments for both sides, however, the important thing to emphasize is the wizard's choices with regards to good and evil. So despite the fact that some people are placed in Slytherin, they still have as much of a choice to do good as the people who are Gryffindors and that is what is emphasized throughout the novels. I also discuss how the Sorting Hat is symbolic of the deep theological concept of Predestination. My conclusion is that we all have the chances and opportunities to do good and be brave despite what we believe about ourselves.
The theme of the Sorting Hat and its impacts on the students of Hogwarts can be seen throughout all of the Harry Potter books. However, the question of whether this sorting process is a flawed system or a flawless system is an extremely fascinating discussion to have. The phrasing of it appears to offer us a choice of either choosing to defend the Sorting Hat system or choosing to reform it or possibly even end it. However I believe that the question and the implications that this essay prompt is posing is a false dichotomy and that a wizard's choices are the most important thing that defines that particular wizard's identity and legacy. In addition the question I am posing in this essay is this: why do "exceptions" such as Severus Snape and Peter Pettigrew make decisions that favor contradictory principles with regards to the principles of the houses the Sorting Hat has placed them into?
First, before going any deeper, I would like to acknowledge the potential benefits of the sorting system and why it is a positive thing. The most important benefit in my opinion and the only one that I would like to discuss here is that having a sorting process is the best way to keep the school founders intent for the school in place. More specifically it allowed for each of their respective visions for the school to remain relevant after their deaths, which would insure that the vision of the school founders would never fade or diminish. So I understand why they put a sorting process in place and from their perspectives, it was a good way to ensure that the school would never stray away from their intent.
I find that the drawbacks or weaknesses of the sorting system are much more interesting to analyze. I think that it's important to introduce the concept of predestination to this discussion because there is a clear parallel between the sorting hat and the concept of predestination. For clarification predestination is a religious belief claiming that God knows a person's decisions and whether they will end up in Heaven or Hell before they are even born. This belief can discourage some people from pursuing a religious path because they feel that their choices are irrelevant when compared to God's plan. Similarly a Hogwarts student sorted into one of the four houses may also feel that the sorting decision is for their destiny. For example a student not sorted into Gryffindor may feel that they are incapable of bravery or at the very least believe that bravery is a weak virtue in their lives. What I believe to be some of the greatest flaws of the sorting system are that the Hat's selections have been clearly incorrect on multiple occasions. Severus Snape clearly showed the bravery worthy of a Gryffindor and Peter Pettigrew obliviously was a complete coward and his actions were absolutely antithetical to the ideals of a true Gryffindor. Most importantly Albus Dumbledore even praised Snape in Deathly Hallows by saying, "You know, I sometimes think we sort too soon" (Rowling 680), communicating that the system indeed has flaws.
What JK Rowling argues throughout the series is that a person's choices are what defines them the most, which makes the hat's sorting largely irrelevant in the big picture. This can be seen once more through the wise words of Albus Dumbledore in Chamber of Secrets when he says, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are far more than our abilities" (Rowling 333). This can be seen through the choice of the 11 year old Harry who was very close to being sorted into Slytherin House, but told the Sorting Hat that he did not desire to be a Slytherin. Harry saw Slytherin essentially as a House of evil and he knew that he didn't want to associate himself with it at all. There are more examples of people choosing their destiny long after the actual sorting process has taken place though. For example, Peter Pettigrew's situation is interesting because he was selected as a Gryffindor, the house of bravery, and served as the biggest coward and traitor in the entire series. A smaller example would be Draco Malfoy, who really was not truly loyal to the Death Eaters at all, however chose not to be brave enough to fight against them. The best example of a person's choice dictating their destiny is that of Severus Snape whom as a former Head of Slytherin House, Harry referred to in the Deathly Hallows epilogue as "probably the bravest man [he] ever knew" (Rowling 758). In terms of the predestination connection, Rowling's argument communicates that regardless of whatever we think we are destined for in life, whether evil, heroics, or neutrality, we always have the choice to do what is morally right.
In conclusion, there are indeed positives and negatives to the sorting system, however, the essay prompt is a false dichotomy because JK Rowling argues throughout all 7 books, that choices are the most important things that define us as people. With that principle in mind, the ability of a person to choose whether or not to do the right thing supersedes any potential advantages or disadvantages that they might have due to the current Sorting system.
Mr. Wormtail bids Professor Snape a good day, and advises him to wash his hair, the slimeball.
Marauder's Map Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 14, Page 287
Demelza Robins, the Gryffindor Chaser in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, is named after Daniel Radcliffe's favourite charity: the Demelza House Children's Hospice, which cares for terminally ill youngsters in Kent, East Sussex and South London.