Gryffindor Tower #17: Garrison And Granger: A Study Of The Enslavement Of Beings And The Movements To Freedom

by Dan

Acknowledgements: To give credit where it is due, I would like to point out the sources I have used. First, for much of the information on house-elves, I wanted to use a single, organized source, instead of poring over the books, and for that, I must thank the Harry Potter Lexicon. For my information on slavery, I must thank my history teacher, Dr. Raymond Champagne of the University of Scranton, because almost all of the information I used came from that class. I also know that he relied, partly, upon Peter Wood’s definitive study of slavery in South Carolina, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion. Finally, I would like to acknowledge PBS for their biography of William Lloyd Garrison.

In 1607, by the British Government, Virginia was established as an imperial colony in the New World. The British had tried for many years to successfully establish a colony in America, with little success. However, after the Virginia Charter of 1606, the London Company (a group of colonists led by Christopher Newport) was allowed by the Stuart monarchy to settle in the foreign land. With 140 colonists and three ships, Newport began the first of what would be many successful colonization efforts in America.

Jamestown, Virginia was ravaged with problems in its early years, worsened, no doubt, by the Englishmen’s severe lack of ambition. The British who came to America were ambitious, mind you, not for working, however. They wanted money and success, but didn’t exactly embrace the idea of lifting a finger to achieve such. John Smith, known to many non-historians as a hero of Jamestown, was hardly an overachiever: his greatest success was convincing the lazy Virginians to work a measly four hours a day! The bottom line was that Europeans were primarily wealthy through a single means: aristocratic, noble inheritance. The middle class, a class of emerging merchants, were ridiculed from the nobility all the way to the religious elite as a blemish upon the earth, and their “greediness” was viewed as nothing short of vile. This meant that, unless one inherited wealth, class mobility was almost nonexistent.

Americans had a lot of work to be done, but didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to engage in manual labor themselves. To whom, then, do they turn? Quite simple: the African peoples. Setting up the African slave trade to now deposit Black labor in America, the Middle Passage was created, establishing a continuous stream of able bodies to endure the harsh workload that the Americans would soon stow upon them. However, one cannot simply say that this was the beginning of the problems. The colonial Americans, while freely exercising control over the seemingly primitive peoples, did so out of necessity, even if said necessity was purely a result of extreme indolence.

By 1808, America had officially ended the slave trade, legislating against the importation of human labor from the African tribes. While the trade did continue legally, the illegal prolongation was far from severe. But as the trade (both to America and within America) slowed, the institution was born. Slavery was no longer a necessary evil; the “peculiar institution”, as it is commonly called, became an aristocratic way of life, most prominently among those who owned southern plantations. Slavery had become a devastating problem: whites looked upon slaves as exceptionally inferior beings, and treated them so; unskilled Irish and other immigrants refused to take jobs in the North that paralleled those of Southern slaves, believing that such employment was below the nature of any white man. Many Southern slave owners refused to treat their servants with an hint of respect, because slaves were, apparently, not worth an ounce of decency. Whereas slavery had been abolished in Great Britain long before, the American institution lasted long into the nineteenth century. Not until the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in December of 1865 did Blacks gain freedom (I’m sure many of you younger readers have read or been taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves; this is not true in the least, for only Congress can create law, and only the states can ratify, or pass, amendments to the Constitution), and even then, that freedom was rigorously encroached upon in the form of the Black Codes and the Jim Crows Laws. Not until the mid 1960s, nearly a hundred years later, would Blacks begin to truly enjoy the rights they have always deserved.

So, anyone still awake? I know that history is regarded by the majority of students (from grade school through college) as the most boring subject ever studied, but it is essential for you to have a basic understanding of American slavery to understand how I will parallel between the peculiar institution and the enslavement of the house-elves in the Harry Potter series. That being said, let’s begin.

For starters, we must understand the origins of the enslavement of house-elves in the Harry Potter series. However…we don’t have anything from which to gather such information, so it will have to be theorized upon. Let’s start with what we know: house-elves are servants, normally confined, in what seems to be a very long establishment, to the homes of rich wizards. They would most likely turn up in large estates, much like the kind of houses in which successful plantation owners dwelled. Their jobs are menial, unskilled: cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. To understand the severity of this situation, we should address a common debated misconception: whether or not a slave in the colonies was better off in his master’s home, as opposed to in the field. There were always a few slaves who were pulled into the master’s home to serve him personally, and early historians agreed that this was a more suitable position than to be left to the fields. However, contemporary historians argue that being within the master’s home was possibly the most horrible situation for a slave. For starters, in the field, a slave could slack off without definitely being noticed, whereas inside, a slave is always under the eye of his master, and is constantly punished for his mistakes, often in a rather brutal fashion. Consequently, the most common slave uprisings (with the exception of the most famous ones, like the Nat Turner insurrection) took place inside the home, where the servant would poison or in some other way murder his master. With house-elves, they are constantly under the eye of their master, and one can bet that many are not treated with too much compassion. Take Dobby, for instance. The former servant of the Malfoy family has talked outright about his horrible life: being physically abused, threatened, and the like. He wanted, more than anything, to be freed from bondage, and, when finally released, he was jubilant. Much like a freed slave, in fact. While not commonplace, slaves were often freed by their masters, some of whom were extremely kind. Samuel Adams, for instance, had two slaves in Boston during the Revolutionary Period, slaves who deeply loved him for his hospitable treatment, and when he freed them, they returned to him as paid, unbound servants. This leads me to Dumbledore, who is, without a doubt, the complete converse to Lucius Malfoy. As we know, Hogwarts holds over 100 house-elves, who do everything from light the lamps to cook the food for meals in the Great Hall. While most of them, like the late Bartemius Crouch’s former servant, Winky, are not paid, when Dobby came to the headmaster seeking a job, Dumbledore accepted him happily as a wage-earning employee. Strangely, Dumbledore offered Dobby more money than he was willing to accept, which seems rather odd, almost as if the house-elf feels like he doesn’t deserve more money. Which leads me to my next point: the attitude of house-elves.

The fact of the matter is, Dobby is a blemish, an aberration, an anomaly within an otherwise accepted institution. When Dobby is freed, we get the feeling that all house-elves would like such liberty. However, I can assume that I was not the only one thoroughly confused during GoF when Winky is horrified at the threat of clothes (which, of course, signify freedom). We learn later that, as Winky says, “House-elves is not to have fun, Harry Potter. House-elves does what they is told.” Apparently, somewhere along the line, house-elves learned to accept their servitude, as not only their job, but their only function in the world, quite unlike slaves. American slaves, on the other hand, yearned for freedom, refused to accept their bondage, and pushed fervently for the dissolution of the institution. When men like William Lloyd Garrison rose to fight against the slave institution, slaves did not refuse the support. He spoke out in many ways, first, as a member of the American Colonization Society (a group that moved to relocate freed Blacks back to Africa), then as the founder and editor ofThe Liberator(his pro-abolition newspaper), and finally, as the leading member of the Anti-Slavery Society (which I really wish I could call by its initials). (Abolition, I should point out to the younger readers, is the word used to describe the end of slavery. Abolitionists favored the freeing of slaves.) Garrison’s movements, along with movements by men the likes of Frederick Douglass and others, pushed Americans towards the eventual emancipation of perpetually indentured slaves. In the same way, Hermione Granger began the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW), and her aim, true as Garrison’s, is to push the freedom of slaves by both encouraging others to do so, and by setting out clothes herself for house-elves to find. However, upon this movement, the house-elves refuse to clean the Gryffindor Tower common room, in fear of finding clothing.

Garrison was famous for once saying something in his newspaper. He said, “I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation…I am in earnest…I will not equivocate…I will not excuse…I will not retreat a single inch…AND I WILL BE HEARD!” He was met, concurrently, with admiration. If Hermione were to share these sentiments, she would be shunned by most of the wizarding world. The odd thing is, there seems to be a rather large gray area in the wizarding world regarding the house-elf issue. Comparing the Malfoys and Dumbledore reveals complete opposites. What, however, does one make of studying those in-between? Take the Weasleys, for instance. With the exception of Percy, the world’s biggest twit, the Weasleys are a wonderful, loving family. They are kind to all around them, human or creature. However, in book two, after hearing about Dobby, Ron tells us that his mom often wishes that they had a house-elf. Hogwarts even has house-elves, which are, regardless of how well they are accommodated, kept in servitude. Another example is Kreacher, who is completely brutalized by Sirius. Although Kreacher can be defined in many ways, using words that I cannot say on MuggleNet, the fact is that he is treated as an inferior, and his constant anger and rudeness are a direct result of years in bondage. Sirius’s appalling treatment of Kreacher, moreover, unequivocally leads to his eventual death. Dumbledore later speaks about this to Harry, telling him, quite frankly, that Sirius should not have been so harsh to Kreacher. Dumbledore had even warned Hermione and Ron throughout the summer to treat Kreacher with respect, although Hermione seemed to be the only person at 12 Grimmauld Place who did so.

To understand both slavery and house-elf servitude, we must understand the normality of each situation. Now, I would venture to say that most of us would not, in any way, support the enslavement of African-Americans today. However…what if we had lived back in the early to mid 1800s? You can easily say, “No, I never would have had slaves”…but is that true? What many people don’t understand is the widespread acceptance of slavery, first as a moral institution, then as a necessary institution, on which the South held their economy. In the 1800s, there’s no question about it: Blacks were inferior. Not in a true sense, but in an accepted sense. After all, even if something isn’t true, if everyone believes it, it may just as well be true. Purchasing a Black slave was a routine (if not a tad bit upper-class) as buying a lawnmower would be today. Not until men like Garrison began reforming people’s minds would Americans begin to see the evil in their ways, and not for over a hundred years more would those previously enslaved people get their rights (not simply civil rights as American citizens, but those natural rights all people ought to have). So what does that say for Hermione, when a family as wonderful as the Weasleys even accepts the house-elves’ enslavement? Hermione, simply, has a lot of work to do, and without the support of others, I cannot see how she can achieve anything worthwhile.

This leads us to the future. Let’s broaden our scope for a moment: if you examine Professor Dolores Umbridge in OotP (bright little ray of sunshine, isn’t she?), you see that house-elves are not nearly the only beings regarded as inferior. Take a look at the Fountain of Magical Brethren. You have a witch and wizard, surrounded by three beings, all looking up adoringly, a goblin (who’d more than likely eat a wizard than look up to him, except for in the physical sense), a centaur (right…cause I can just see Bane, Ronan, and Magorian looking up adoringly to a human), and a house-elf (well, one out of three isn’t bad). Most non-human beings are regarded by many people as extremely inferior to humans, and one can bet that there is many more like Umbridge, feeling that “half-breeds” and the like have no proper place in the higher wizarding caste. Then again, if these ideas have been long instilled in the minds of magical people, the time and effort needed to change such ideas is paramount.

There are many ways this can go, but the most obvious must be within the scope of the Harry Potter storyline. As we learn in OotP, not all house-elves are good, and that means that, even if possible, the Order of the Phoenix would not be able to enlist the help of all house-elves even if they are eventually freed. However, to speak of freedom, there will have to be serious changes in the minds of the majority of wizards and witches, and I am sure I am not the only one wondering whether or not Hermione will be successful in her task. What the elves really need is a Martin Luther King, Jr.-type of person to rally around, an elf who will be willing to speak out for his enslaved brethren. Only when the people of the wizarding world are ready to accept house-elves as their equals will elves enjoy the kind of respect and rights they have always deserved, not as elves or wizards, but as living beings.

I want to thank you all for the emails I have received…I realize that my last column only came out a day ago, but eh, just making up for lost time, I guess! Feel free to continue with the feedback. I will wait until my next column to publish the results of the parallels between James and company and Harry and company. I also want to thank everyone who emailed me about the background of a drawing room. Apparently, it was as I feared: I am an imbecile.

For next week, I suppose I’’ll continue with OotP, chapters 11-15. After this way too serious column, I think it’’s time to lighten up a bit. In the meanwhile, I’’m also working on putting some kind of contest together for GT readers (as always, email me with ideas if you have any).

Lastly, I would like to offer you another view into my writing, if you’re so inclined. This is my website, where I will be posting all of my writing. As of now, most of my work is on my computer, which is in my dorm, so I cannot put a lot of my stuff up yet. However, I do have a new Christmas story I’ve written, and it is posted on my site, if you are so inclined to read it.

This will most definitely be the last GT before Christmas, so, until next time, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. May you all have safe, happy, and wonderful holidays, surrounded by friends and family, and may you, in this time of jubilation, remember the true meaning of Christmas. Cheers!