The Burrow: Harry and Dudley and Cain and Abel

by Robbie Fischer

While they’re not, strictly speaking, siblings, the relationship between Harry Potter and his cousin Dudley resonates with classic themes of sibling rivalry. Ever since the very first pair of brothers on earth (Cain and Abel), it seems it has been the nature of brothers-or at least, boys raised under the same roof-to think of each other, and treat each other, the way Dudley and Harry do. The exceptions, I think, are few enough to be treasured.

Maybe I’m just saying this because I have a brother myself-very close to me in age, but very far from me in personality. And maybe birth order has to do with it. That raises complex issues I don’t want to get into at this time. But let me lay out what’s on my mind, plain and simple.

From Dudley’s point of view, Harry is the classic younger brother. He is resented from day one because he has moved in on a good thing Dudley expected to have to himself, forever. Namely, his parents’ love, their time and attention, space in the home, and a lot of belongings too. Harry has taken possession of a lot of things that used to belong to Dudley (though mostly ones that were too used up to matter much, like outworn clothes). He has even taken over one of Dudley’s bedrooms. And perhaps, in some deep, dark corner of Dudley’s insecurity, Harry is eating food that was meant for Dudley. Maybe this explains, in part, Dudley’s pathological greed and gluttony.

Of course it doesn’t matter to Dudley whether he perceives things as they really are. For instance, the part about his parents’ love-anyone but Dudley would hardly guess that the Dursleys loved Harry by the way they treat him. No, but what matters is that Dudley feels this way, and it affects the way he gets along with Harry. He is fundamentally afraid that Harry is going to take away what is his. Ironically, this may contribute to Dudley’s weird combination of hyperactivity (notice all the broken toys and games he has lost interest in?) and laziness (for never was there a more inactive lump of a boy). He is simply discontented with everything, because whatever he has reminds him of all the things Harry could take away from him…and so he moves from one interest to another, mercurially.

To make matters worse, Dudley realizes that Harry moves in a circle that is forever closed to him: the world of magic. He has powers Dudley does not understand, and Dudley fears them because they give Harry more power to take away what belongs to Dudley. Dudley compensates by using the powers at his own disposal to keep Harry down and to exclude him from the circle over which Dudley has influence. Dudley is motivated to be a leader, a competitor, a fighter, and a bully.

And finally, from Dudley’s point of view, Harry is an ungrateful wretch. Harry treats the Dursleys as if they have deprived and mistreated him. Dudley is revolted when Harry acts as if the Dursleys have shown favoritism to Dudley (which, considering Dudley’s insecurities, he would find preposterous). Dudley thinks Harry is a whiner, who just wants more for himself. And Dudley is disgusted that Harry would stoop to putting on the “You always give Dudley everything and you never give me anything” act. I’m sure this fills Dudley with a sense of righteousness, by which he feels justified when he uses whining and tale-telling to bend his parents to his will. It’s what he feels he must do to keep Harry in his place!

Why would I bother to look at things from Dudley’s point of view? (Blush) Because between my brother and me, I’m probably the one on the “Dudley” end of the stick. The one who got to do everything he wanted, while the other had to kow-tow to all kinds of rules, etc. At least, that’s how my brother views things, and that’s how Harry looks at the situation too. Probably a lot of younger siblings feel that way, and that adds to the appeal of the fantasy. How many of you haven’t wished, at times, that your parents would suddenly tell you that you were adopted or switched at birth, and that your real parents (rich, nice people who were going to love you to pieces) were on their way to take you home? Or that a marvelous creature like Hagrid would come and tell you, “You have magical powers that the other people don’t have,” and take you to a place where your gifts could thrive?

Harry is the underappreciated younger sibling in so many of us. In his case, he really is less loved, less fed, less well clothed, less provided with toys. His adult providers (virtual parents) are disengaged from his life and interests. His “older sibling” has stolen not only their love, but the possibility of friendship with anyone else in the neighborhood. Harry is the frustrated loner, longing to break away and find his own place in the world, longing to be appreciated, longing to be admired and liked.

In real-life families, I suppose it’s the younger of the two siblings who usually ends up growing bitter and discontented. But Harry’s hopes come true, while Dudley’s nightmare goes on and on. And while his time at Hogwarts, and in the wizarding world, sometimes gives Harry even more freedom and fame and excitement than he can handle, Dudley’s insecurities have become an inescapable trap in which he runs round and round, turning in on himself, devouring himself-physically, and mentally.

So in the end, ironically, Harry will be the one who turns out to be successful and well-adjusted. And Dudley will be, well…a total loser.

As for my brother…well, he does have a scar on his forehead. I shouldn’t have brought it up at all.

Robbie Fischer, still nicer than Dudley