The Significance of House Colors

by Lindsey Skouras

One of my good friends from high school is currently studying to be a Graphic Arts major. This past semester, he took a class entitled “Color Theory,” which, as he described it to me, is the study of how colors can be used in art to represent or elicit certain emotions or traits. Color theory is most used in Harry Potter analyses in some of the “Harry/Lily Potter’s eye color” discussions, but I thought of something else to look at instead: House Colors. Just to refresh your memory, here are the colors of each house:

  • Gryffindor: red and gold
  • Hufflepuff: yellow and black
  • Ravenclaw: blue and bronze
  • Slytherin: green and silver

The Metallic Colors First let’s look at the metallic colors: gold (Gryffindor), silver (Slytherin), and bronze (Ravenclaw). As many of you have probably recognized, these are the colors of the medals given at most sporting events. Gold, the first place prize, has been given to the Gryffindors, while Slytherin and Ravenclaw are second and third place, respectively. I know many of you would argue that this isn’t significant, that JKR is not intentionally ranking the houses from best to worst. But I would have to disagree.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the end-of-the-year feast in Sorcerer’s Stone. After Dumbledore readjusts the house points, Gryffindor comes out on top with 482, with Slytherin in second place with 472, Ravenclaw in third with 426, and Hufflepuff in a distant fourth with 352.

Even further, just think about how much attention each house is paid in the series. Obviously the most attention goes to Gryffindor, which includes the title character (who has very suitably been nicknamed the “Golden Boy”) as well as most of the significant student characters in the books (Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, etc.). The house that is emphasized less than Gryffindor but certainly more than the other two houses is Slytherin, because of the rivalry between them and the Gryffindors (and specifically between Harry and Malfoy). Because of the former attention paid to Cho Chang and the growing significance of Luna Lovegood, I would have to say that Ravenclaw is the third most emphasized house. Again, Hufflepuff comes in last place, with the late Cedric Diggory the only person who has ever really gained attention for the house.

The Other Colors Most of my focus is on the other colors (red, blue, yellow, green, and black) which, coincidentally (or not!) are the colors of the five rings on the Olympic flag. Before analyzing these colors, it is important to note that there are both positive and negative traits of each color and that in examining the Hogwarts houses a combination of both the good and bad will be used. So here goes:

  • Red (Gryffindor) The color red is a very bold, energetic color. Red also represents war, especially the danger and courage in battle, with which Harry and several other Gryffindors are very familiar. Red is also a very emotional color. Dark reds especially represent determination and rage, which was extremely evident with the Gryffindors in OotP. Red also is very active and competitive, which could explain the high emphasis Gryffindor places on quidditch. Lighter shades of red (especially pinks) denote friendship and love, very passionate emotions that are extremely powerful in Harry, have been a reoccurring theme throughout the series, and (if rumors prove true) will be the secret to defeating Voldemort.
  • Green (Slytherin) Would you be surprised to learn that green is a passive color, associated with stability and tranquility? That’s right, green is generally a very positive color, associated with nature (i.e. plants), growth, and life. Slytherin house, however, is known for the bad traits of green. This is because greens need to feel powerful and safe; these could be positive traits, but Slytherins generally achieve these goals by joining up with Voldemort. Greens are very envious (hence the phrase “green with envy”), distrustful, and concerned with money. These negative traits are usually associated with the darker shades of green, like the shade of green that is used by Slytherin house.
  • Blue (Ravenclaw) Blue is a very delicate balance between devotion and obsession (kind of like the lives of Harry Potter fans). Blue is a wise, confident, and trustworthy color, but it can also be taken too far. Blue can be content, but that can turn into smugness; they can be truthful, but that can turn into criticism. Because trying to keep the balance can result in disaster (think about how many incredibly intelligent people have gone crazy–John Nash, the mathematician featured in A Beautiful Mind, for example), a person who “has the blues” means that they are very sad. The two bluest characters in the series are Hermione in the beginning of the series (she was a more obsessive blue–critical, very much placing schoolwork above everything else) and Luna (who possesses the blue non-obsessive traits of creativity and peacefulness, but still seems to live in her own mind as opposed to the world around her). They are concerned more with mind than body and are therefore very serious and sometimes inactive, which is why they can be perceived as boring bookworms.
  • Yellow (Hufflepuff) Many people see yellow as a bright and energetic color–the whole “blondes have more fun” concept. Sometimes they are not taken seriously because they are seen to be overly emotional, hyper, or childish. However, there is more to yellows than that. They, like blues, stress intelligence and creativity. They also share the green’s concern of personal power as well as the red’s emotional aspect and their love of action. Yellows also can tend to be cowardly, hypocritical, or extremely spontaneous. However, above all, yellows strive to stop division and bring people together, which we’ll look at more in depth later on.
  • Black (Hufflepuff) Black can be an extremely negative color, being associated with death, evil, fear, and grief–all of which Hufflepuff faced at the end of GoF with Cedric Diggory’s death. On the other hand, black can also be a very elegant or formal color (a “black tie” dress code, for example), and can also denote strength or authority. Black is also believed to absorb negativity and emphasize positive traits of other colors.

The Power of Yellow So what does this all mean, and why does it matter? It is fairly obvious that the colors reflect the traits emphasized in each individual house, but the more important aspect of house colors is the idea of the future unity between them. Specifically, the role the Hufflepuff house is going to have in bringing the other houses together. Why Hufflepuff? Well, to answer that question I’d first like to establish why not the other houses.

  • Red (Gryffindor) v Green (Slytherin) If you don’t know what complementary colors are, here’s a crash-course in elementary color theory: you’ve got the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) which are the only three colors that cannot be made by mixing together other colors, and secondary colors (purple, green, and orange) which are made by mixing two primary colors in equal proportions. Complementary colors are one primary color (in this case, red) and the secondary color made from the other two primary colors (blue+yellow=green). If you’re confused, just know that red and green are complete opposites from each other. In art, complementary colors balance each other out (which, as we know from The Matrix or this year’s season finale of Charmed is extremely important), but can make unity very hard to achieve (think about what happens if you mix red and green paint together- you come out with that uneven brownish color. Not good.).
  • Red (Gryffindor) v Blue (Ravenclaw) If you’ve ever ignored your parents and pressed your face up against the television, you’ll know that it makes your eyes hurt a lot. This is mostly because of the interaction of red and blue light. It’s very difficult for your eyes to adjust quickly between these particular colors. However, much of the conflict between red and blue comes more from the personality traits than the actual colors. Reds favor action, blues favor intelligence; reds are very competitive between other people, blues are more concerned with inner conflict; red can be aggressive, while blue is very peaceful. Even if red and blue were on the same side, they would have difficulty working together simply because they would not be able to agree on the method (mind versus body) they should use in the battle.
  • Green (Slytherin) v Blue (Ravenclaw) Colorwise, blue and green work together rather nicely; their characteristics, however, do not. The main goal of greens (in the negative sense) is to ensure their own personal power and status. Blue, on the other hand, is more concerned with knowledge and finding absolute truth. Blues feel that their purpose is better than that of greens, that finding truth is more important than personal status. Greens are resentful that blues think they are better than them and believe that the blues should come down from the clouds and consider the importance of power. Blue and green could be on the same side of a battle, but they would be so offended by each other that they could never work together.

But what about yellow? Yellow works well with red for two reasons: 1) they share red’s tendency for spontaneous action, and 2) red is a leadership color, while yellow is perfectly willing to be a follower. Yellow is receptive to green’s need for personal power, but would not dare challenge anyone for power and therefore green would not feel threatened by them. Yellow and blue both feel that knowledge is important, and therefore yellow could help smooth over the differences between blue and red. It is the only color that can understand all of the others and therefore the only one that can bring them together.

So, to recap, Hufflepuff is the only house that has the power of yellow– a balance of action (a Gryffindor trait), knowledge (Ravenclaw), and power (Slytherin). Although they’ve been slighted in the past, I think that there is a very good chance that in the next two books, Hufflepuff will take on a larger role–perhaps not by getting the highest marks or fighting Death Eaters, but by bringing the other four houses together to work for one common goal. However, it is important to not forget about the other color of Hufflepuff: black. This is the future that could face Hogwarts and the entire wizarding world if the Hufflepuffs fail to unite the houses–fear, evil, and death.

It isn’t just the power of love that Harry is going to need to defeat Voldemort. He is also going to need a force even stronger: the power of yellow. Go badgers!