More Important Things: How the Sorting Hat Sorts

by hpboy13

Summary: I question whether the Sorting Hat makes its decisions based on the personality of the students, or their values. And if it’s their values, does that help explain why some characters didn’t end up in the House that seems to best fit them?

The questions posed over at Level 9 right now are about the Sorting Hat, and I determined a long time ago that it is a flawed system, but I am much more interested in how the Sorting Hat sorts… Jo said that the Hat does not make mistakes, and yet there seem to be a lot of characters in the books who were Sorted oddly. Why is Neville a Gryffindor and not a Hufflepuff? Why on earth is Hermione not a Ravenclaw? Does Luna really fit into Ravenclaw? Did Harry cheat the system? And so forth.

The Hat supposedly Sorts students based on whether they’re brave, intelligent, hard-working, or ambitious. But what happens if a student is both brave and intelligent, both hard-working and ambitious? Does the Hat choose the trait which is more prominent? No, because then Hermione would still be a Ravenclaw.

I would argue that the Hat Sorts people not on what they are, but on what they value most. For example, if you are ambitious but you value intelligence, you get put into Ravenclaw. This seems to fit a lot better, and it’s supported by a quote from Hermione:

“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery” (Sorcerer’s Stone, 287).

That makes much more sense! Even though Hermione is “the cleverest witch of [her] age,” (Prisoner of Azkaban, 346) she says that she prizes bravery more than books or cleverness, and is therefore Sorted into Gryffindor, despite being top of her class.

The same thing goes for Neville. Neville is hard-working, patient, loyal, all qualities exemplary of Hufflepuff House. And yet, we see how much bravery means to him when he’s mocked by Malfoy in Sorcerer’s Stone:

“There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, Malfoy’s already done that,” Neville choked out … who looked as though he might cry. (Sorcerer’s Stone, 218)

He looks up to Harry because Harry is brave and daring, and eventually tries to emulate him in Deathly Hallows. He tells Harry, “The thing is, it helps when people stand up to them, it gives everyone hope. I used to notice that when you did it, Harry.” (Deathly Hallows, 574)

And while we’re on the subject of Harry, he fits in with this theory as well. He is cunning and has “a nice thirst to prove himself” (Sorcerer’s Stone, 121). Yet he prizes bravery more than that, which is why he wants to go to Gryffindor. And once the Hat sees this, it places him in Gryffindor, which is where Harry clearly belonged.

Luna seems like an ideal Hufflepuff, because she is so tolerant of others, and is exceedingly patient. Even when her stuff gets stolen, she just says, “They’ll come back, they always do in the end” (Order of the Phoenix, 863). However, it’s clear how important knowledge is for her, since she devotes her life to learning more about animals by becoming a wizarding naturalist. This makes her an ideal Ravenclaw, even if her fellow Ravenclaws are too narrow-minded to see that.

Cedric Diggory was incredibly brave, to participate in the Triwizard Tournament. And he must have had a fair amount of ambition, if he joined the tournament competing for riches and eternal glory. And yet, he values fairness above all else, telling Harry about the egg in return for the dragon tipoff, and even being willing to let Harry win the Tournament when he felt that Harry should have won. That is why he “exemplified many of the qualities that distinguish Hufflepuff House” (Goblet of Fire, 721)

Peter Pettigrew seems to be one of the Sorting Hat’s most glaring mistakes. He was really quite a cowardly character… but he clearly valued bravery. That is why he idolized James and Sirius so much while at school, and that is why he was put into Gryffindor, although he was not particularly brave or daring himself. Once again, the Hat makes no mistakes.

This also helps explain why families usually end up in the same House – because children are taught to value the same things their parents do. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy valued ambition and purity of blood, so it’s only natural that Draco have the same values. This helps explain why Crabbe and Goyle are in Slytherin – clearly neither of them is cunning or particularly ambitious, but they have been taught to value that, and thus go to Slytherin and gravitate toward Draco.

I firmly believe that this is how the Sorting Hat does its thing, because it seems to fit well with all the evidence. And this is why I consider myself a Hufflepuff and not another House. All the online quizzes and most of my friends tell me I’m a Ravenclaw, because I’m rather brainy and a huge nerd. Some other friends swear that I’m a Slytherin, since I can be quite cunning and will do whatever I have to do to achieve my goals. (No one has ever put me in Gryffindor, thank Merlin.) But because I prize loyalty and fairness above all else, I am a Hufflepuff, and proud!

…unless Pottermore tells me otherwise. *gulp*


Ever wondered how Felix Felicis works? Or what Dumbledore was scheming throughout the series? Pull up a chair in the Three Broomsticks, grab a butterbeer, and see what hpboy13 has to say on these complex (and often contentious) topics!
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