The Dangers of Stereotypes
Abstract: Typically when Harry Potter readers think of stereotypes in the stories, they generally refer to Draco Malfoy and other Slytherins’ use of stereotypes in order to discriminate. But, there are other instances of stereotypes being used in the Harry Potter series that don’t involve Draco at all. In my essay (below), I intend to show how the Sorting Hat song in The Sorcerer’s Stone has been boiled down to stereotypes. These stereotypes have been ill-used by readers and characters alike, making most forget that both good and bad characters can share the same traits–cunning, bravery, and love.
Everyone knows about the stereotypes Draco Malfoy clings to as facts – non-purebloods are lowly, Weasleys are dirt, and only pureblooded people should reign supreme. But it’s not as if he’s the only one who believes stereotypes.
Throughout the book series, almost every character is holding onto stereotypes. Even Harry Potter, himself, believes certain things are true until proven otherwise. In fact, the entire wizarding world is based on stereotypes and labeling people. Take, for instance, part of the Sorting Hat’s song:
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.
(“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, page 117)
Each verse of the song can be boiled down to stereotypes, as it often is throughout the story; Gryffindors are “brave”, Hufflepuffs are “loyal”, Ravenclaws are “smart”, and Slytherins are “cunning”, or, as they’re usually thought of, “evil”. (Nowhere in the song does it say Slytherins are evil, but thanks to Voldemort being of the Slytherin house, they have gotten a bad reputation.) Yes, Voldemort was a Slytherin and yes, many students in the Slytherin house have bad dispositions, but that doesn’t mean every Slytherin is evil or has a bad temper.
Take, for example, Astoria Greengrass. According to J.K. Rowling, Astoria’s supposed to be the anti-Pansy. If that’s the case, it’s obvious that Astoria must be pretty nice, or at least less judgmental. She’s probably as amiable as any Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Gryffindor.
On the flip side, a Gryffindor could be brave, but for all of the wrong reasons. Take Cormac McLaggen, for instance. He’s a Gryffindor, but his bravery comes from the fact that he likes to impress people and brag about his accomplishments and achievements. While trying for the Keeper position, McLaggen makes disparaging comments about Ginny and Ron. Also, on a dare to prove his bravery and manhood, Cormac received Doxy egg poisoning from eating a pound of them.
One of the most prominent examples of a Gryffindor exhibiting un-Gryffindor behavior is Peter “Wormtail” Pettigrew, James Potter’s supposed friend who gave him and his wife Lily over to Voldemort. And Luna Lovegood can also be seen as an example of a Ravenclaw who doesn’t exhibit their intelligence, at least in the conventional sense (I believe that behind her spacey behavior, there’s a brain hard at work).
Even though there are exceptions that can be found in each house, Slytherins are usually still subjected to being labeled “evil”, no matter who they are. The Sorting Hat says that being cunning is a defining factor of a Slytherin, but what does it really mean to be cunning?
“Cunning” isn’t necessarily a word synonymous with “evil” or even “bad”. According to Merriam-Webster, “cunning” means:
1: dexterous or crafty in the use of special resources (as skill or
knowledge) or in attaining an end (a cunning plotter)
2: displaying keen insight (a cunning observation)
3: characterized by wiliness and trickery (cunning schemes)
4: prettily appealing; cute (a cunning little kitten)
synonyms: see clever, sly
1: obsolete; a: knowledge, learning; b: magic, art
2: dexterous skill and subtlety (as in inventing, devising, or executing)
(high-ribbed vault…with perfect cunning framed – William Wordsworth)
3: craft, slyness
synonyms: see art
One can be especially cunning and be in a different house other than Slytherin. Take, for instance, the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. I would dare say that it takes an extreme amount of cunning to be able to defeat Voldemort and restore order to the wizarding world. And even the lesser tasks Harry and his friends have accomplished – saving Ginny from Tom Riddle’s possession of her, defeating Professor Quirrell, winning the Triwizard Tournament, etc. – required them to lie, steal, and do other cunning things.
In turn, a brave person can come from any house. Since this article is part of a series focusing on Draco, it could be argued that Draco is braver than people give him credit for, even though that bravery was perverse due to the nature of his situation. Draco was given the horrible task of killing Dumbledore in order to keep his family alive. If he was a real coward, he might have run away or taken some other cowardly action in order to save himself and himself only. But he bravely tried to save himself and his family, even though he was more than fifty percent sure that he was going to die anyway. He may have been given a backward and truly evil assignment, but his dedication to his family and his desire to truly prove himself–however misplaced that desire might be–kept him on his goal of saving the lives of himself and his parents. Now, it can also be said that if he was truly brave, he wouldn’t have tried to kill Dumbledore, but seriously, what would any person do if they were given the task of killing someone in order to save themselves and their family? No one can answer that truthfully unless they’re faced with that situation.
In any case, the underlying argument here is this: don’t believe everything at face value. There are different types of bravery as well as different types of cunning, intelligence, and loyalty.
Monique Jones is an entertainment blogger and freelance writer who owns her own entertainment website, Moniqueblog. She writes extensively on many characters in pop-culture, including Draco Malfoy and Viktor Krum. You can view her series on Draco, called “The Worth of Draco Malfoy” here and her series on Viktor, “The Worth of Viktor Krum,” here.