Is Hagrid Prejudiced?
Hagrid is one of the most popular characters in Harry Potter. He is one of the few fans don’t have the heart to criticize – something about his warm personality, his ignorant enthusiasm and his rustic accent is very appealing.
But I ask you now to set aside any preconceived notions you may have of Hagrid. Forget that he is pleasant to Harry. Forget that he saved Harry. Forget his kindness towards his half-brother, his fatherliness towards Harry, his support of Hermione. Instead turn to Chapter Four, “The Keeper of the Keys”, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Now, I am the first to admit that I love Hagrid. I truly do, despite what I observed in this chapter. But he isn’t perfectly nice all the time, as demonstrated by his behavior here. After all, the very first words he says to Dudley are, “Budge up, yeh great lump.” (Philosopher’s Stone, p.39)
I was surprised by the harshness of this during my re-reading. The first time I read the words, they were lost in my joy that he had arrived to rescue Harry. I knew he was on the side of “good” – that, and his dramatic entrance, made his treatment of Dudley irrelevant for me.
But after reading this, I wondered. At this point, Hagrid cannot know that Dudley bullied Harry. He cannot have known of Dudley’s “Harry-Hunting”, since he was shocked at the extent of the Dursleys’ cruelty towards their nephew. He only had a very hazy idea of what the Dursleys were doing to Harry, which makes what he said to Dudley unnecessarily callous. This is an eleven-year-old boy we are talking about – one who is, presumably, sensitive about his weight. All he was doing, the poor lad, was sitting on a sofa in a hut that wasn’t exactly comfortable. And even if Hagrid didn’t mean it to be as heartless as it sounded, it certainly shows a lack of respect for the Dursleys. He insulted their son right in front of them! You could argue that he didn’t mean it in a spiteful way, that it’s just his rough personality, but I’ve never seen him talk like this about Harry or Ron.
And it seems to me that Hagrid targeted Dudley, rather than Uncle Vernon. His quarrel was, after all, with the parents – not with their progeny. But Hagrid made some very cutting remarks about Dudley, which I feel were unjustified. On pages 40-41 of the first book (British Edition), Hagrid fried some “fat, juicy” sausages, and Dudley “fidgeted a little”, indicating that he wanted to eat, too. Due to his ignorance regarding the magical world, Dudley is not prejudiced against Hagrid (yet) – he is simply afraid, which is very reasonable, considering Hagrid’s size. In fact, I’m sure Hagrid has come across this reaction from others, too.
Uncle Vernon speaks up harshly, ordering Dudley not to touch anything Hagrid gives him. I can understand Hagrid being offended; I applaud the fact that he retorted to Uncle Vernon – but why did he have to take a jibe at Dudley, as well? He likens Dudley to a great pudding and says he doesn’t need any more fattening – and Dudley has done nothing. You would think Hagrid, of all people, would be sensitive regarding physical appearances. Surely he should understand what it feels like to be judged by your looks? Yet every time he insults Dudley, it’s always to do with his looks.
Yet Hagrid befriended monsters, always believing that they were nicer than they appeared to be. Doesn’t it seem as if he is someone who looks beyond appearances? Then why does he behave so uncharacteristically towards Dudley – even attempting to turn the boy into a pig? It was Uncle Vernon who had offended Hagrid – Dudley had not so much as sneezed. Why did Hagrid lash out at Dudley, although he is so strongly against persecution of any kind? We can see that it traumatized Dudley for life – his strange antics in GOF when the Weasley family came to pick Harry up are a good indicator of this.
Later, on page 43, Uncle Vernon says that Harry will not be allowed to go. Hagrid is right in refuting this, but his choice of words intrigues me. He says that he’d like to see “a great Muggle” stop Harry. A great Muggle? He makes it sound like being a Muggle is a failing. He pities Harry for growing up with non-wizards – “it’s your bad luck that you grew up in a family o’ the biggest Muggles I ever laid my eyes on.” This, more than anything, indicates that Hagrid thinks of Muggles as inferior to wizards.
I don’t think he consciously recognizes his acts as discriminatory. He automatically relegates a Muggle to someone less powerful, less significant. He doesn’t seem to even contemplate the idea that Dudley might be hurt by his words, or that his feelings are actually important.
Hagrid is one of Hermione’s friends and he helps her when she feels lonely in the third book. This should prove he is not prejudiced, you might say. I agree that Hagrid shows an admirable disregard for blood purity – but then again, a giant, even a half-giant, is considered even more socially unacceptable than a Mudblood. So when I say he’s prejudiced I don’t mean he cares about blood, but whether consciously or not he seems to support the idea that a wizard is superior to a Muggle. This is not Hagrid’s fault – I think the idea has been indoctrinated into him. J.K Rowling is trying to demonstrate, via Hagrid, the reason the two worlds don’t mix. Harry’s naivete means he doesn’t understand this, but the reader, looking at facts objectively, can see the truth. It reminds me of the Nazi regime, when German children were taught to trust implicitly in their superiority over Jews. They were brainwashed, as one can argue Hagrid is.
Hagrid clings on to the remnants of his wand tightly because it enables him to perform magic. He has been taught to consider magic to be almost holy. Although he could always demonstrate his anger at the Dursleys physically – that is, after all, his forte – he chooses to do it through magic, even though he would be plunged into hot water if anyone discovered this. He could have flung the sofa or something across the room – he could have made an impression that way. Instead he tried to turn Dudley into a pig, though that was against Ministry laws and, more importantly, he was not talented at it. He is perfectly aware of his own ineptitude at magic, yet he persistently tries to perform it. It makes me pity him. He’s clearly ashamed of his giant origins – which is possibly another reason why he doesn’t ordinarily choose to display rage through violence – but it seems like he can never escape from it. Magic, for him, was probably a means of exodus from stereotypes and judgement, but he wasn’t able to complete his education.
It also sheds some light on his passion regarding Harry’s predicament. He loves to protect the underdog, yes, but he also relates to Harry on some level. Magic, for both of them, signifies escape. This explains why he treats Hermione without a hint of prejudice, yet behaves disrespectfully towards Muggles. He respects magic. One of his greatest fears is being considered unworthy – unworthy of performing magic. This is why he hates mentioning his expulsion. It’s also why he defends Muggle-borns, because the same pureblooded families who discriminate against them probably also dislike giants. I imagine Hagrid feels a lot like a Squib – they’re both so close, yet so tantalizingly far away, from magic.
Please don’t think I’ve begun loathing Hagrid. Honestly, my love for him has only intensified. Before Alohoroma I had thought of him as a too-pleasant character, and very one-dimensional, but his faults provide him with depth. It also makes his adoption of Grawp all the more sweet. I feel like cooing “awww” whenever I read the scene now. It is so pitiful, yet so adorable, that Hagrid is not only trying to rescue his brother, but is also struggling to make a one-man stand against the gigantic (ha, ha) discrimination against his kind. It also speaks worlds about his loneliness – he really does long for a companion (which means I sympathise more with him about his on-and-off affair with Madame Maxime).
Hagrid has more depth to him that I ever realized. Congratulations, once again, to Rowling for developing even her supporting characters so amazingly.