Outcasts and “Harry Potter”
I think much of Harry Potter’s success can be attributed to the fact that all of us have felt like Harry at some point – we may have never been locked in a cupboard or neglected and malnourished, but we do know how it feels to be an outsider to the world, to feel misunderstood and silenced, and to hope that a half-giant with a pink umbrella will come rescue you from your horrible family. Potter fans identify with that. So when it turns out the neglected titular character is, in fact, the son of two very powerful wizards, the bullied eight-year-old reading Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time feels just a little bit empowered and hopeful.
To me, what is most important are the friends Harry chooses. He doesn’t care for the powerful and wealthy and aristocratic. Harry goes for the brave, the quirky, the spirited, the smart, the passionate. We disenfranchised teens who are growing to be passionate young adults identify with these characters. Characters like Hermione stay relevant to our lives because Harry taught us her unbreakable spirit and unmatched intelligence is valuable. So is Ron – the heart, the loyalty, the wit is as important as bravery and compassion. Jo placed this belief in each of us – that even if we aren’t influential or beautiful, there is something so integral about us that the most important hero of our generation would befriend us. It’s as though we have been chosen alongside Harry’s ragtag group of wizards and witches to fight evil – and it’s this belief that empowers us to fight evil in our own world.
Voldemort can be a symbol for just about anything: bullies, mental or physical illness, issues of social justice, family problems, or anything else you might come across. If the boy with the lightning bolt scar can harness the courage and strength to battle his enemies despite his past, each of us can be empowered to believe that, in spite of our circumstances, every demon can be battled and overcome.
Ron’s poverty and Hermione’s Muggle-born status may have put them at a disadvantage in some people’s eyes, but Harry found strength in both of them. To someone like Draco Malfoy, their circumstances would be failure – but from reading the books, we know that race, class, or any other disadvantage can be overcome with wit and passion and the desire to do what’s right.
Harry’s friends aren’t popular or what most wizards think of as worthwhile (Neville’s teachers, especially, instilled a lot of doubt in him), but Harry helped each of them see what they’re capable of, and he helps his readers do the same.