In Defense of Harry’s Angst
Despite being the one who introduced us to the magical world, Harry Potter faces a lot of criticism from Potter fans, especially for his behavior during Order of the Phoenix. Now, maybe we’ve all watched Potter Puppet Pals one too many times, but reducing Harry’s intense emotions to simply angst or hormones seems like a surface-level analysis given Harry’s circumstances at the start of the novel. To go a little deeper, we need a close-up look at Harry’s most emotional moments. Goblet of Fire’s conclusion is one of the big turning points of the series, and observing how Harry acts at the onset of Order of the Phoenix can illuminate what might be brewing inside for the rest of the novel. Let’s get some context and take a look at Harry’s first outburst in Chapter 4: “Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.”
Harry’s fourth year of school didn’t exactly set him up for a happy summer. Between witnessing Cedric Diggory’s murder, learning the Mad-Eye Moody he knew all year was Barty Crouch, Jr. in disguise, and watching Voldemort reborn from Harry’s own blood, I’m surprised Harry wasn’t raging in Dumbledore’s office at the end of Goblet of Fire. Over the summer, Dudley teases him for crying out Cedric’s name in his nightmares, and later when he arrives at Hogwarts, he sees Thestrals pulling the carriages for the first time. Death now stares Harry straight in the face, a heavy burden for anyone to bear.
Fresh from this series of traumatizing events, Harry returns to Privet Drive and agonizes over the lack of news about Voldemort’s return. After four uneventful weeks, the silence is broken with a BANG in the form of a Dementor attack in Little Whinging. When Harry is expelled for defending himself and Dudley, the only words of guidance his mentors have for him are “Don’t leave your aunt and uncle’s house” (pg. 28, 35); this isn’t bad advice, but Harry has been waiting for news of Voldemort all summer, and as far as he knows, he’s Voldemort’s first victim. It’s hardly surprising Harry would be frustrated with the idea of sitting back and minding his elders when their plan to have him followed didn’t prevent him from being attacked by Dementors.
Harry doesn’t get to rage at his mentors yet; Dumbledore’s radio silence and four weeks at the Dursleys have put a wedge between Harry and his friends. He knows Ron and Hermione have been together without him all summer, entrusted with information that Dumbledore has forbidden they pass on to Harry. He thinks,
If it hadn’t been for him, no one would even have known Voldemort was back! And his reward was to be stuck in Little Whinging for four solid weeks, completely cut off from the magical world…How could Dumbledore have forgotten him so easily? Why had Ron and Hermione got together without inviting him along too? (pg. 10)
After defeating Voldemort for the fourth time, Dumbledore has decided Harry doesn’t need even a hint of information about his doings. Under the Dursleys’ care, Harry spent ten years of his life cut off from the magical world, and this isn’t his first summer spent starving for news from Ron and Hermione. Without knowing what his friends and allies are up to, Harry is afraid of being left out of the magical loop.
Even after he’s been attacked by Dementors, no one gives him any information, so when Harry is whisked away to Grimmauld Place, his fears, confusion, and rage are thrust in front of Ron and Hermione full force. After four weeks of silence and suffering, he screams at them for answers they hoped to give him but were forbidden from doing so. Even though they don’t deserve this anger, they take it with grace and maturity, reacting with kindness and understanding. Hermione tells Harry she’d be furious if it were her, and both she and Ron are quick to give him the answers he’s been demanding. They’ve done nothing to deserve Harry’s rage; they’ve been his champions trying to persuade Dumbledore to give him information. Why do Ron and Hermione react this way?
Those closest to Harry know he may be a hero, he may be the Chosen One, but he’s human. Later, when Harry gets hotheaded with Hermione on their first day of class, she responds calmly and recounts Dumbledore’s words of wisdom from their last end-of-term feast:
[Voldemort’s] gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. (pg. 223)
Voldemort’s quest for power has left Harry with scars, physical and emotional, and Ron and Hermione know Harry’s uncontrollable emotions are a completely normal response to the trauma he’s gone through. They meet his outbursts this way throughout the novel and show us again and again the strength of their friendship and loyalty.
With a worldwide readership, there are bound to be some different opinions about the novels. However, if you’re still itching to call Harry angsty, I urge you to move further into Harry’s world with caution. The magical world is expanding every day, and that means we might not have seen the last of Harry’s uncontrollable emotions. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be dealing with Harry as “an overworked employee at the Ministry of Magic…with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs…[and] darkness coming from unexpected places.” If you’re frustrated with Harry during Order of the Phoenix, I don’t imagine you’ll be much happier with him on stage.
So the next time you reread Order of the Phoenix, try to look at Harry’s actions in light of their context. If Ron Weasley has the emotional maturity to take Harry’s yelling without complaint, so do you. Don’t let Voldemort sow seeds of hostility between character and reader: Gain a new understanding of Harry so that you too can be with him until the very end.