Harry Potter’s Angst: A Linguistic Analysis of Teenage Emotion
So why does one go to graduate school for English linguistics?
Er… Harry Potter?
Ten points to Gryffindor! The answer is indeed Harry Potter.
I’m going to break down a 30-page paper on emotion in Harry Potter for you. Why? Because I think the results are pretty interesting and supplement some of the hypotheses you might already have about the texts. Linguistics, like math (eek!), can yield cold, hard data, and sometimes that data is amusing to evaluate.
Ahh, angsty teens. There are countless memes that depict Harry’s grand display of emotion when he overhears that Sirius (supposedly) betrayed his parents, leading to their deaths.
“I’m going to kill him!” Okay, geez, slow down a bit, Potter. Get to know the guy! You might be making plans to shack up with him by the end of the book.
Yup, that happened.
Of course, Harry’s vow (good it wasn’t an Unbreakable Vow, huh?) to kill his godfather will never top the movie adaptation of Dumbledore’s infamous “Did you put your name in the Goblet, Harry? *shakes Harry viciously*”
For my research, I did a comparison of Harry’s emotions using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by doing a search for “feel” and “feeling.” Skipping past the laborious part, here are the emotive results that were identified, normalized by 100,000. In essence, the higher the number, the more emotional responses that were found.
Let’s go over the results, shall we? Harry appears to be unhappier in the last book compared to the first. Well, that’s no head-scratcher. Forewarning: Grab a tissue – no, a box of tissues. Hedwig dies, as do Moody, Fred, and Dobby. The seventh book is a heck of a rollercoaster (thanks, Jo!). Naturally, it only makes sense that Harry is happier in the first novel; he gets to leave dreadful Privet Drive, learns he is a wizard from a congenial half-giant with an umbrella, is appointed Seeker of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and makes some pretty remarkable friends. All in all, it could be argued that he feels more at home than he has thus far in his 11 years.
The result that most surprised me from my research, however, was that Harry was more insecure in his first year than in Deathly Hallows. But then I did some thinking. In the first novel, Harry finally feels at home at Hogwarts, has a nice bed, a warm fireplace, and is assured by Hermione that “as long as Dumbledore’s around, you can’t be touched.” In the seventh book, however, Harry no longer has Dumbledore’s physical presence to help him feel secure in his surroundings. Besides (in a Hermione voice), Harry hasn’t a clue where to look for the Horcruxes and spends months on end in a tent stagnating in his own self-pity, all the while wearing a necklace that literally makes him feel low and watching Hermione suffer over Ron’s desertion of the group.
However, I suppose that it could be argued, dark as it is, Harry knows what to expect by the seventh book and is, more or less, secure in himself and the wizarding world. In the first book, Harry discovers a whole new world he never knew existed and is struggling to unearth his purpose in his new role. I mean, I would be pretty apprehensive and insecure about running trolley-first into a brick barrier in a crowded train station too. Actually, at 11, I’d be too shy to even ask the train conductor where I might find platform nine and three-quarters! Indeed, Harry is introspective and insecure in the first novel, attempting to figure out who and what he is as well as where he came from. This continues throughout the books until Dumbledore finally reveals all (mostly) to Harry.
In addition, in regard to insecurity, it probably doesn’t help that on Harry’s first day at Hogwarts, Snape swaggers over to Harry in a painfully slow manner and proceeds to ream him out about knowledge he can’t possibly know yet. Asphodel or wormwood, anyone?
In the seventh book, however, Harry is pretty darn sure of who he is and has no trouble even telling the Minister of Magic to mind his own beeswax. He’s “Dumbledore’s man, through and through.” Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that in the last novel Harry defeats the darkest wizard of all time once and for all by willingly and knowingly sacrificing himself to save the wizarding world. That’s a pretty good indicator that this young man’s pretty sure of himself and his purpose! It only makes sense that the results are conducive to Harry being far more insecure in the first novel than in the last.
What are your thoughts? Do these results surprise you, or are they in keeping with your former assumptions?