“Potterversity” Episode 5: “Uncle Vernon”
A Valentine for… Uncle Vernon?
In this episode of Potterversity, Katy and Emily talk with scholar Tim Jennings about Vernon Dursley in a way that, if it doesn’t redeem Harry’s uncle, does seek to humanize him. Why is Uncle Vernon the way that he is? What motivates him? Why is he so awful to Harry?
We explore Vernon’s relationships with his wife, Petunia, and his sister, Marge, to determine what we know about how Vernon grew up, his social influences, and why he loathes the magical world. Enjoying contrarian readings of texts and using psychology to analyze literary characters, Tim provides a nuanced view of why Uncle Vernon acts as he does.
Although the series almost exclusively follows Harry’s perspective, the first chapter of the very first book begins from Vernon’s perspective, indicating his importance as a foil for Harry and the wizarding world. The Dursleys’ desperate clinging to the “perfectly normal, thank you very much” has a profoundly significant effect on the reader’s experience of the series. Tim explains why this is a good place to begin our journey into the magical realm.
Vernon’s character – his anger and alienation – develops over the seven books. How Vernon performs his roles as husband, father, and even boss reveals his understanding of success and what methods he sees as key to building a good life. We question whether Vernon’s ideas about the wizarding world are just an intense reflection of Petunia’s own or if they develop based on his own negative experiences with Dumbledore and other wizards.
Looking at Aunt Marge provides a clue for how Vernon might have turned out even worse – in general and towards Harry particularly. Tim suggests provocatively that Vernon may have experienced abuse in his own childhood. In our conversation, we find some reason to feel sympathy for Vernon. What do you think?
In our special segment in the Potterversity Staff Room, Tim talks with Emily and Laurie Beckoff about how Vernon, or more likely, Dudley, could break free of a family pattern of abuse.