More Than Just Evil? A Study into Slytherin
The House system is well established in the Harry Potter series, and the four Houses are one of the first things introduced when Harry arrives at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. However, from the very beginning, Slytherin is always seen as the evil House.
There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” (SS 80)
This is how Hagrid introduces Slytherin to Harry. In these words alone, it is clear that Slytherin is the House where everyone is evil. However, this isn’t the case, as there are characters such as Horace Slughorn and Leta Lestrange. They aren’t evil; in fact, they both fight against the most powerful dark wizards of their time. These two characters, amongst others such as Andromeda Tonks, don’t fit into the stereotype of being evil and murderous. They don’t join the side of evil. However, we don’t meet these characters until later, as the first Slytherins we meet are Draco, Snape, and Voldemort.
These characters are painted in a negative light. Draco Malfoy is the school bully. He grew up in a powerful family. He prides himself on being better than others and is rarely seen without Crabbe and Goyle. He often antagonizes Harry and thinks that due to being pure-blood, he is better than others. Snape is similar in that he bullies other students, especially Harry and Neville, whilst giving special treatment to those in Slytherin. And Voldemort is the villain from the start. He murdered Harry’s parents and is the opposite of what Harry stands for. From the beginning, you oppose these three characters. They make Harry’s life miserable. With so many Slytherins being a villain, when a new one is introduced, you can’t help but think of them all as evil as all you know is that Slytherins are the bad guy. This isn’t the case, and even with some characters who start off as antagonists, they’re never pure evil.
Slytherins, like other characters, are complex, with more traits than just being evil. Narcissa Malfoy may have extreme views like those her husband holds, but she also loves her son more than anything in the world. She chooses to lie to Voldemort when Harry tells her Draco is alive. She values her family more than Voldemort winning. Regulus Black was involved with the Death Eaters, but he also plays an important part in the downfall of Voldemort, attempting to destroy a Horcrux. He wants to bring an end to the Dark Lord. Though these characters do share the extreme views Slytherins are known for, they also have traits other than just being evil. They are flawed, but they also chose to make a stand against Voldemort despite initially choosing to side with him. They choose to be more than evil.
So many of the fellow students do not give them a chance, such as in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry states, “We can’t have a Slytherin champion!” (261). He even seems disgusted by this idea. This quote always stands out as it implies that Slytherins aren’t good enough to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. It makes it seem that Hogwarts losing the competition would be better than having a Slytherin champion, simply because of the stereotypes attached. They are seen simply as evil and undeserving of a chance at eternal glory, when in fact, the traits Slytherins possess would be beneficial to them in the tournament.
The traits associated with Slytherin are so often forgotten. Ambition, resourcefulness, and determination are three of the ones that are commonly associated with Slytherin, and nothing about these traits is inherently evil. Just because you want to do the best you can in life and are dedicated to this doesn’t make you a bad person. Maybe your life’s ambition is to open a chain of hugely successful butterbeer coffee shops, and you work hard to achieve this. There is nothing wrong with this. Being ambitious is not a bad thing, and just because some Slytherins use their ambition to take over the wizarding world doesn’t mean they are all the same.
This is not to say that Slytherins aren’t evil. Bellatrix, Umbridge, and Voldemort are evil; there is no doubt. But there are plenty of villainous characters in other Houses that aren’t Slytherin. Quirrell and Wormtail are the two that come to mind. But they are seen as outliners, those who are weak and scared of power and so choose to side with the dark side in the act of self-preservation. This is in complete opposite to most Slytherins who chose to join Voldemort because they support what he believes.
Harry Potter is about seeing the good in people and standing up for what is right. So why, after all these years, are Slytherins still being stereotyped as evil when they are not. They are complex individuals, some of who may go down the wrong path, but many prove themselves time and time again to be more than just evil?