“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are far more than our abilities,” says Dumbledore in the Chamber of Secrets (333). This observation holds a significant amount of truth throughout the adventures in the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling, the author of the magical world of Hogwarts, uses the fluidity of the masculine spectrum to pit good versus evil. Rowling offers readers two characters at either end of the masculine spectrum: one existing at the extreme, insidious end, while the other holds moral, unconventional traits of traditional masculinity.
One quality of Voldemort’s hyper masculinity is his volatile ambition to be the best, most powerful wizard to have ever lived. Examples of his ego can be seen in Goblet of Fire after he reassumes his physical form. He says that he is “mightier than any wizard living” (562). He continues with this idea by saying “I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immorality” (566). His yearning for power and immortality is the driving force of the plot. When he hears of a prophecy foretelling of his demise, he goes to kill the child of his undoing, Harry Potter. Instead of killing Harry with the Kedvara (death) curse, he destroys his physical body. This moment creates Voldemort’s obsession with defeating Harry Potter. He says, “Harry Potter escaped me by a lucky chance. And I am now going to prove my power by killing him… He will be allowed to fight, and you will be left in no doubt which of us is stronger” (218). Ambition is good in small doses; however, Voldemort has it in excess, creating his toxic masculinity. Voldemort’s quest for power is accentuated by his self-reliance.
Voldemort, while he has a mass of followers, does not like to depend on them. He wants them to feel inferior to him. His Death Eaters refer to him as “Lord” or “Master.” In Goblet of Fire, his Death Eaters are seen “on his knees and kissing his robes” (214). In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore speculates, “Voldemort likes to operate alone remember” (417). For Voldemort this self-reliance depends on the exclusion of others. Bellatrix Lestrange is one of his most devout followers, who is also in love with him. In his interactions with her in Deathly Hallows he complements her for her loyalty to him, allowing her to feel superior to the other Death Eaters. However, it only lasts momentarily before he insults her by mentioning her traitorous cousin who married a werewolf. He does not allow anyone to feel as though they are his equal, not even his most trusted follower.
As a man who is incapable of any other emotion except for rage and his love for power, he can only express himself through violence. He can be seen using the Crucio (torture) curse against his Death Eaters for doubting him and not helping him return: “Voldemort raised his wand. The tortured Death Eater lay flat upon the ground” (Goblet 215). He kills to demonstrate power. He kills Severus Snape just because he is no longer useful to him. Voldemort has Charity Burbage, a professor of muggle studies, kidnapped and tortured for writing an article expressing her beliefs that muggles are not different from witches and wizards. Voldemort personally kills her to set an example. He also tortures his victims for information; Bertha Jorkins and Garrik Ollivander being two. Voldemort’s excessive violence towards others is a clear indicator of his extreme, destructive masculinity, as well sadism.
While Voldemort exhibits violence because of a lack of love, Harry Potter feels things more deeply because of love. Harry Potter is tempted by the Mirror of Erised in Sorcerer’s Stone. Most boys his age would crave new broomsticks, the cutest girl; material, superficial things. Harry, however, sees his lost family. Dumbledore explains to Harry that the mirror, “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts,” (157). Harry’s love and devotion are further accented by his devastation of losing his godfather, Siruis Black. Harry says, “death is nothing compared to this…And I’ll see Siruis again” (Order 720). His ability to feel such deep anguish displays the capacity of his love. As Dumbledore says, “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it,” (Goblet 758). Harry’s modern displays of heartache over the loss of his family gives a small twist on the ideas of how a male should handle grief.
Harry, while competitive, desires to be fair. He does not feel the need to be the best or most powerful the way Voldemort does. In Goblet of Fire, Harry has to compete in the Triwizard Tournament, during which he does everything he can to be fair. Hagrid shows Harry what the competitors will be facing during the first event, dragons. Harry decides that he cannot keep this advantage to himself and passes the information to Cedric Diggory, Hogwart’s other competitor (298). During the second task, Harry resolves that the honorable thing to do would be to rescue not only Ron, but Fleur Delacour’s little sister (a stranger to him) as well. In doing so, he loses the opportunity to place first in the task (435-436). In the final task, the competitors are placed in a maze full of magical obstacles. Harry and Cedric both rescue one another and decide that they will grab the cup together, to win together (550-551). His sense of morals can be seen as unconventional when compared to traditional aspects of competitiveness. Harry, while enjoying the high of winning, would rather do the moral thing first.
Unlike Voldemort who excludes people, Harry welcomes inclusion. Harry shows early on that he does not care about prestige, background, or money. In Sorcerer’s Stone, Draco Malfoy, a member of a prominent wizarding family, describes the Weasley family as having “red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford” (108). Ron Weasley, the youngest male in the family, becomes Harry’s best friend, despite the family’s lack of money or prestige. Hermonie Granger, a witch born from muggles, is Harry’s other best friend. Members of the wizarding community refer to people born form muggles as “mudbloods” often thinking they are tainted and impure. Hermonie’s blood status does not stop Harry from relying on her in times of need. Sirus Black says to Harry, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals” (Goblet 174). In the wizarding world, house elves are considered slaves, indebted to the family forever, and unworthy of being called a wizard’s equal. Harry, however, does not hold this sentiment. He even goes as far as tricking Mr. Malfoy into freeing his house elf, Dobby, with an old sock. From that point on, Dobby is a loyal companion to Harry Potter, even to the point of sacrificing his life to save Harry’s. Harry Potter’s persistence to include those who are seen as inferior allow him to showcase an uncommon trait of progressive masculinity.
In today’s world, men still struggle with the fluidity of masculinity. They need to accept the unconventional traits as Harry Potter does to grow to their full potential. J.K. Rowling invented a wonderful, magical world with spellbinding characters. Harry Potter and Voldemort sit on two very different sides of masculinity. Though, in the end, it is Harry’s ability to feel love, to give love, that wins. As Dumbledore says, “the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength” (Order 758). The only thing Harry had that Voldemort did not was love. And that made all the difference.
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