Wow. Looking at this reaction I'm afraid I'm going to have to stir up controversy in the forums more often.
Guys to some degree I feel like we're having two separate conversations and I believe it's my fault. The evidence I started with - pointing to situations where Harry may have been being beaten, or near beaten - was good evidence to bring up, but my claim at at the end that this was proof
that Harry was beaten as a child was faulty. All of our discussions about what did and didn't happen are completely matters of plot, which only the author of the series can fully disclose to us. But then I didn't really want to talk about "plot" - I wanted to take about "text."
Before I go on, what I'm about to describe may sound pretty mystical for most, but for a few others it may be right on. I'm going to elaborate on my English-Major perspective and how close-reading should really work. Before I begin THANK YOU Saiyangirl for compiling all the info for the books and others keeping up this debate, but again I think we need to change the way we're thinking about this question. Thought experiment. Answer these questions truthfully in your mind if you please: What would you say if I asked you what Harry Potter was about? Ok. Now what if I asked you what it was really about?...
To some degree these questions ask the same thing, yet at the same time they don't. On the first question we might answer Harry Potter
is about a boy wizard who attends Hogwarts, interacts with a variety of magical creatures, and grows up to save the world. Okay-that's definitely true. But when the second question is put to us of what HP is "really
about" we're pushed to come up with something deeper. I'll wager you thought something different in your head than with the first question. You probably thought of the many themes active in the series-love trumping hate, life and death, the Hero story, dealing with racial/spiritual differences in society...the list goes on.
That said - what is Harry Potter really
about? Is it about its plot - pure and simple - or is it really
about its themes? Realistically, I think, the series (and any piece of art, really) is about both. But then how do these two levels of meaning figure in our analysis?
As an english major I believe elements of the plot of Harry Potter
directly speak to deeper themes the story is concerned
about. We see through the plot and glimpse the book's real issues
by mapping words and images that repeat. You can do this with any piece of art - a painting, a song - you see where the crescendos are and you make a critical claim or judgement based on what recurs, what patterns you find.
So!... Harry's beating. I never meant to stand on the question of whether or not he was beaten for real, as that's a discussion of plot, and can only be confirmed by the author. The discussion I really
wanted to have is what are the implications of this beating-language recurring throughout the series, which we can all agree it most certainly does. Noting the various patterns throughout the series, it gives you certain liberties to ask questions like "What is JK Rowling trying to say?
" with this pattern or "What does this pattern mean for the book itself?" or "What are the implications of this
theme in this
context?" and you might happily surprise yourself with the answers you come up with.
Like I said, this sounds very mystical to many, but in most liberal arts universities in the United States this is the perspective we're taught to come from. By literally diving into the text and marking down repeated words/connections (such as Snape and bat, as mentioned before) or images of Harry being beaten, and then close reading the different ways in which these words or themes present themselves
, one can discover things about these books they never knew before, and say something very realistic about how this story works/functions
in terms of structure, not only what it says/tells
in terms of plot.
It's like trying to get a better feel for a person by looking at their mannerisms instead of that they consciously say. You can do this with art too; by looking at the structure you look at the unconscious of a thing. With a novel or a short story it's made so much easier because you can literally highlight these repeats and patterns and draw connections between them.
So jumping back, if we were to make an academic claim for the repeated strand of beating in the story, specifically Harry's continual beating connections, it's clear that wherever Harry is on the beating theme it's usually because of something magical, and is relieved by something magical. Throughout the story-I think-domestic beating images are challenged by events in Harry's magical universe. Harry's hair continues to grow although Petunia tries desperately to cut it. Wood is not a stiuck to beat Harry, but the man who will let him play a favorite sport. Harry is confined starving in a room until a magic car pulls the bars off his window. Magic shields and protects him. Harry Potter
suddenly becomes much darker as we learn to read magic as an extended metaphor in the series for a child's escape from suffering into imagination.
This is one interpretation. I would make this theory about the book for real if I went through the series and found sufficient data to prove it, and maybe complicate that interpretation if I found some other piece of evidence-but to be honest I don't have much time to comb through the books right now. And yet I have a sense this connections between magical escapes and beatings is present throughout the series and would make an excellent essay (or should I say quibble?) about how the story functions.
Whoa... That was a bit more than I planned to write, but I'm hoping my perspective on this is a little bit more clear. If you have any questions about this I love to think about this stuff, so please message me either in the forums or send me an email at Noah@staff.mugglenet.com
. Not everyone's going to agree-most certainly-but this at least is what my schooling has taught me about the method of art-critique and its the perspective of many scholars out there.