Podcast Question of the Week – Episode 59

It’s time for this week’s Podcast Question of the Week! This week the hosts & guests collaborate on a deep question of the elvish kind.

In this chapter, the Trio visits the kitchens for the first time. They find Dobby and Winky, who are both still powerfully restricted from being truly “free” of their former masters, either by conditioning or by magic. Ron “loves the service” in the kitchens – but is Hermione right in reacting so strongly to this situation? The Hogwarts Elves don’t side with either Winky or Dobby, they keep to their work. How are we meant to take the Elf situation in the HP books? Is it more disgraceful that Dobby and Winky are in this situation, or that the House-Elves look down on them for acting out?

Leave us your response below & we just might read them on the next episode of Alohomora!

  • Mike Kazmierski

    I think it is more disgraceful that house-elves look down on freedom, but there needs to be a discussion about it.

    I think this is a challenging situation. I am an individualist (basically a libertarian) and as such I see enslavement as one of the worst violations of an individual’s rights. However, to the house-elves, it seems that losing their status as an involuntary servant is disgraceful. We see how Winky reacts to her termination, and we see how the other house-elves respond to Dobby as he rambles about his freedom. In this House-elf society, freedom is a mark of shame or failure. Is it ethical to free the house-elves then? This leads to another question: Why are their views so different? Is it something that fell into a natural order, or were they brainwashed centuries ago, and the memory is now too distant for anyone to question it?

    I don’t believe the house-elves are an intentional philosophical statement but they do manage to spark some thought. As someone who is very much in favor of free markets and individual liberty, every day I look around and see people who embrace the state without question and indeed, vote for more government controls. Much like the House-elf culture, people in American society often look at libertarians as clueless and heartless radicals when in reality we’re just normal people who don’t want our freedoms taken away.

    To me, the house-elves represent the statist attitude taken to the extreme: Not just accepting authority but embracing authority, without question and without thought. House-elves are safe; they have the protection from their masters but little else.

    I don’t intend to spark a political discussion here, but I think you can make some interesting comparisons between house-elf society and those who claim to control us.

    Cheers!
    -Mike

  • FlyingPurplePizzaTurtle

    Personally , there both bad according to the house-elves. Being a house-elf is part of there culture and tradition. Switching lifestyles would bother “most” of the elves. That is like urbanizing an Amish person.

    If a large number of the elves “Want” to be given freedom I believe they should be put in a different group . So a portion of the elves that want to work can still work , and the elves who want freedom are removed from the culture and put into the whatever culture they prefer. In the HB series Dobby is very serious about his job as a house-elf. But later when he was freed using the sock , he was flabbergasted and excited! Some elves want to live by tradition …. others don’t!

  • Amanda Curry

    I think that in the view of the other elves Dobby should not want to be free and winky should not be drunk. I feel like they think that it is disgraceful. I think Dobby and Winky are in seperate situations here though. Dobby is there because he has the freedom to choose and so does Winky but for Winky it is choosing the lesser of two evils being either work at Hogwarts or have no job. She would rather serve someone then no one. Dobby, don’t forget is being paid to be there and so has that motivation for being there. I dont remember if it specifies whether or not Winky recieves wages but she is there to serve someone.

    Also, I think that if she is given some time to grieve the loss of her masters that she eventually perks up and joins suit with the rest of the elves and works along side and begins to like her work at Hogwarts. This is just speculation of course but I feel that it is likely given Winky’s character.

  • DolphinPatronus

    I think the answer to this depends on if you’re looking at the situation from a human perspective or if you’re seeing it as a house elf.

    From the human point of view I understand why Hermione is so upset by the whole situation. It is after all essentially slavery. But at the same time Herminoe’s view is basically the view any (decent…I add this because there are some jerks out there that may think otherwise) Muggle would take. On the other hand Ron can see it as the twins do because they are wizards & know that it’s more complicated than Hermione realizes. They know the majority of house elves like the situation the way it is & prefer for whatever reason be it magically or psychologically engrained in the nature of the house elf as a breed.

    As for the house elf perspective…obviously both Winky & Dobby are a disgrace for their own reasons. So of course the other elves are going to avoid & shun them. I also think that in the eyes of a typical house elf both Winky & Dobby add to the disgrace of being freed by the way they each react. I’d imagine they find Dobby’s reaction worse than Winky’s where a human would likely feel quite the opposite & see Winky being constantly drunk as far worse than asking to be paid to work.

  • Riddle the Muggle

    Elf Freedom is a sensitive issue both with wizards and house-elves themselves. House-elves, with the exception of Dobby, consider being freed as an utter disgrace. Their masters, the wizards, too have various reasons to oppose this. Most of them will not be willing to forgo such loyal and cheap labor in one go. Elves also keep the family secrets and setting them free could be potentially damaging. Those wizards who don’t own house-elves too are not very enthusiastic about their freedom due the attitude of the elves themselves (this is the reason Fred, George and Hagrid give Hermione for not joining SPEW). However, not all wizards are abusive towards their domestics. Regulus Black and Harry treat Kreacher pretty well. The Hogwarts elves have a very good work environment. There may be many more such examples.

    Hermione should understand that it is essential to take one step at a time. She should start by demanding that the elves are provided with decent work conditions and they should not be abused. This way, she is likely to get more support from wizards and will not face any opposition from the elves. That would certainly be an improvement for the current generation of elves and they are also happy. The future generation, having been not so brain-swashed may be more open to freedom. Similarly, the newer generation of witches and wizards having fought the second war along side various other species, may understand their rights better.

    So, go slow Hermione! And its also surprising that she does not ask Dobby to join SPEW.

    • DolphinPatronus

      I agree Hermione is diving in head first to this situation when she needs to be taking baby steps. Drastic change can be very overwhelming to anyone including house elves.

  • Claire Marie

    While I do think Hermione is wrong to push such ideals on a group of creatures who truly are not ready the accept such a life, I don’t think this argument is as much about how the house-elves react to their current situation as it is about the people over them. A family like the Malfoy family obviously feels entitled to a house-elf and believes that because of their lineage that they are owed this luxury, but someone like Hepzibah Smith treated Hokey as a beloved part of her household. The interactions we see of Hokey and Hepzibah Smith are very nice and warm from both parties. More than anything, I think Rowling is trying to alert the reader to question how they treat those who are beneath them. We see this highlighted when Sirius is speaking about Barty Crouch Sr’s character and tells the trio to watch how he treats his inferiors and not his equals if they want to see who he truly is.

    • DolphinPatronus

      Excellent point! I agree 100%

    • Knight GryffinPuff

      I hadn’t considered this perspective. Very well said! As I mention in my post, the situation is open to interpretation concerning the elves themselves However, the situation from the perspective of their masters is not. Cool!

  • TheOneWholocks

    I think the elves honestly just don’t know better. They were raised being told their purpose in life was to serve and please humans.The only reason Dobby is so intent on being free is because he was treated so poorly by the Malfoys and so kindly by Harry. Dobby is looked down upon by the other elves because simply because they were always taught not to behave that way.

    I do however believe Hermione shouldn’t be forcing her opinions down everyone’s throats. The elves, at Hogwarts anyway, are more than happy to cook and clean because they are treated well. Perhaps Hermione should free house elves that don’t want to work or elves that are being mistreated by families such as the Malfoys. It seems Hermione’s priorities should be adjusted.

    • DolphinPatronus

      I often wonder what kind of reform she works out later in life while she’s at the ministy. I like to think it’s something similar to the labor laws in place in the UK & the US.

      BTW I love your avi…my son is really into Doctor Who & it’s starting to draw me in too :)

  • froggyhpmb3

    I think that we are meant to let the house elves do what they want. If Dobby wants to be paid but still work, fine. If Winky wants to return to Mr. Crouch she should try, but working at Hogwarts seems to be the only option for her right now. As for the other elves, they probably have the best situation. They get pleasure somehow from working and Dumbledore seems to be the best “master” they could ask for.

    • froggyhpmb3

      Also, all of the elves at Hogwarts have chosen to be there. Dobby may seem like an extremist but even he still wants to work and doesn’t want a gigantic wage.

  • Dan Sharp

    This might be good time to bring up the misconception that Barty Sr is a terrible Master to Winky because of what happens at the beginning of the book. He doesn’t fire her because she tried to run away or even because he thinks she cast the Dark Mark. He fired her because she had failed in her duty to keep Barty Jr in check and that someone had to take the fall to keep the truth of who really cast the Mark from getting out. He realised that she was too soft with him, the World Cup trip had been her idea. He could no longer trust her to do her most important job. I guess Sr had planned to get a new Elf to help with Jr but the sudden arrival of the Dark Lord changed everything. Before anyone jumps in with “but it was Sr would helped Jr escape in the first place” I believe this was only done through the emotional blackmail of his dying wife whom he loved very much.

    • Knight GryffinPuff

      I think this is another interesting comparison. My main issue with it is a combination of permanence and official recognition.

      I agree that a house(husband/wife) could be compared to a servant (as in a h-elf). In both cases, there is a benefit to taking care of the family unit. In both cases, there would be real and perceived benefits. Real as in taking excellent care could lead to a promotion or similar benefits which would benefit a house(husband/wife) or a servant. Perceived as in taking excellent care would generally lead to quid pro quo benefits for a house(husband/wife) or a servant.

      However, the key difference is that the house(husband/wife) has a prominent, permanent role in the household. Meanwhile, the servant (h-elf) does not. If a servant is mentioned as part of a family, it would generally be as an after thought. Also, a servant could be discarded without difficulty or merit.

      For me, that is a big difference.

    • DolphinPatronus

      I believe this was a topic of an Academia episode.

      • Dan Sharp

        Ahh, that’s where I heard it.

  • Dan Sharp

    This might be good time to bring up the misconception that Barty Sr is a
    terrible Master to Winky because of what happens at the beginning of
    the book. He doesn’t fire her because she tried to run away or even
    because he thinks she cast the Dark Mark. He fired her because she had
    failed in her duty to keep Barty Jr in check and that someone had to
    take the fall to keep the truth of who really cast the Mark from getting
    out. He realised that she was too soft with him, the World Cup trip had
    been her idea. He could no longer trust her to do her most important
    job. I guess Sr had planned to get a new Elf to help with Jr but the
    sudden arrival of the Dark Lord changed everything. Before anyone jumps
    in with “but it was Sr would helped Jr escape in the first place” I
    believe this was only done through the emotional blackmail of his dying
    wife whom he loved very much.

    • DolphinPatronus

      I’m not so sure that’s why he freed her tho. Personally I think he did it to save face in front of everyone. He was supposed to be a firm hardcore law enforcer. How would it look if he kept the elf that everyone assumed shot off the dark mark? Yes he may have seen it as her not being able to control Jr to some extent but he had to know that freeing her would be dangerous to his secret. Honestly it would’ve made more sense for him to keep her around. (like the order did with Kreacher)

      • Elvis Gaunt

        The irony here is that Kreacher betrayed Sirius even when he was not freed whereas Winky remained loyal to the Crouchs.

        • DolphinPatronus

          Very true. Kreacher managed to exploited a loophole that I’m honestly surprised Dumbledore didn’t see before hand. If Bellatrix & Narcissa hadn’t been part of the Black family Kreacher would’ve never been able to betray the Order. Since he served the Black family he had to do what they said.

          That makes me wonder something. If more than one member of a family gives their house elf an “order” & the tasks are in total opposition of one another. How does the house elf know which order to follow? Do they have to do both? Do they do only the task they were told to do first or does the senior family memeber’s task take priority?

          I feel like it’s probably the last option (the senior family member take priority) based on this incident. Both Bellatrix & Narcissa are older than Sirius which could explain why they were able to over rule him.

          • Dan Sharp

            I think it’s the last option too. However, I don’t think Bella or Narcissa would be able to over rule any of Sirius’s commands. I think actual members of the household would have seniority. Kreatcher could only tell the Black sisters things that Sirius had not forbidden him reveal.

          • Elvis Gaunt

            It was not a loophole initially. Sirius had forbidden Kreacher to leave the house. So, there was no way he could contact Bella and Sissy. Even Dumbledore would not have been able to guess that Sirius would shout “Out” in anger and Kreacher would interpret it according to his convenience.

            Bella and Sissy are not Blacks anymore. Normally, Kreacher would have had to take orders from them just as he is supposed to take orders from Tonks because they are relatives of Sirius. But, in this case Sirius had forbidden it. So, Sirius’s word overrules the sisters’. Kreacher still found a way to help them just as Dobby had to help Harry while he was serving the Mailfoys.

          • DolphinPatronus

            Bella & Sissy are Blacks by blood (as was Tonks) & Kreacher was forbidden to talk about most of the details he over heard the Order discuss but he was not (as I recall) forbidden to take orders from other members of the Black family. Also the loophole I was refering to was not him leaving but him telling Bella & Sissy anything at all.

      • Dan Sharp

        While saving face was part of it, (and we are ment to think this at this point of the story when we know nothing of Jr) I think that there was an unspoken understanding happening between Sr and Winky at this moment. He knew that Winky’s loyalty was unquestioned and she would never reveal his secret but he couldn’t risk Jr getting “off the chain” again. Not only would it mean Azkaban for Sr and a loss of everything he held dear, but also a very dangerous Dark Wizard would be unleashed on the world

  • Knight GryffinPuff

    The problem with this question is that there are multiple possibilities.

    First, Hermione could absolutely be correct. A valid interpretation of the relationship is slavery where the slaves have been brainwashed to accept their lot. If you accept that interpretation, then it is very hard to argue that the brainwashed slaves should be allowed to determine their place/future in the relationship. They are brainwashed! Also, anyone using the satisfaction of the brainwashed slaves as justification has a similarly flawed argument. In that context, the satisfaction of the slaves is completely immaterial.

    Second, Hermione could be wrong. H-elves could be a creature that establishes a symbiotic relationship with a host. In that case, the h-elves would nurture their host and through the well-being of the host gain some resulting sustenance ju-jus that we can’t see or understand (since we do not know the particulars of h-elves). Symbiotic relationships are not unknown in the real world plant kingdom where two species coexist. There may even be examples where one effectively takes care of the other and receives less in return. I don’t know enough about it, but with magic, certainly, anything is possible.

    So, the question becomes which is it? With the information provided, I think the answer is that we do not know. H-elves would have to be studied to determine the truth. If human beings are not giving off magical ju-jus that are somehow feeding the elves, then I would side with the former and Hermione.

    That, actually, is my interpretation of the situation in the book. However, Hermione and I could be wrong.

    • Dan Sharp

      So, in the second interpretation, wizards and h-elves are like muggles and dogs. The pairing of man and dog very early in human history was an extremely successful symbiotic relationship and many credit this with Man’s ability to reach the top of the food chain. H-elves, though having their own magic, were to timid or whatever to be able to effectively protect themselves from other magical creatures and so happily paired with wizards who used them to improve their own lives. Both races survive and prosper compaired with being on their own.

      • Knight GryffinPuff

        Oh, I love this topic!

        Absolutely, that is a brilliant comparison! However, if the symbiotic relationship is no longer necessary for the h-elf survival (due to a taming of the wildness of the world), then the relationship could even shift from one status to the other! I didn’t think of that possibility when I first posted. In that case, at what point are humans merely taking advantage of h-elves rather than returning their fair share to the relationship? If there aren’t any magical, sustenance jujus, then there should be concrete examples to support the pairing for it to continue.

        I think we could argue for continuing the pairing of dog and man because there are “magical” happiness jujus being exchanged. Life as a human being is a lonely existence. A dog fills that void and in return receives a lifestyle that is far more comfortable than living in the wild.

  • Pigwidgeon

    I never could get a clear picture of how we are supposed to see the house elves and how they are supposed to be treated. All the house elves (minus Hokey) are treated incredibly poorly. Is that how all house elves are treated or are these just bad examples? It’s been a while since I’ve read HBP but Hokey was treated very well, which seemed more of an oddity than the norm, but even then isn’t it said that the mark of a good house elf is to not even know it’s there? That seems to show that house elves are treated poorly because you aren’t even supposed to know they live in the house. It makes it seem like they’re supposed to be ignored. Even at Hogwarts the trio didn’t even know the house elves cooked or cleaned up around the place and I’m sure the majority of the other students didn’t have any idea. Knowing that makes me think that the way they are currently treated is wrong as a whole and that Hermione might be on to something. Either way, the fact that house elves, who are sentient beings capable of human speech, emotion and interaction get refused pay is wrong in itself and should be corrected. While I think they like the hard work and should be allowed to do whatever they feel comfortable with, the way they are treated is wrong and it’s disgraceful the way Dobby and Winky were treated. It’s hard to not relate this to the slaves of colonial America, even though I’m sure that’s what Jo’s meaning was behind this entire idea. However, house elves are a different species whereas African people (as well as other races that were/are used as slaves) are humans and should be treated as such.

    I think first the house elves would have to be reconditioned to think for themselves, then asked how they would like to be listed in the category of beast or being like the merpeople and centaurs and such. I don’t want to say that the house elves cant think for themselves, but it just doesn’t seem they can. They all seem to suffer from decades and decades of stockholm syndrome and have no idea how to think for themselves, even Dobby who went out on his own to try to save Harry in book two still thinks 10 galleons is too much pay and only wants one day off a month instead of weekends off and has a hard time speaking ill of the Malfoy’s. It’s really hard to determine until we get more information on house elves, because despite of having four house elf characters in the series we still don’t know all that much about them.

    • Dan Sharp

      It’s not all together true that Hokey is the only well treated h-elf in the books. Kreatcher was treated well by all of the Black’s except for Sirius, the Hogwarts elves all seem very happy with their job, and even Winky was, as far as I can tell, treated very well until her dismissal. Her job was the most important thing in the world to her Master: take care of Barty Jr. Of course “take care” ment making sure he was never seen and kept imprisoned in the house. He dismissed her not because he felt he was above her or that she was worthless, but, to ensure nobody would ask too many questions about who really cast the Dark Mark.

      • Elvis Gaunt

        We seem to take for granted that Winky was treated badly. But, your point about her seems quite likely now that I think about it. Also, Little Crouch under the influence of Veritaserum, appears to speak kindly of her.

  • ArchdukeSeverus

    I think one of the more difficult questions about house elves is
    whether there commitment to working for wizards is due to magic or centuries of
    tradition. The fact that Dobby and more significantly Winky are still feeling
    bound to work after being freed could be explained by both. If it is magic that binds them there
    dedication to work could be an after effect of the magic. I believe the reason
    that they feel so dedicated to work though is because of the mental effect of
    having to serve wizard families all their life and not knowing anything else.
    My guess is that the house elves we see in the books have all been born in the
    families (or institutions) that they serve as only rich families seem to be able to own house
    elves and all the rich families that we see in the books have had this money
    for a long time. This would explain why the house elves that we see are so
    dedicated. This makes me think about what house elves would have acted like
    when they were first enslaved (assuming that they originally lived in the wild). Also in the case of some house elves such as Winky they actually love there masters and want to serve them. This could be because they are brainwashed into doing this but it is more likely that it is because their masters actually care for them and ‘love’ them back. We see in the cases where house elves are treated badly (Dobby and Kreacher) the elves aren’t truly dedicated to their masters and seem to be able to betray them. Though with Kreacher he is terrified of freedom. This could be of brainwashing by wizards but it could also be because of his situation where to him it would seem shameful to be freed as he wouldn’t be living up to his families ‘expectations’ ( this is an interesting contrast between him and Sirius) and also we see him willing to serve the trio when they are respectful of him. So this could be a case for all house elves as all those that we see serving others faithfully have been treated well. Because of this it could be part of their nature to repay those that are kind to them with service. This would have made it easy for wizards to enslave them. It is obvious that wizards have abused this aspect of the house elves nature and twisted it so that they they remain loyal to families. This makes me think about house elves in the wild being creatures that will flit among those that are kind to them and serve them for the amount of time they deem appropriate. This makes it particularly appalling that wizards have taken advantage of this. The reaction of Ron to the house elves (good service) is probably quite typical of his generation of wizards (with an exception of Voldy supporters) as house elves would be just something that they take for granted. In the case of Hermione who is a particularly stubborn character that sees rights as very important house elves would seem horrible as they are the embodiment of slavery which is what the general muggle public have been brought up to detest. This shows the differences between the muggle and the wizarding public as wizards seem to care less about things as they can usually easy to undo. House elves are an example of where this has got out of hand. You just need to look at the wizarding government to see how corrupt the wizarding world is. So i reckon that the original manipulation of house elves by wizards was a horrible thing but the way they have developed to now it is kinder to leave them rather than change them.

  • SpectacularlyHypothetical

    The situation with the House Elves in HP reminds me of an episode in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide the Galaxy. Arthur Dent comes across a cow that has been genetically engineered such that not only does it have sentience and the power of speech, but also WANTS to be eaten. Arthur is horrified by this and thinks it’s morally objectionable to eat the creature even though it is inviting him to and is actually advising which parts of his body are most choice.

    The question here is is it morally acceptable to treat something in a way you would not want to be treated if that person/thing actively wants to be treated that way? The golden rule in all major bodies of morality is “treat others as you would be treated” and the House Elves offer a serious threat to this basic rule of thumb morally speaking.

    So I think the question here is, would you eat a deskpig that wants to be eaten?

    • DolphinPatronus

      But at the same time why is it acceptable to eat the cow if it doesn’t talk? It seems the only issue (in the cow scenario anyway) is that the cow can speak. So really if people always followed the golden rule everyone would starve to death. Animals, plants & people are all alive. If we treat them all as we as individuals want to be treated humans would’ve died off ages ago.

      I understand your point & I see what Arthur Dent is thinking. All animals (humans included) have certain insticts engrained into their nature.

      • SpectacularlyHypothetical

        Yeah that’s the exact point I (and Douglas Adams) was making. The people Arthur is with think he’s odd for being okay with eating an unsentient cow and not this one that is inviting him to.

        The thing is that we as humans seem to grant greater rights to more complex and intelligent creatures. If you take animal testing as an example; you can do whatever you like to invertebrates (with the exception of ceaphalapods which are complex enough to come under the strict rules and regulations for animal testing that apply to vertebrates.

        Now house elves are incredibly intelligent and powerful creatures. But the thing is they want to serve. Even Dobby who values the concept of freedom still enjoys performing household chores for dumbledore and Harry. So is in enslavement if the creature in question is happy to be in this situation? I thought the parallel someone else made about women’s rights and housewives was fascinating. The question is how do we react to a situation where there are two fundamentally different conceptions of “the good life”

        • DolphinPatronus

          Dan brought up the housewife topic (it was the topic of a great episode of Academia you should really check it out :) very interesting house elf discussion)
          Efthymia also brought up (below) a comparison to dogs which I not only found compelling but somewhat had thought of as well.

  • Olivia Underwood

    As we all know, the point of having the elves in the series was for JK Rowling to be able to tackle the controversial topic of slavery. What we see in this chapter is simply Jo’s observations, a picture showing our different points of view and attitudes towards slavery in the real world. Is Hermione right? Is Ron’s behaviour wrong? I don’t think Jo’s taking any sides here, and in fact neither do I. There is no real right or wrong in this situation, and I think Jo is simply presenting to us the different sides of society. ‘Here it is. Take it or leave it. Discuss.’ Which I guess is why we are discussing it now. I haven’t really answered the question but then again, this is hardly a black and white topic. I think Jo believes in Hermione’s SPEW efforts, we all know about her humanitarian views and the amount of charity work she’s done herself, but at the same time, I don’t think she had her head in the clouds when she wrote about all of this. She shows, through Harry and Ron’s obvious disinterest/pity over Hermione’s efforts, that you can’t change society or the way people think overnight. You can’t just wave a wand and fix everything. It’s complicated. Regardless if you feel that what you see is morally wrong. It’s sad, but that is the way of the world.

  • Subjective Unicorn

    The freedom/enslavement dilemma with the house elves is like the dilemma about the limits of freedom, which deals with the question – Are we (those who consider themselves enlightened) allowed to enlighten the others without their consent?. The enlightened do wish enlightenment and freedom for everyone. Imposing it without the knowledge or against the will of the enslaved, would be forcing the will of the enlightened on the enslaved, thus by taking their freedom of the decision about their lives from them with the intentions to liberate them.
    Hermiony’s argument that the house elves are “uneducated and brainwashed” shows, that she does consider herself more enlightened than them. Therefore she thinks she has a right to forcefully liberate them, thus she deprives them from having a free decision about their liberation, which is as enslaving as their original position.
    So instead of preparing them to the idea of freedom as a positive change she forces it on them. Which makes house elves refuse even the idea of it, as they are probably afraid of becoming social outcasts.

  • fayehazel

    What I think the House Elf situation does extremely well is show the complexity of many social issues, especially ones that are based in deep-rooted prejudices. I totally see Hermione’s perspective, and I totally would have bonded with her over SPEW if I was with her at Hogwarts. She is very inspiring as a lone voice fighting for elf rights. However, the elves don’t want to be free, and that shows the complexity of this issue. The Elf Issue shows what many social issues truly are: not things that can be solved overnight. The ideas associated with the entire idea of a House Elf have been in place for centuries. However, they are slaves, and there is something wrong with that. But the issue needs to be talked out, it needs to be thought of complexly, and it will take more than just setting elves free to solve. Wizarding society has quite a few issues to work out (pureblood mania, house prejudices, etc.) and all of these will not be solved by simple means, but by years and years of informed conversation and action. The same can be said of issues in our world. Though the years of the civil and women’s rights movements have seemingly passed, these issues, and many others, still need to be thought about by everyone. These prejudices took a long time to form, and will take a long time to eradicate.

  • Efthymia

    I see house elves kind of like dogs. Somewhere along the magical world evolution the two species connected, and one became the other one’s “slave”. You see dogs who have been repeatedly experimented on still wagging their tails when a human approaches them, and even if it frustrates you and makes you want to scream “YOU SHOULD BE BITING THEIR HEADS OFF!!!”, they hardly ever do it. If a nazi owns a dog, the dog doesn’t care about their beliefs, it will be loyal to and loving of them; it could even be trained to be aggressive towards non-aryan people (like Kreacher is towards non-purebloods and their supporters). As a dog can be owned by a bad person who treats it badly/abuses it but still stay lovingly by that person’s side, so do house elves.
    Now, does that mean that house elves “want” to be like this and no one should try to change things? Most definitely not. Dogs shouldn’t be abused, house elves shouldn’t be abused. They should be viewed as companions who have their own sets of skills and strengths. They should be viewed as family. I don’t blame Hermione for her views on the matter (were I in her shoes I would have probably reacted the exact same way), but at the point the wizarding world is in the book, freeing a house elf is like taking a dog from it’s abusive owner and throwing it out to the streets to fend for itself. The dog won’t feel thankfull and liberated but deeply unhappy. And it won’t have been actually helped.
    What is necessary is education. Primarily of the magical humans, who need to understand that house elves are a different yet equal species, and of the house elves, who may then get to the point of happily wearing clothes and receiving money for their labours without any of it meaning they have to sever ties with their family.

    • DolphinPatronus

      I was actually thinking something very similar to this earlier today.

    • Subjective Unicorn

      The difference is that house elves are conscious beings, who has own identity, personality and can speak. Maybe not complete identity yet, because Dobby always speaks about him as 3rd person, something he does not have control of. But still they are quite different from dogs or other pets. I think it is difficult to find analogy in this human world, apart of analogy with other oppressed and enslaved humans.

  • StoneHallows

    I almost see this as a similar issue to religious differences. Everything thinks they are correct, right? And they think that everyone else is wrong in some way. This might be something similar to how religions that have relative freedom for their women view those that have large restrictions for women. I will term them “we” and “them” since the most prominent is Christianity and Muslim/Islamic religions. We see the covering, controlling, and treating women as property to be barbaric and backwards. They see it as an important part of their religion. While this is not a perfect example, since we know there are women who run away from this treatment, there ARE some women who will tell you that they agree with everything about their culture and wouldn’t leave it if given the opportunity. We sometimes view them as blissfully ignorant, and “if they could only get out of there and see it from the outside” and such. But they don’t feel that way. I think this issue of house elf enslavement and their enjoyment in working to be similar.

    • StoneHallows

      I was thinking about this more, and I realized I never fully answered the question!

      If I am remembering correctly, they are merely uncomfortable with what Dobby is saying. They only look down on Winky, saying that she has no right to be upset when there is so much other work to be done. It is in their nature to be working when it needs to be done, and anything else takes a back seat. Whether this is ‘right’ or not is up for discussion, and I think this is where my relation to women in ‘foreign’ religions comes in. Should we accept it as they do and let them work in peace? Or should we “educate” and “free” them? Are the house elves in the wrong by looking down their noses? Perhaps. Certainly by our standards of universal acceptance and everyone following their own path. But it is also somewhat understandable, when you think about where they are coming from. Is it in their nature truly, or are they indoctrinated by years of enslavement? I think if we found the answer to that question, we would better be able to answer this one.

  • James Mahoney

    Yeah, GhostHeart from the forums, here.

    The thing is that Dobby and Winky are different cases. At the very least, they react differently. Dobby was freed by Lucius Malfoy on accident, and as Dobby was terribly mistreated, he wanted freedom. WInky, on the other had, was freed on purpose, and there was never any evidence of abuse from Bartemius Crouch Sr., so I’ve always presumed that while she worked hard, she had a fairly good life serving Crouch, so of course she’d be devastated by freedom. I’m not saying her shame is reasonable, but her depression absolutely is.

    I’ve always thought that if House-Elves weren’t mistreated, and if the Ministry saved House-Elves from bad situations, then if the House-Elves want to work for no pay for a Wizard, I can’t see how I can say, “No, educate yourself.” If the Ministry remained in the middle of the situation, stopping abuse and allowing House-Elf the rights, such as education, and also didn’t ban ownership of House-Elves, then everyone wins. The House-Elves who are mistreated or don’t want to work don’t have to, the ones who do want to work get to, and if any want some education, they can get it, which might allow the ones who want to work to decide to become “free”.

    Short answer, the House-Elves looking down on them for having been freed are the wrong ones, but I wouldn’t call it disgraceful.

    • DolphinPatronus

      I agree with your comments on how the elves are treated individually. I think that makes a huge difference in the way the react.

  • Aradan

    We have to keep in mind that there’s a huge culture clash going on here. What Hermione isn’t taking into account is that House Elves might be psychologically different from Humans. It is entirely possible that work is to them what fun is to us, and they don’t see why they should get paid for it. That would also explain why the House Elves find it so disgraceful that Dobby insists on being paid.
    I also find it interesting that most people assume that House Elves were brain washed into being slaves. What I think is more likely is that House Elves have a great will to serve others, and so chose different houses of wizards. The problem is that pretty much all wizards abused that immense gift, and forced the House Elves even lower in an attempt to make sure that the House Elves would never leave them.
    If the House Elves had (originally) chosen their masters, that would explain why they still feel such loyalty to them despite what a lot of them go through; it would also reasonably support that they are shocked at being rejected like Winky was. At the same time, the Wizards abuse of their power would probably eventually lead to increased numbers of Elves like Dobby who want to be free.
    I’m actually not familiar with much psychology, so I may be way off base, but I am pretty familiar with culture clashes, and there is certainly one going on here, where the House Elves are shocked that Dobby would reject their entire culture, and as it appears, Hermione trying to make them get rid of their traditions, even if she means it well.

    • StoneHallows

      I like your thoughts on how house elves came to serve wizards!

  • Alyson Pedro-Gonzalez

    The Elf situation in the books is indeed a very complicated one, and I think that Jo meant for it to be something that the readers really think about. I think that house elves are an ancient race that stem from very ancient magic that some wizards may not fully understand. We have to remember that house elves, though they have human qualities, are not human. Perhaps it is ingrained in their magical code if you will, to work and to be subservient. And perhaps because of this “genetic” inclination, house elves found that their traits were best suited to “working” for wizards. There are other intelligent races in the magical world, like Goblins, Merpeople, and Centaurs, yet you don’t see them being “enslaved” by wizards. Thinking of it in this way takes us away from the idea of slavery as we would apply it to humans. Hermoine’s reaction is a bit misplaced and misguided because she believes that all creatures should be held up to the same level as humans, which closes her mind off to the possibility that it could be an ancient “genetic” inclination that drives a house elf’s beliefs and behaviors. Based on my theory, The Hogwarts elves are not necessarily wrong in not siding with Dobby or Winky because, the two of them are so obviously going against house elvish nature in some way. It’s kind of sad though, because they could have at least been more sympathetic, like how Dobby was towards Winky. Dobby is such a one-in-a-million kind of house elf who I absolutely love (we share the same birthday!). I believe that if Dobby hadn’t been so terribly mistreated by the Malfoys, he would be more in line with the way “normal” house elves are meant to operate, although he’d still be a bit more of a free spirit. I mean think about it. If Harry told Dobby that he could work for him, Dobby wouldn’t ever take a dime from him, even if offered, because they would have a great relationship. I think that asking for pay was Dobby’s security blanket for possibly being mistreated again. The Hogwarts elves probably view Winky as a bigger disgrace because she’s so overwhelmed by her emotions over being let go that it’s getting in the way of her “true nature” of working and serving. Hopefully Pottermore answers this for us at some point.

    • DolphinPatronus

      Very well stated & I agree. I too feel that the way most elves are is simply part of the nature or as you put it a genetic inclination.

  • Elder Bubble Wand

    Since Kat wanted to hear from “the name we beat boxed to” here I am. I think Jo wants us to question the beliefs of our society. Once upon a time society felt that slavery was ok, we also felt women didn’t deserve to vote and today there are large amount of people who don’t think gays should get married. One of the main differences between those situations on house elves is that the former wanted change and the latter does not. So in this situation I think Doby and Winky should be ashamed because they are going against the beliefs of house elves. I’m not saying they are the right beliefs but they are theirs not ours. Education may change their views over time but it’s not going to happen overnight.when the elves want change they will ask for it.

  • Bill White

    I would like to know the story of the origin of house elves. In most fiction, the most powerful race is fought for years and is made the slaves to keep them in check. I would hope that this is the case and then after conditioning they became downtrodden. The simple face that they can “apparate” in hogwarts. that they are given the “freedom” to do what no wand carrying wizard can in the grounds is a sign that maybe at one point they were powerful beings like goblins etc

    • MoodyHorcrux

      I agree. I’ve always wondered where they came from, what their history is, and how they got to where they are now. Their type of magic is very interesting to me and I would LOVE it if J.K wrote a story about the “History of House Elves”… there Joe, that’s your title lol. we are waiting! ;)

    • Dan Sharp

      I don’t think h-elf magic is more powerful than wizard magic, just different. The protections placed on Hogwarts protect it from wand magic only because wizards are very arrogant people. The best example I can give is Kreatcher in the cave with Lord Voldemort. LV left Kreatcher to die in that cave believing that he elf would be unable to escape. He, like most wizards, never consider what h-elves are really capable of even when every one of their commands are met with little effort.

  • MoodyHorcrux

    It seems to me, that the other house elves see Dobby and Winky as an embarrassment. While reading this chapter, I really got the sense that the house elves are very proud of their work, and perhaps think it shameful that both Dobby and Winky were both “let go” from the homes they once served and are now acting how they are. Although we don’t seem to be shown this from Joe, I think most house elves enjoy working and doing their duty, and being loyal to the homes they work for. It’s their job, and for ages they never received payment for it. It isn’t normal for them to want or receive money for their work, it’s embedded in their brains so to speak. It’s the norm.
    It’s hard though, because when we first meet Dobby in the second book, He talks about his enslavement and he is very sad and abused. From the very beginning we get this skewed view on house elves. Perhaps Hermione’s view is just as skewed as ours, being muggle born and not growing up in the wizarding world like Ron, the first house elf she meets is Dobby as well. Although I understand where Hermione is coming from, perhaps Dobby is the one who is acting out, and isn’t being the good house elf all the other elves expect him to be.

    - Jessica