Harry Potter and the Recreation of Classist Educational Structures

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Theiss, Emma Paige
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Harry Potter has long been a worldwide phenomenon, a series that has lead children’s literature for decades and that has changed fandoms and pop culture as we once knew them for good. It has its reach in more parts of our society than is noticeable, making it an essential site for critical analysis. How does the series represent us, and how does it fail to? What lessons is it really teaching, and what is hiding underneath the plot? How does the work of these books affect the way we perceive our world? While the series posits as a wholesome children’s book that promotes good over evil, this is an overly simplistic view. Even in a world as brilliantly built as this one, injustice seems unavoidable, and the structures we go to fiction to escape from are alive and well in this universe. To effectively critique the power structures that exist in our society, and in British education specifically, Rowling had two options. One was to present the ideal, the educational utopia that could have used ‘magic’ to abolish the barriers that wreck the educational system. The other would be to uphold these structures but tell a story that criticizes the institutional issues that hold students back. In this case, J.K. Rowling simply followed the model of the U.K. boarding school, and offered no real critiques in her work, other than a very basic banishment of “evil” to drive the plot. To recreate such a harmful educational system in an otherwise fanciful universe and to base the plot so heavily on the innateness of magic, in a way that mirrors the classist and racist sorting of students in our current educational systems is a harmful act, and it’s one that may have slipped under our noses as we consumed this series we all know and love. This thesis hopes to serve as an overall criticism of this world, and the education within it, rather than a close reading of one book or segment of the series. It will present first the context necessary to understand the British schooling system, and the barriers that exist there for real students. This will be essential in understanding later claims about Rowling’s reproduction of said barriers. There will be an investigation of the hierarchies of knowledge within Hogwarts as an institution, followed by a deep dive into the characters and how they illuminate a system rigged in the favor of a very few.
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