Continuing on from Part One, today I will be discussing why Ron did not deserve the flak he received for his fallout with Harry and why S.P.E.W. made sense from Hermione’s point of view!
4. HARRY & RON’S FEUD
Now, Ron received a lot of unfair demonisation for his feud with Harry in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. What seems to be lost amongst the criticism is that Ron is an insecure and poor 14-year-old boy competing for popularity in a large family comprised of older brothers who have achieved success at Hogwarts – that includes Fred and George, yes – and, having graduated, gone on to achieve success in glamorous and exciting professions. Percy, Fred and George manifest their financial ambitions in different ways with Percy seeking success through traditional methods whereas Fred and George pursue success through innovative inventions. The desire for financial security is present amongst Fred, George, Ron and Percy, but each react in a different way. Given that his best friend is the famous Harry Potter, it further adds another heavily loaded bullet point to add to the long list of why Ron Weasley believed that he was not good enough. With both Harry and Hermione being financially secure, it becomes difficult to compare Ron’s insecurities to Hermione and Harry’s.
With that being said, as the audience, we’re privy to Harry’s reaction to Ron believing that Harry planned to enter the Triwizard Tournament and we know, for certain, that voluntary signing up to a dangerous competition that isn’t for a ‘good cause’ is an idea that Harry would not entertain. Harry likes the quiet and peaceful life, after all. Ron should have known that too. Ron insisting that Harry entered his own name into the cup (without judgement) understandably triggers Harry – his best friend does not believe him – and things escalate from this point. Hermione believes Harry; she is the most logical of the trio and given that she and Harry share a muggle upbringing, they both share the belief that the Tournament is dangerous. Once Ron realises the true danger the Triwizard Tournament presents, he goes to Harry immediately to apologise.
Some fans are harsh in their assessment of Ron. Ron is allowed to feel insecure, desire status and popularity, and be sulky. If we compare Ron’s actions to other ‘heroes’ in the series, he is far less dangerous and the least violent of the trio and, yet, they aren’t on the receiving end of vilification. This extends to fans disparaging Cho for openly weeping and mourning the murder of her boyfriend – whatever happened to mental health matters? Yes, “it’s just a book” but it remains a harmful message to send to audiences. As Ned Stark rightly said: “So, if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm.” There was no maliciousness intended on Ron’s part. And, as we see, Harry and Ron, by the end of the series, sit down to have a healthy and fruitful discussion which addresses Ron’s insecurities. Now, this is one of Rowling’s better ideas and a lesson that I hope male readers have taken away.
5. HERMIONE AND S.P.E.W.
Strangely, I find myself opposing my former views on Hermione’s approach to S.P.E.W. Hermione, having had a muggle upbringing, grew up learning a very different history of the world. When a muggle works, he/she earns pay, sick pay, additional benefits, accrues an x number of days off, and the ability to terminate their employment contract. As none of these considerations are factored in the working conditions of house elves, it is quite natural that Hermione would deem the nature of the house elves working conditions to be unfair and harsh from a muggle’s point of view.
Hermione does speak to the house elves to learn more about their conditions and their opinions on their working conditions. Moreover, she commits her time to researching the history of house elves. Both Dobby and Winky (and Kreacher) receive unfair and unjust treatment from their masters. In the Chamber of Secrets, Dobby is flogged by the Malfoy’s and was the recipient of repeated abuse at their hands. Winky is unfairly dismissed for the actions of Barty Crouch Jr. While the house elves employed at Hogwarts enjoy fair treatment, it remains that there must be other house elves who do not share similar working conditions.
Hermione is young… and, more importantly, powerless to achieve success in her campaign for better working conditions for house elves. Given her youth, Hermione employs campaigning tactics that are achievable in accordance to her limited resources. Knitting socks hidden underneath rubbish that house elves are contractually obligated to clean was an incredibly self-imposing move on Hermione’s part. This is unsuccessful as the house elves refused to clean Gryffindor Tower leaving the household duties to Dobby alone.
It is difficult to compare the working conditions and history of house elves to real history as the wizarding world operates under an almost wholly different culture. Hermione’s attempts to liberate the house elves demonstrates that Hermione’s reasoning is much more in line with her knowledge of real (muggle) history. But she is young, she has heard and seen Dobby and Winky suffer mistreatment at the hands of their masters, she is Muggle-born… and she didn’t intend to cause harm.
We know that Hermione, once she graduates, goes on to work at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to improve the lives and working conditions of house-elves. I can imagine her efforts were better expended, more effective and well-received post-Hogwarts. Think of the possibilities… perhaps one day, in the wizarding world, free house elves create their own opportunities – maybe we see the elfish equivalent to McDonald’s? Perhaps they become food franchise entrepreneurs or they launch a global cleaning enterprise that enables them to achieve the status of business moguls. Just imagine the service! House elves… making it rain.
What are your thoughts on Harry and Ron’s fight in Goblet of Fire? Is the vilification of Ron justified in comparison to the treatment of other characters? What do you think of S.P.E.W.? Let me know in the comments!
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