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The Themes of Hope and Trauma in “Harry Potter” Essay

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Updated: Jul 7th, 2021

The Harry Potter series has entered the public consciousness and became an instant classic. It captured both children and adults due to its complex themes and nuanced characters. The author is not afraid to write about dark subjects, such as death, torture, madness, and abuse. The themes of hope, trauma, and maturation are expressed throughout the series. The main characters have to contend with the loss of loved ones and find a path forward to help each other.

Today, Harry Potter and his friends are as commonly known and beloved as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, or Dorothy. Their struggles against the dark forces come at a hefty price that some have to pay from the very beginning. The inciting incident of the series is a giant man breaking down the door and telling Harry about his horrible legacy (Rowling 35). Lily and James Potter were murdered in cold blood by an immortal dark wizard who laughed as he killed them.

Harry, being an infant at the time, remembers very little of it, and cannot fully grasp the situation. The trauma that Harry feels is not a single instance of negative emotion. Pedersen writes, “the traumatic symptoms which manifest themselves in the present are not the re-experiencing of the past because the past event was not actually experienced to begin with” (42). That statement fits the Harry Potter series perfectly, as Harry does not merely experience the death of his parents with a delay. He recontextualizes it constantly, and it informs his present emotional reactions, such as seeing them in the Erised mirror or learning about Ron’s family life.

After the loss of his parents, he came to depend on his aunt and uncle, who treated him terribly. Only later would he find out that his aunt Petunia herself suffered from neglect because her sister was magical, and she was not. She unloaded this resentment on Harry because she could not deal with the trauma in her own childhood. She took control of her trauma by overcorrecting, where the wizard got neglected and abused, while her “normal” son was pampered and spoiled.

Hogwarts represents an integral part of Harry’s coming of age. He learns the magical arts, finds his first friends and parental figures, and develops as a person. Hogwarts is by no means a safe space: in the first days of studying, people get injured, endangered, and harassed. That school is not meant to create an ideal environment for helpless children. Instead, it helps them grow stronger and more equipped to deal with the dangerous world. Zacarian writes that humans can overcome the odds stacked against them (17). This ability to overcome is essential, as it gives people hope and faith in themselves and their allies. Through facilitating growth and friendship, Hogwarts becomes a home for Harry that the Dursleys’ house never was.

The author creates an example of an improper way to deal with trauma in Petunia Dursley, which is rejection, avoidance, and, to some extent, the demonization of the source of her unhappiness. Becoming strong and resilient helps people self-actualize, and Rowling seems to recognize that, as she casts all who rise and fight in a positive light. Harry’s closest friends choose to act in the face of the unknown.

Even Neville’s willingness to stand up to his friends to protect them is commended, which speaks volumes. The book teaches children to be strong and independent instead of relying on adults. The author seems to make the point that home is where people grow stronger together, and that this strength makes trauma bearable.

The Harry Potter series is a nuanced book with complicated characters. While it is a children’s book full of magic and adventures, it is often surprisingly dark. However, throughout the series, the author impresses the importance of self-actualization and inner strength. Many characters in the book have suffered, and their willingness to stand up for themselves and others is what helps them overcome their past. Strength and resilience create hope, and hope gives the characters strength and resilience in turn.

Works Cited

Rowling, Joanne K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic Inc, 2003.

Pedersen, Cassie. “Encountering Trauma ‘Too Soon’ and ‘Too Late’: Caruth, Laplanche, and the Freudian Nachträglichkeit.” Topography of Trauma: Fissures, Disruptions and Transfigurations, edited by Danielle Schaub, et al. Brill, 2019, pp. 25–44.

Zacarian, Debbie, et al. Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress. ASCD, 2017.

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IvyPanda. (2021, July 7). The Themes of Hope and Trauma in "Harry Potter". Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-themes-of-hope-and-trauma-in-harry-potter/

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"The Themes of Hope and Trauma in "Harry Potter"." IvyPanda, 7 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-themes-of-hope-and-trauma-in-harry-potter/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Themes of Hope and Trauma in "Harry Potter"." July 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-themes-of-hope-and-trauma-in-harry-potter/.


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IvyPanda. "The Themes of Hope and Trauma in "Harry Potter"." July 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-themes-of-hope-and-trauma-in-harry-potter/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Themes of Hope and Trauma in "Harry Potter"." July 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-themes-of-hope-and-trauma-in-harry-potter/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Themes of Hope and Trauma in "Harry Potter"'. 7 July.

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