How Themes & Ideas Can Unite a Story 110-04

1. Different plots engage the same question/issue.

One of the most prevalent issues in the Harry Potter series is the issue of prejudice. Audiences first encounter it through the Dursleys and their treatment of Harry. Because of Harry’s magical parentage, the Dursleys malign and mistreat Harry. Ironically Harry’s other main antagonists, Voldemort and his followers also begrudge Harry because of his heritage, but in their case they feel that he is “not magical enough”, since he is born of a muggle born wizard (his mother).

Harry’s home life, social/school life, and his overarching conflict are all rooted in prejudice, in the fact that he is not of pure blood.

2. Characters represent different perspectives on a single issue.

Continuing with Harry Potter, and the issue of prejudice, consider how many characters come to represent a specific perspective on the issue.

At one extreme there’s Voldemort, Draco Malfoy, and assorted others who formally subscribe to the idea that one’s genetic heritage is paramount in determining a person’s value.

Then there are characters like Cornelius Fudge and Professor Slughorn, who definitely favor magical heritage, but prioritize wealth, skill, and influence over bloodline.
Next there are characters like Harry and Sirius, who believe in tolerance, but they also apply a rather harsh and unforgiving attitude towards anyone who shows a predilection for prejudice (i.e. Snape).

And then there’s Dumbledore, a character who (within the confines of the 7 books), demonstrates an admirable level of restraint and patience. He opposes those who apply prejudices to others, but he does so in an extremely gentle manner, giving characters numerous opportunities to redeem themselves. Every time Dumbledore confronted Voldemort, he demonstrated an earnest desire to help Voldemort see the error of his ways. He never overlooked anyone’s shortcomings, but he also firmly believed in compassion and understanding.

The various characters are, in some ways, simplified, as if each of them represented aspects of a single mind. Voldemort and the others represent ego and ambition, Fudge and Slughorn represent selfish greed, while Dumbledore functions like the conscience of the group, leaving Harry to represent the “person” trying to navigate these various psychological forces.

3. Multiple/all issues in the story relate to the same overarching topic.

Many of Harry Potter’s conflicts center around issues of prejudice, but the series also explores issues of identity, as well as fate or destiny.

Throughout the story, Harry struggles to understand who he is. Similarly, Ron struggles with his own identity, trying to escape the shadows of his elder brothers and his friend Harry. Even Voldemort (through flashbacks), is shown searching for some record of his past, his family, as a way of understanding who he is.

Both Harry and Voldemort also struggle with the prophecy that surrounds them, and while Dumbledore was never the subject of a formal prophecy, he did craft a “prophecy of his own”, a plan to fit his grand ambitions.  All three of these issues: prejudice, identity, and fate or destiny, are part of a larger issue, the question of “what order governs the world, and how do I fit into it?”  Many characters use prejudice and fate as ways of answering this question; a question that in many ways is central to the Harry Potter series as a whole. Whether it’s the social and relationship conflicts that dominate Goblet of Fire, or the main conflict of Deathly Hallows, every conflict represents some instance where a character is trying to understand how they fit into the “grand scheme” of how the world “should be”.

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