Psychology of “Harry Potter”

By Stephanie Ambroise

Maria Uminski/Collegian

If you enjoy literature, or if you do writing of your own, you know that writing involves including the things you know into your work. With regard to “Harry Potter” novelist J.K. Rowling, this includes her knowledge of Latin words, witchcraft (which is somewhat limited) and also of mathematical equations. Some people may not be aware of this, but the amount of each ingredient she puts into each potion are all done in accordance to different mathematical equations.

As a psychology major, though, I was excited to come across another thing that J.K. Rowling put into her writing — her opinion on a long standing battle in the world of psychology, the risk versus resilience factor. This factor essentially says that someone who has undergone great trauma or loss has a greater chance of recovering if they are surrounded by a loving and supporting group. It is known that those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have greater recovery chances if they come home to loving and supporting families as oppose to those who don’t. Those that are more resilient are the ones who have loving people surrounding them, while those who do not are considered “at risk.”

But what does this have to do with J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter?

At one point in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, Harry says to Voldemort, “You’re the weak one, and you’ll never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.” To sum up this quote, Harry says that Voldemort is essentially alone and no one loves or cares for him, but Harry does have friends, and so it sucks to be Voldemort.

Almost everyone who has watched the films or read the books knows that Harry and Tom Riddle’s tragic stories are very similar. They both lost their parents at a young age, they both had to deal with years of not knowing who they were or knowing their magical skills and they were both strong wizards who had ambitious goals. So what made one of them a force for good and another a force for pure evil? Why did Harry want to help people, while Tom wanted to destroy them? Well, it essentially goes back to Harry’s quote in “The Order of the Phoenix”; Tom will never know love or friendship.

From the age of one, Harry was saved from his house by Dumbledore, and then had the pleasure of meeting Ron, Hermione, and his eventual lover, Ginny. He was celebrated as a hero and loved and admired by almost everyone, instantly. In contrast, Tom was born in an orphanage and his mother died shortly after his birth. He was considered different by his peers. There  is evidence  showing that the children were not always kind to him, implied by his comment, “I can make bad things happen to people who are mean to me.” He grew very restrained and closed-in, and at the risk of sounding like one who shows sympathy for the Devil, he had no one to support him, no one to believe in him, no one to be his friend.

I think we can say that J,K. Rowling openly shares her take on the risk and resilience factor, because the entire series is based around the fact that Harry cheats death and the pull of evil repeatedly because there are those willing to risk their lives to save him. In the fifth movie, Harry talks to his godfather Sirius Black, and admits to him how he’s angry “all the time,” and he wonders if he might be “turning evil.” Sirius gives him a good pep talk and a hug, and all is well. What one can take out of this, though, is that Harry had someone to talk to about his fears, because he knew he would get the support he needed. Voldemort did not have that. Oh sure, he had people to do his bidding for him, but that was because they were afraid of him, not because they cared about him. Voldemort was essentially alone, in that respect, whereas Harry always had someone there for him, no matter how many of the characters J.K. Rowling killed off.

It is with good confidence then that I say that J.K. Rowling is a proud supporter of the idea of the risk versus resilience factor, based on the way that the two prominent characters turned out in her book.

Personally, I agree with this stance as well. Like the many other things that Harry Potter has taught us, friendship is important. People are important. While the weather makes it more difficult for us to socialize than in the spring or fall season, it is always important to make face time with people. So meet a new person, talk to old ones, and always remember what J.K. Rowling taught you – friendship and love are important.

Stephanie Ambroise is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]