The Harry Potter series is widely categorized as children’s fiction, but it has a vast adult fan base as well. This is largely due to the expert maneuvering of the narrative through the perilous waters of distinctly adult questions pertaining to love and especially death. Many different perspectives are possible within the realm of literature and fans are always in the process of finding something new about the series, years after they have put down the book.
Therefore it is no exaggeration to say that the Harry Potter series is one of the most successful franchises in the world, spanning 7 books, 8 movies, multiple spin-offs, fan sites, musicals not to mention the countless numbers of fan-fiction being churned out every day dedicated to it. It has had such a huge impact on people and their lives and has shaped the way they looked at the world.
Right from the very beginning, the reader comes face to face with death in the form of James and Lily’s sacrifice for their son, Harry who went on to become famous for being the only person to ever survive the Killing Curse. The reader, along with him, does not know the lasting consequences of their deaths and their sacrifice is alluded to multiple times by different people and it is what protects him in the end. He was revered and admired for the very simple reason of not dying.
Dubbed as The Boy Who Lived, he learns of his magical heritage and the real reason for his parents’ death and that is the moment that he grieves for them for the first time in 11 years and it becomes a truly cathartic moment for the young protagonist. This paper shall use elements of psychoanalysis and existentialism to dig deep into the psyche of its chief characters, looking into the trauma that followed them from childhood well into adulthood, in order to understand each of their differing stances on existence and death. It will also employ Terror Management Theory and the Hero Archetype to further help the analysis.
The protagonist of Rowling’s masterpiece has undeniably gone through a lot of trauma since his birth, starting with the death of his parents and then being hurtled into a war whilst barely being an adult and ultimately being asked to sacrifice himself for the “Greater Good”. At such a young age he sees his friends get tortured, all of the adult and authority-like figures in his life get murdered and he realizes that he well and truly is alone and only he can stop the destruction. Dreams are also a prominent feature in the narrative and being an important catalyst for the furthering of the plot. The Freudian concept of the Id, Ego, and Superego can be applied to the different characters to better understand their place in that universe.
As the name suggests, atheistic existentialism dismisses any higher metaphysical and transcendental power in the workings of a philosophical body of thought. It confronts death anxiety head-on and does not depend on an omnipotent God to save them or hope for some form of paranormal salvation. This can be observed in the journey of the boy-wizard and all his encounters with death and its fear. There is a stench of death that permeates the whole series.
The name of the chief antagonist, Voldemort, itself is a testament to this as it originates from French and means ‘Flight from Death’ which is a lasting mark of the one thing that he is most afraid of and wishes to evade at all costs. Ironically, the one thing he dished out to people with no second thoughts scared him immensely and his whole life was dedicated to cheating death. The name of his group of followers is also very evocative in this sense and it isn’t very subtle either as Voldemort chose to call them his Death Eaters.
Escaping death was what pushed Voldemort throughout the series. This ‘existential terror’ coupled with an unquenchable thirst for power became the reason he created the Horcruxes and go after the Philosopher’s Stone. The stone was a crucial ingredient for the Elixir of Life, which gave its drinker the ability to live forever. Immortality is seen, of course, as the means to conquer death, but the Philosopher’s Stone questioned the idea of whether that was a triumph at all.
All of these elements in Harry’s world along with the people he comes across are responsible for his choices and ideas about death. The primary aim of this paper is to delve into death as a recurring theme but also how each of the characters views it along with how their own physical act of dying influenced Harry to come to terms with his own mortality and “welcome death like an old friend.” Even Voldemort’s wand-core symbolized his need for resurrection or a return to life.
Since the beginning of time, human beings have undergone rapid and continuous changes. For millions of years, we have evolved as a species and secured the title of the most intelligent of all life on this planet. This intelligence, however, came at a steep price. Human beings are the only species who are able to comprehend their existence in terms of the past, present and future but more importantly, they are also aware of the inevitability of death and contemplate its lasting consequences. This awareness of our existence is what psychologists term as ‘mortality salience’. Humankind being the subjective beings that they are, had vastly differing views about their life having an expiration date. Some of them have taken it in stride, positing that life is truly valuable only because it ends but others try to cling onto a state of denial.
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