This writing project will entail taking one of two approaches in your examination and analysis of one of the following films: Singin’ in the Rain, The Searchers, and The Hurt Locker.
Meaning in a visual medium like cinema is created through the repetition and reoccurrence of certain images, shots, and cinematic techniques over the course of a film’s runtime. What images, gestures, actions by characters, items, and shots occur again and again throughout a particular film? What occurs in the shots where these repeating things occur? What pattern is established by these occurrences? What does this repeating pattern come to represent or signify?
In film, a character arc follows how a specific character grows, changes, evolves, or learns over the course of the film’s narrative. How does a specific character (major or minor) grow and change over the course of a film? What does his or her change and growth come to represent and signify?
Gateway Criteria Checklist for Major Writing Assignments:
___ The work is in Times New Roman twelve-point (12) font.
___ The work is double-spaced and does not contain excessive spacing between paragraphs.
___ The work is set in MLA citation format. Please reference the Purdue Owl for more
information regarding formatting: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/
___ The work has a descriptive title.
___ The work reaches the minimal required length.
___ The titles of major works are italicized or underlined. The titles of “essays” or “shorter
works” are placed in quotations marks (double quotations, not single quotations)
___ The work includes a works cited page. Since this is a film course, the films you mention in
your work must be cited on the works cited page.
MLA Works Cited Page: Basic Format: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/05/
MLA Works Cited Examples for Film: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/09/
___ The work’s spacing and margins have not been adjusted or “tinkered with” in order to create
the appearance of reaching the proper length.
___ The work and ideas of others are properly noted and cited.
Professor Britton Lumpkin
4 June 2004
Harry Potter as the Ever-Diminishing Hero
In reading countless reviews and critiques of the Harry Potter novels, two consistent statements tend to come up; first that all of J. K. Rowling’s novels are formulaic and follow a set plot pattern, and second that each novel the reader a happy, satisfactory conclusion. I feel that nothing could be further from the truth. While the initial books in the series offer pleasant and conclusive resolutions, with each novel that follows the stories fall shorter and shorter of neatly wrapping the conflict up, and their endings become more complicated and complex. It should be particularly noted that as Harry matures, and acquires more skills as a wizard, he actually accomplishes less as the hero. Each foray into the world of Hogwarts and every conflict with Lord Voldemort and his minions makes “the boy that lived” all the more fragile and human.
In a sense, Harry’s role as an ever-diminishing hero as I have termed it, corresponds to his own maturation and growth of experiential knowledge in a larger and ever-increasing world. This diminishment is parallel to one’s own maturation in that as one matures clear victories and certainties are steadily replaced by ambiguity and complexity. This view stands in contrast to Jack Zipes master plot summary of the Harry Potter novels. He states in his summary of the books in Sticks and Stones: “Whatever happens – and the plot always involve a great deal of manly competition and some kind Student 2
of mystery – you can be sure that Harry wins” (177). Better perhaps to say Harry “endures,” “survives,” or even “just gets by,” and that makes all the difference.
This essay will attempt to examine the progression of Harry’s conflicts and the resolutions of those conflicts in each book. Even though he grows in his knowledge and skill as a wizard from the conflicts with Voldemort and his surrogates and through the more pleasant acquirement of skills from his professors and friends, Harry becomes less and less of a hero figure and as will be shown in the later books, his victories are minimal at best. This progression serves to demonstrate the transition of Harry as a mythic or romantic figure into something more human and fallible. It also offers his character an entrance into the larger world by acknowledging the need to have help from others and that even the biggest of heroes need group or communal assistance to achieve their ends and win the battles that they have been fated to fight.
The back-story of Harry Potter that is told in a slow unraveling delayed exposition and how it defines him is as essential to the story as the current events that occur in each book. It is the story that the reader and Harry himself is only privy to in small bits and pieces dropped as tidbits throughout the books. Despite the lack of fleshed out details it remains the defining and signature moment for Harry’s life: “people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices ‘To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!’” (Sorcerer’s Stone 17). When Harry Potter, a one year old baby, defeats the most powerful dark wizard that the magical world has known, well that is a tough act to follow up. In a sense, Harry has peaked at age one. It is made all the more ironic by the fact that he knows the least about the greatest thing he has ever done. Hermione notes when she first meets Harry: “I know all about you, of course – I got a Student 3
few extra books for background reading, and you’re in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century” (106). Such recognition might suffice for one that has worked for a lifetime in his or her chosen endeavor, but it comes across as an altogether premature declaration when such notice is given to an eleven-year-old boy whose major accomplishments came around the age of one. It would probably be an overwhelming and bewildering experience for one to face. As Alice Mills states: “Harry is also senex in that he has already, before the action of book I starts, ended Voldemort’s reign and restored the rule of good among the wizards. His present is always shaped by the past, as he increasingly comes to understand (8).” Harry is somewhat in competition with his younger self in a battle that becomes ever more difficult to win.
Hence, one must consider the Harry Potter books narratives of aftermath. What happens after the protagonist has lived his or her greatest story or done his or her greatest deed. Instead of receiving that story straight up by the author, we see the effects of the aftermath on that protagonist. Now of course, what is compelling or even marketable about telling the heroic story of a one-year-old child should go without saying. Rowling skillfully moves her narration to the aftermath of Voldemort’s defeat and picks up the narration when perhaps her protagonist begins to become interesting. In another odd twist, Harry becomes a reader to the text of his own life.
Of course, the events of the past help one to define the occurrences of the present, and one must consider the actions of Harry Potter in relation to his major, life-defining moment. In relation to Sorcerer’s Stone, this first book in the series can be taken as a sequel to the events that happened eleven years ago. In the final conflict of this book, Student 4
Harry single-handedly defeats Voldemort, who has parasitically attached himself to the seemingly unassuming Professor Quirrell, who is no less than the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, in order to acquire the Sorcerer’s Stone, which will allow Voldemort to return to human form. Harry defeats Quirrell with his own bare skin: “Quirrell rolled off him, his face blistering, too, and then Harry knew: Quirrell couldn’t touch his bare skin, not without suffering terrible pain – his only chance was to keep hold of Quirrell, keep him in enough pain to stop him from doing a curse” (Sorcerer’s Stone 295). In a repeat of the downfall of Voldemort from ten years ago, something about Harry’s own body and being destroys Voldemort’s attempt to assume power again. It appears more instinctual and unconscious than anything else. Something that Harry does without even thinking about leads to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of book I.
The diminishment of Harry Potter as hero already begins to clearly take shape in The Chamber of Secrets. In this book, it is revealed that his adversary is a much younger seventeen-year-old version of Voldemort in the form of the diary of Tom Riddle (Voldemort’s name given by his adopted muggle parents). Tom, after seducing Ginny Weasley to do his work, has sent a basilisk out into Hogwarts to kill or freeze mudbloods (people with mixed magical and muggle heritage). It is Riddle’s ambition to overtake the body of Ginny Weasley and regain human form. In doing so, he would have resurrected a younger but less powerful version of Voldemort. Harry does a great deed by thwarting Riddle’s plans to escape from the pages of the written word so to speak, but its results are much more selective and not as widespread and important as his previous accomplishments. When he defeated Voldemort the first time, Harry ended the Dark Lord’s reign of terror that had threatened to consume both the magical and non-magical Student 5
world. When Harry and Voldemort face each other again, he merely prevents that possibility from reasserting itself. But in defeating the younger version of Voldemort, he primarily saves and protects a select group:
After he “kills” Tom Riddle, Harry returns from his journey with a new worldview and a “boon”: safety for all Muggle-born wizards, including Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hermione Granger (a pure muggle), the Ravenclaw’s Prefect, and Colin Creevy, whose father is a milkman. By securing such safety, Harry asserts that racial purity is not essential for membership in a community.” (De Rosa 182)
While this is a great accomplishment, it rather pales in comparison to the world saving act that he had done when he was one year old.
Harry is also, by this point, working harder and harder to achieve less and at greater personal cost. In an echo to Beowulf, the monster-slayer, Harry needs nothing but his own body and being to defeat Voldemort much in the same way that Beowulf only needed the strength of his muscles to dispose of Grendal. But when Beowulf confronts Grendal’s mother in her lair, he needs the ancient giants sword in order to defeat her. Beowulf has either become all too aware of his limitations or has increasingly realized the necessity of acquiring tools in order to protect one’s self. The same can be said for Harry who manages to defeat Riddle and the basilisk with the help of the Gryffindor sword that comes out of sorting hat. With it he kills the basilisk that also manages to give him a deathblow. This is remedied by the angelic presence of Fawkes the phoenix, whose tears heal Harry and brings him back from the brink of death. Fawkes serves as the first Student 6
of many that directly assist Harry in his climatic battle with Voldemort or one of his surrogates.
The Prisoner of Azkaban distinguishes itself from its predecessors by not offering the satisfying and happy conclusion that had been established at the end of the first two books. While Sirius Black is revealed as innocent of the crime that he has been convicted of, he is not exonerated and allowed to walk the streets as a free man. In fact, he must escape to safety under cover of night on the back of another who was undeservedly convicted of a crime, the Hippogriff, Buckbeak. The real murderer, Wormtail, escapes to safety after briefly being exposed by Harry and his cohorts (He had been hiding as Ron’s pet rat, Scabbers, for the past twelve years). And to add yet another insult, Harry’s favorite professor, Lupin, is forced to resign in disgrace after being exposed as a werewolf.
Harry as a hero is also taken down a notch when he confronts the nemesis-like Dementors. Before he was brimming with overconfidence, when concern was raised that Sirius Black might be trying to kill him, Harry simply brushes it off: “‘I’m not [scared],’ said Harry sincerely. ‘Really,’ he added, because Mr. Weasley was looking disbelieving. ‘I’m not trying to be a hero, but seriously, Sirius Black can’t be worse than Voldemort, can he?’” (The Prisoner of Azkaban 73). He is paralyzed though whenever he comes in contact with the Dementors. They prey upon the pain that he has experienced and negate his ability to be heroic. Hence, Harry takes up his first true educational challenge. He learns to summon a Patronus in order to protect himself from the Dementors. This is a clear demonstration of his growing knowledge and prowess as a wizard. In the end after a Student 7
trick of time travel when he sees a future version of himself do it, Harry manages to cast the Patronus spell successfully.
With his own growing power also comes the recognition of his own limitations. In the previous two books, his faithful sidekicks Ron and Hermione were either conveniently injured or in the process of helping someone conveniently injured, so that Harry just happened to face his major challenge alone. But at the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione is with Harry the whole time they travel back into the past to correct certain events:
At the moment of near calamity during Year Three, Dumbledore advises not Harry but his friend Hermione on the time travel the students must use to save innocent lives. Here the old grand wizard shows how well Harry has chosen his companions, for the profoundly intellectual Hermione is better suited than Harry to understand the intricacies of temporal displacement. (Pharr 60)
The idea of Harry as a mythic, singular hero gradually yields to an increasingly more knowledgeable hero that nonetheless needs the help and assistance of others.
The Goblet of Fire manages to turn the previous notion on its head with both positive and negative results. In this story, he gets assistance from both good and evil forces. He is entered into the Tri-wizard tournament (against his will) and competes for a large prize. There is a well acknowledged tradition that cheating has been rampant in the competition with students constantly getting tips from professors about what they will face. But it is only in the grasp of the newly born Voldemort that he realizes just how manipulated the whole competition has been. Voldemort states:
So how could I take him? Student 8
Why . . .by using Bertha Jorkins’s information, of course. Use my one faithful Death Eater, stationed at Hogwarts, to ensure that the boy’s name was entered into the Goblet of Fire. Use my Death Eater to ensure that the boy won the tournament – that he touched the Triwizard Cup first – the cup which my Death Eater had turned into a Portkey, which would bring him here, beyond the reach of Dumbledore’s help and protection, and into my waiting arms. And here he is . . . the boy you all believed had been my downfall.” (Goblet of Fire 657)
In that brief expositional unfurling, Voldemort reveals just how easily Harry played into Voldemort’s plan. It is later revealed how Crouch’s son masquerading as Mad-Eye Moody earned Harry’s trust and almost killed Harry after his master failed to do so. The whole dénouement undercuts all the heroic deeds and efforts that Harry and the other competitors displayed in the Triwizard tournament and helps to expose the games for the sham that they are. These elaborate plans resulted in the murder of one of the competitors, Cedric Diggory and allow Harry to contribute to the re-birth, rather unintentionally, of Voldemort.
The Goblet of Fire cannot be considered a happy ending by most interpretations. Harry survives rather than triumphs over his adversity: “The end of volume four is especially illuminating in this respect as Harry is finally put through a trail in which he can only count on himself” (Nikolajeva 139). To a certain extent this is true. In the books final confrontation, Harry is left to face Voldemort alone in a graveyard arena surrounded by his supporters, the Death Eaters. Only when both Voldemort and Harry cast spells at each other does the tide turn. Because they both essentially wield the same kind of wand, this negates their respective spells. It also causes spells that Voldemort has previously Student 9
cast to reveal themselves. The spirits of those Voldemort has murdered reveal themselves and come to aid of Harry. He sees Cedric, and Harry sees his mother and father, which help to serve as small consolations to the final physical manifestation of Voldemort. The spirits help Harry to escape from the clutches of the Death Eaters and allow him to return to safety with the body of Cedric in tow. His victory money for winning the tournament offers him no comfort, and he freely gives the coins to Fred and George Weasley in the hopes that they can start their own business. This empty victory is a far cry from the jovial celebration that ensued after Gyriffindor secured the house cup for the first time in many years in the first book.
With the last volume in the series published so far, The Order of the Phoenix, the story of Harry reaches new emotional lows. He gets a lifetime ban on Quidditch placed on him and suffers the wrath of the Ministry of Magic’s Professor Umbridge, whose intent is clearly to not educate the students in defense against the dark arts. This forces the students to educate themselves in that endeavor, and Harry Potter is called upon to be their instructor. After surviving so many life-threatening situations, he seems a rather appropriate and seasoned instructor. But it is perhaps his willingness to put himself in harm’s way that results in the death of his godfather, Sirius Black. Voldemort gets into Harry’s mind and convinces him that the Death Eaters have taken Sirius captive, when in fact; it is merely a trap to pull Harry away from Hogwarts. Harry’s visions become almost a self-fulfilling prophecy as he watches Sirius die right before his eyes as he falls behind a death shroud. In this most recent book, Harry as a hero is given more of a tragic dimension. It is through his excess of virtue in always wanting to help his friends out and save the day that directly results in the death of his godfather. This is contrasted with Student 10
Cedric’s death who was more a victim of happenstance and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Harry no doubt feels guilty for Cedric, but a strong case could be made that the blood of Sirius Black is on Harry’s hands.
As my examination has progressed, I have shown the reduction of Harry Potter and his heroic status. As he matures and grows as a wizard, his accomplishments become less and less, despite the fact that he has grown in his skills as a wizard and his group of friends and cohorts has expanded. One can see a pop culture equivalent in the original Star Wars trilogy in the character of Luke Skywalker. As a farm boy recently escaped from Tattoine, Luke manages to destroy the Death Star with a precise shot. He never really manages to outdo that initial splash that he makes. Even though, he grows as a Jedi and becomes a stronger person. His battle becomes a more personal conflict between himself and Darth Vader, and much of the work done to defeat the Empire is done through the communal effort of the rebellion. Luke’s work increasingly becomes merely a part of that overall communal effort.
The same can be said for Harry Potter’s role, he has increasingly seen it necessary to have friends to help him along, and he begins to see the need to work within a communal or group framework in order to defeat Voldemort and his minions. It is not all on him:
[t]he Potter heritage calls Harry to become a seeker whose episodic quests for knowledge are unified by the grand themes of self-discovery and selfless valor. The combination is important, for if a hero is to be complete, he must come to know more than himself and his own potential; he must also come to know the value of other creatures, great and small. (Pharr 56) Student 11
Wisdom, I suppose, comes in knowing ones limitations, and the last few Harry Potter books readily display that notion. If there is any consolation, perhaps, it is in the fact that Harry is not alone in his endeavor to fight evil. The last paragraph of The Order of the Phoenix offers up though a mixture of comradeship and aloneness that is somewhat unsettling. The hero is shown to have friends, but he is still the one who must face the greatest danger and lives in the fact that this whole story is being told first and foremost because of him:
He somehow could not find words to tell them what it meant to him, to see them all ranged there, on his side. Instead he smiled, raised a hand in farewell, turned around, and led the way out of the station toward the sunlit street, with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley hurrying along in his wake. (The Order of the Phoenix 870)
In conclusion, it should be noted that the concepts and themes presented in this paper are very much relating to a work in progress that has yet to come to its ending. It should also be noted that much of the critical work cited in this essay was composed before the most recent installment was published. Nevertheless I have a firm belief that the trajectory established in the published Harry Potter books will be played out in the future releases. Of course, if my ideas turn out to be completely wrong, then I have no problem amending my position, as this endeavor will inevitably be revised to a certain extent given the surprising twists and turns that have become the signature of J. K. Rowling’s fantastical work. Student 12
De Rosa, Deborah. “Wizardly Challenges to and Affirmations of the Initiation Paradigm
in Harry Potter.” Harry Potter’s World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives. Ed.
Elizabeth E. Heilman. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003. 163-184. Print.
Mills, Alice. “Archetypes and the Unconscious in Harry Potter and Diana Wynne Jone’s
Fire and Hemlock and Dogsbody.” Reading Harry Potter. Ed. Giselle Liza Anatol.
Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2003. 3-15. Print.
Nikolajeva, Maria. “Harry Potter – A Return to the Romantic Hero.” Harry Potter’s
World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives. Ed. Elizabeth E. Heilman. New York:
RoutledgeFalmer, 2003. 125-140. Print.
Pharr, Mary. “In Medias Res: Harry Potter as Hero-in-Progress.” The Ivory Tower and
Harry Potter. Ed. Lana A. Whited. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2002. 53-66. Print.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.
—————- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003.
—————- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
————— Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Print.
Zipes, Jack. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from
Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.
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