One often discussed heroine in pop culture today is Hermione Granger. Between the books and films, the Harry Potter franchise spanned from 1997 to 2011 with the first release of the book Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone to the last release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. These characters were presented and grew with an entire generation of teens and young adults so their cultural significance on that generation is very important. The series had an incredibly strong female character in Hermione and is a part of the hero’s journey in this series. In this blog, we will look at Hermione’s character through the lens of feminist criticisms and critical race studies.
First I will begin with a description of Hermione herself. She is a muggle-born meaning that both of her parents are muggles (i.e. don’t possess magical abilities). In the wizarding world, muggle-born witches and wizards are sometimes viewed as inferior by those who are pure-blood (i.e. witches and wizards with both parents having magical abilities). Not every pure-blood looks down upon muggle-borns but there are certain families and groups in the wizarding world that certainly do. Hermione is a part of the incoming class that Harry is in and they quickly become friends in the first book after an incident with a troll. Hermione is incredibly smart and one of the most intelligent of their class. She excels in every class she takes and feels she has something to prove being from muggle parents. This is not her only motivation to success but it plays an important role. She starts the story at 12 years old and by the end is roughly 18. So, though the story she has gone through some of the most critical years in human development as far as discovering who one’s self is.
Critical race studies have a lot to do with the way a society perceives the importance of race in a person. Some of these perceptions range from ignoring that problems exist, recognizing difference and acting negatively on it or recognizing difference and acting positively on it. Of course, race studies are more complex than those three categories but they are just an outline for what perceptions can look like. The way we see these race studies appear in the context of Harry Potter is the struggle of perception of the wizarding blood types. There are a few other blood groups alongside the two previously mentioned like half-bloods who have one magic parent and one muggle parent, and squibs which are those who have two magical parents but possess no magical abilities themselves. As mentioned before Hermione is a muggle-born and muggle-borns struggle with being perceived as wholly inferior by some groups of pure-bloods. We are first introduced to the hatred of muggle-borns by pure-bloods when Draco Malfoy calls Hermione a mudblood which is a derogatory term for a muggle-born. There is a moment of tension before Ron attempts to cast a spell on Draco which backfires on himself. The three go to Hagrid to try to help Ron which is where the audience first gets to know what the term means. You can view the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saW6kE5a_zA. There exists a perception in the wizarding world that pure-bloods have a better magical ability, but this is not exactly true. Pure-bloods are privileged in that they have been raised in the wizarding world more than likely and they have been exposed to it for much of their life. Early on in wizard education this may show as better skills but the innate ability for magic lies solely within a person. Hermione is the perfect example because she excels in school and is at or near the top of her class consistently throughout the full story. The perception that pure-bloods have better magical ability is just that, a perception and it is the hard work and dedication that makes a good witch or wizard, not their blood line.
Feminist criticisms play into Hermione’s character because she is a woman fighting the preconceived mold of what it is to be traditionally feminine. Being feminine is not the same as being a woman and vice versa. Hermione is incredibly intelligent, independent and a great witch to boot. She is often the one leading her friends through their challenges using her advanced knowledge and is often the sole reason that the day is saved at the end of the story. One such example would be in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets when Hermione is petrified by the basilisk while researching in the library. She tears out a page of a book she was reading that had the answers to the beast in the chamber of secrets and even wrote down her thoughts on the page about how the beast was getting around without being spotted. Even when she is completely paralyzed Hermione is still solving problems facing the students of Hogwarts. She is not portrayed as a love interest to be won by another character which is an important distinction when comparing the Harry Potter series to classical heroic works in the days of the Ancient Greeks for example. The perceptions and possibilities for women heroic characters is limitless in today’s society and Hermione is a great example of fighting the preconceived mold, being an independently successful person, and not being an object to be won by the hero.
Undoubtedly Hermione’s character is an example of the triumph of a traditionally disadvantaged character both in how our own society works and how the wizarding world works. She fights against the perceptions cast on her by others to become one of the strongest and most important characters in the novels and movies. Just because she is muggle-born does not mean she will submit to the idea that her magical abilities are inferior and just because she is a woman she will not submit to the idea that she is secondary or inferior to the male characters of the story. Hermione is a fantastic character to grow up having as a role model as she shows that despite the problems that society casts on her, she pushes through to be the strong heroine that her efforts earn.