Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387


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Introduced in a filthy pillowcase, the audience of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets knows that Dobby is other, markedly different from Harry and the other witches and wizards the audience has grown accustomed to seeing. Though Dobby is of course not the first sign that there are many problems within the Wizarding World, he is one of the few early signs that there are faults and prejudices in the wizarding world that do not stem from Voldemort or inherent evil. In the first book, Hermione’s lineage and Draco’s douchebaggery reveal that there are prejudices in the Wizarding World based on the magical “purity” of one’s blood. The reader is led to believe, however, that only evil characters believe this.

When it comes to house elves such as Dobby, however, prejudice transcends the dichotomy between good and evil. The readers have been led to believe up until Dobby’s entrance in the text, that the Wizarding World has true good and true evil in it. And Dobby complicates this immensely; Ron who is presumed to be inherently good reveals instead that he is inherently prejudiced towards house elves, a fellow magical creature. For it is not Dobby’s “lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection” for the reader, rather it is his disturbance of “identity, system, order” (Kristeva 4). In Goblet of Fire, the reader finally learns that all of the food that magically appears every day in the Great Hall is created from the magic of the house elves; the magic that runs Hogwarts–the place that Harry Potter has come to think of as home–reveals itself to be not inherent but rather a result of a subservient labor force. The construction of the house elves subservience grows deeper as it is revealed that one of the house elves characteristics is their desire to serve their masters which Dobby, now a free elf, affirms when he tells Hermione that “Dobby likes freedom, miss, but he isn’t wanting too much, miss, he likes work better.” (Rowling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Chapter 21). The analogies between house elves and slaves are unavoidable: their presence as out of sight of the readers until Dobby physically manifests himself in Chamber of Secrets, the belief that subservience is in their nature, and their actual subservience and reliance upon a master. Yet for all that the Civil Rights has presumably taught, it is still the reader’s inclination to recoil from Dobby and the revelations about the Wizarding World that he represents. In this sense, it should come as little surprise that Dobby was only featured in the second film, where his part is instrumental to the plot, and the seventh film, where Dobby is Harry and the gangs only chance for escape. To consider wizards’ prejudice towards house elves, would be to draw the viewer “toward the place where meaning collapses,” and that of course would be unpleasant and detract from the movie’s plot (Kristeva 2).


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