Class and Harry Potter
"Quidditch is a rich man’s sport: like polo, in which the expense of horses limits participation to those with money or those sponsored by money, Quidditch players on old brooms can never hope to compete with those in possession of the latest technological marvels. "
-Crowning the King by Sarah Mendlesohn
The most interesting thing about Harry Potter is that it initially appears to be a fairy tale in which troubled boy finds his place in the world and lives happily ever after. What it actually amounts to is lonely supposedly lower class boy discovers he is actually one of the aristocratic elite and spends the rest of the series enjoying the moral virtue afforded to the very poor while also gliding through the doors that are only open to the very wealthy.
Harry is a member of the privileged upper class, just like Draco Malfoy. He proves himself to be a mediocre wizard time and time again (incompetent in potions class, falling behind in classes, etc), while Hermione is the smartest witch of the year and Ron is not considered distinguished enough to try for any specific title, being of the lower class. Harry, unlike the typical scrappy orphan boy, is constantly receiving gifts to ease his way. Harry receives the invisibility cloak, the Marauder’s Map, a preternatural ability to cast a Patronus, Quidditch ability from his father, and a part of Voldemort within him that allows him to fight the Dark Wizard. There is not much personal choice implied in all of this. Harry is the Chosen One, respected for something he did before he could talk, something he barely remembers, whose prestige will carry him through life. (Interesting that when others receive or give out gifts it is not judged the same way, such as when Malfoy gives his entire team of fellow Slytherins new brooms this is unanimously condemned as cheating but when Harry receives an expensive new broom out of the blue no one questions it, though he will undoubtedly exceed the speed of the other Seekers. Furthermore, when Slytherin rightfully wins the House Cup at the end of Year 1, Dumbledore fixes the match to Gryffindor’s benefit, an act that if reversed would have been protested on all sides.)
Harry also has the exceedingly loyal Ron and the brilliant Hermione tagging along (another unflattering parallel to Malfoy’s sidekicks Crabbe and Goyle, who also look to Draco for their next move, rarely displaying any agency of their own) and Hagrid and Dobby (both troublingly infantilized and presented as ‘lower class,’ lacking intelligence and class, showing Harry’s brave tolerance in accepting them) and Sirius, Lupin, Dumbledore and even Snape, etc. Unlike the typical orphan hero, who must discovery the truth on his own, Harry has an entourage of helpers to assist him in his every move.
Hermione transcends the rigorous boundaries of class placed in the books (see narrator mocking the Malfoys’ pride at their pureblood status and then rushing to add that the Weasleys and Potters were some of the oldest magical families there were) by being a part of that elusive middle class. Hermione’s parents are dentists, they can go take Hermione traveling in the summertime, Hermione is comfortable purchasing her own textbooks and the like, but nowhere in the text is there any indication of her being wealthy. This would explain Ron’s implied resentment towards her, explaining it in terms of the lower class being jealous of the potentially for upward mobility the middle class has and the opportunities they are given. Hermione becomes attractive to the boys only after having plastic surgery, not an opportunity usually afforded to the lower class in the Muggle world and Victor Krum, the only adolescent in the book whose level of fame equals Harry’s, and thus the only male whose validation of her physically would stick, accompanying her to the Yule Ball. All of these things make Hermione much closer to the aristocracy than Ron is. As a woman in the wizarding world, intelligence seems to receive mockery but beauty allows one the innate ability to move in circles beyond one’s birth status.
This is why Ron rarely misses an opportunity to correct or criticize Hermione and her lack of wizarding knowledge (having grown up Muggle); Ron is looking for any chance he can get to prove himself worthy to Hermione, who is closer to him in status than the unimpeachably high class Harry, whom Ron rarely argues with. This is why Ron chooses to accuse Hermione at the Yule Ball of betrayal (unlike Harry, who admires Hermione’s makeover at the Yule Ball and thus validates her superficially as Krum did, both of them having the social authority to do so). This is actually the cruelest insult Ron can think of, implying that Harry Potter first made Hermione respected and now she is changing allegiances to another famous, aristocratic young man and turning her back on Harry, who allowed her to move up in status along with him. Ron, whose family is known for their poverty (hand me down robes, must be a Weasley) cannot even validate Hermione even if he were so inclined because he is too socially inferior for his opinion to matter. All he can do is attempt to shatter Hermione’s bubble of happiness and social acceptance with the harsh darkness of reality.
This also explains the trio’s attitude towards the house elves: Ron, being lower class, enjoys the pleasures of having a house elf when he can (ie whenever he is at Hogwarts), Harry in his upper class status is scarcely aware of the house elves because he is accustomed to that lifestyle (since the adoration he received in Year 1 and his discovery of his heritage and Gringotts, etc.) and therefore performs the symbolic (and self serving) act of freeing a single house elf (who will then accept Harry as his new master in everything but name, arguably a strategic move on Harry’s part, or a rare moment of sympathy for those with less but regardless this action is not repeated with Kreacher, Harry’s own property.) Hermione, as a member of the middle class, with enough money to pay for household help and enough time to focus on social awareness, is understandably the most liberal, practical and objective of the bunch, creating S.P.E.W. and attempting to make a difference. Hermione’s social radicalism is ridiculed by most for attempting to change the status quo of the deceptively rigid socioeconomic classes of the wizarding world.
Harry is a legacy at Hogwarts. There is an unflattering parallel between the way the Dursleys fawn over Dudley and the wizarding world fawns over Harry. Harry is naturally gifted, unlike Hermione who must work to be the smartest, and Ron who was raised in the Wizarding World. Harry is cozily ensconced in his wealth, occasionally pausing to feel discomfort but for the most part disregarding it as a fact of his existence. Dumbledore, like Harry, is renown for his wisdom but displays very little of it in practice, choosing instead to characterize himself as a quirky old man who loves sweets. As a member of the aristocracy, Dumbledore is permitted to do this while still retaining the respect of his peers. Think of Kate Middleton designing a clothing that is objectively terrible. This information would not matter because of who she is wed to. There is a safety the upper class enjoy that allows them greater freedom in exploration, discovery and making mistakes.
The wizarding world is not a fairy tale. Pull aside the velvet curtain and you’ll find thousands of slaves sentenced to clean up after the students for life. Step outside of Hogwarts and you’ll see magical creatures criticized and discriminated against. Go to Diagon Alley and prepare to see the brutality of class separation in action. (See Hagrid, member of the lower class, who automatically takes Harry to Madame Pomfrey’s to get fitted for robes, the same location that the wealthy Malfoys buy their son’s garments, but stays outside the shop the whole time, fully aware of the difference between his status and Harry’s.) Pop back inside Hogwarts and witness deeply inbred interhouse prejudice. The wizarding world is a mess that Harry floats above, Hermione wades through and Ron sinks under. No wonder Ron quit being an Auror (a respectable job) to work in his brother’s candy shop (that Harry paid for); it’s likely the only place he felt he belonged.
And therein lies the message of Harry Potter: the wizarding world parallels our own in that it has nearly destroyed itself, but for all the Malfoy/Dumbledore/Harrys out there, there is a Hermione, naively, earnestly attempting to make a difference. And to do that would require some serious magic.