Monday, April 4, 2011

Harry's Character Arc

One of my favorite Tweeps and Bloggers, Laura Pauling, posted today on what a character arc is, and gives a wonderful definition.  This got me thinking -- I've not covered story arc yet for Harry.  So, with the understanding that a character arc shows the growth of your character, a pivotal change in viewpoint or behavior from the beginning of the story until the end, I thought it might be fun to plot out Harry's arc for each book and then the overall series.

Also, I've highlighted key words in each book that pinpoint that story's particular theme.

PS/SS -- Harry goes from being an unloved orphan living in a cupboard under the stairs, whose most deepest desire of the heart is to be with his (deceased) family, to turning his back on any possibility of being with that family if it means doing the wrong thing (i.e. joining w/Voldemort).  His reward is to be celebrated as a hero and win his new family the house cup.

CoS -- Does Harry truly belong in Gryffindor among the brave?  This question nags at Harry throughout this story, especially with the discovery of his link to Voldemort with his ability to speak Parseltongue.  By pulling Gryffindor's sword out of the hat, Harry proves that he is brave and is indeed in his true House.

PoA -- From the mean-sprited probing of Aunt Marge's tirades against his parents, to the unconformtable truths Harry must face about his Dad, Harry's journey in PoA is a search for personal identity. Are all his preconcepts of his family false? How much does he really know? And who is he truly? When Harry is able to perform the Patronus charm because he understands that HE is capable of doing so, and that it was not his father he viewed doing it, then his quest for personal identity and empowerment are culminated.

GoF -- Just when Harry thinks he's found his magical prowess, his sense of self-worth is attacked by those who do not believe in him. He is the underdog in the Triwizard Tournament. He literally falls on the ground at Cedric Diggory's feet (w/ the portkey to the World Cup). He is the champion no one wants.And he doesn't believe himself that he's capable of winning, let alone surviving. But through tragedy, Harry finds the ability to do the right thing, whether it means winning or losing. In the end, he understands that all who stand against Voldemort are on the same side.

OotP -- At the beginning of OotP, Harry feels unloved and unwanted and is filled with anger. It's almost like he's back in that locked cupboard of the beginning of the series.  Throughout the story he seeks to open a closed door, a new door, one that he doesn't know where it will lead.  When the locked doors of the Department of Mysteries finally open for Harry, what he discovers is that the love he has had all along (almost in an Oz type of way) is what protects him, and his friends, the best from Voldemort.

HBP -- The very title of this book hints strongly of the internal conflict which confronts Harry throughout -- his sense of trust, compassion, and understanding.  Through the continuous journeys into Voldemort's past via Dumbledore as well as the passion and then horror Harry has for the Half-Blood Prince by way of the potions book, Harry is forced to get over prejudices and superficial judgements to seek deeply beneath a person's exterior to understand the "other" through empathetic eyes.  Although Harry hates Snape even more passionately at the end of this book, he now has the insight to understand both Voldemort and his mum's old friend in a way that will prepare him for the Horcrux hunt ahead.

DH -- This last story starts out with Harry refusing to allow any of his friends to risk their lives to save him. Harry is still trying to go it alone in all ways. Throughout this book, he confronts what Dumbledore's desire to go it alone has cost both Dumbledore and himself. At the end, Harry not only sacrifices himself for his friends and the entire wizarding world, but also concedes that he needs help (even beyond Ron and Hermione) by giving Neville the task of killing the last Horcrux.

Series as a whole -- The overall series' arc presents a young man's coming of age story with an alchemical motif highlighting his spiritual quest/journey to enlightenment.  Harry is indeed a seeker, and he goes from being the base metal of untapped potential at the beginning, to the Philosopher's Stone of pure gold at the end, with each step, each book along the way, a stage in the creation of this elixir of life.  Harry becomes a true hero in the sense that his spiritual growth does not benefit himself alone, but brings renewed life to his people as well.

I'm sure others may see some of these arcs differently than I've outlined here?  What do you think are some of Harry's growth arcs?  What types of character arcs have you used in your own story?

Picture credit for Mary GrandPre's Mirror of Erised

(Check Out JK Rowling's Newest Release -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here!) 


  1. That's what wonderful about Harry. He is such a fully developed character and in each book struggles with a new internal conflict. Great post! And thanks for the link. :)

  2. Even as a adult I learned lessons from Harry's journey. Thank you for putting it so succinctly. I can't wait to share this with my 5th graders.

  3. EXCELLENT analysis!! I especially love your point in the last book about asking for help by stepping aside to let others kill the horcruxes (not just Neville but Ron as well). Ron has a huge character arc in that book as well, doesn't he? Accepting his own self-worth after living in Harry's (and his brothers') shadows for so long.

  4. Laura, Leslie, and Lisa (Hey, did y'all plan this? All names beginning with "R"? :-)
    Thanks so much for your feedback. And thank you, Laura, for the inspiration!
    Leslie, I hope your 5th graders enjoy it! I sub sometimes at my kids school, and I love it when I see one of them reading a Potter book and I can share with them as another fan. :-)
    Lisa -- You're exactly right about Ron's arc. Somewhere in here I've got a post on secondaries and their obstacles and growth. Hermione also killed a Horcrux, Hufflepuff's cup, with the basilisk fang. JKR spread the love around!

  5. The article is nice. The SPOILERY photo of DH part II, which I had managed to avoid until now, is not. :/

  6. Hi Guillermina -- So sorry about the spoiler. I admit that I've stopped thinking of spoilers with Harry Potter as the books have been out so long. I forget that some don't want to see the movie images beforehand as well. Will remove it now, but sorry about the upset! :-(