Monday, April 25, 2011

Harry Potter: House Elves

The fourth Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, has a lot to say about house elves. Hermione discovers, to her dismay, that house elves are basically slaves. They work for no pay and never have vacations. What is more, house elves claim to be happy with their lot. They are horrified when Hermione suggests that they should be paid for their work. We are good, self-respecting house elves who would never accept pay, they exclaim. We are happy to serve . . . and serve . . . and serve . . . and serve.

I believe that J. K. Rowling wonderfully captures here the master's fantasy about his slaves or servants. What an ideal picture - the happy and grateful servant who just loves to serve the master. On the plantation: I treat my slaves well. See how happy they are. In the 1950s and 1960s (oh, do I remember this): Our Negroes down here are happy. We're good to our Negroes. Don't y'all northerners come down here stirring up trouble. Well, black people had to be "happy" if they knew what was good for them. They had to smile at white folks and "know their place."

The happy house elf is a fantasy. This creature exists only in the fantasy world of the Harry Potter novels. Real-life slaves and servants with second-class citizenship are not happy about it.

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