HPfGU #51720


RE: Vengeance

Scott (who will never go wrong on this list proclaiming the sexiness of brainy assertive girls!) wrote:

There's been some discussion about the evils of vengeance; that seeking vengeance is some sort of dark character aspect. I find the modern view of vengeance interesting, when one looks at vengeange in the eyes of the Greeks. To the Greeks, vengeance was a noble pursuit; it was upholding one's honor, and whole wars were started out of a desire for retribution (both Persian Wars, actually, were wars of vengeance). Vengeance was something that 'Real Men' sought at all costs. I don't necessarily hold with this view. I don't necessarily hold with Ghandi's "An Eye for an Eye blinds the world," either.

Well, I guess that the question that really interests me the most here is: what does the story tell us about vengeance? What role is vengeance playing within the story itself?

As I'm reading it, vengeance is being presented in the books as one of the chief spiritual perils for the characters.

Harry's desire for vengeance in PoA leads him to nearly kill Sirius Black, who is an innocent man. Sirius' obsession with vengeance leads him to break the blameless Ron's leg, and to throttle his own godson. Sirius and Remus wish to kill Peter in vengeance, but Harry stops them out of concern for their spiritual well-being -- and whatever we as individuals might make of that decision, I think that the author presents it as wholly positive. Dumbledore praises Harry for it, and on the metaphoric level, it is the decision that enables Harry to fend off the dementors: by preventing the vengeance killing, as his father would have done, Harry is proven a worthy heir to James, who then appears in the form of Harry's own patronus to fend off the dementors, symbols of madness and of spiritual despair.

Snape is at his nastiest and his least rational—the end of PoA, for example—when he is acting out of a desire for vengeance: on Sirius, on Lupin, and often, through Harry, vicariously on James. When Snape is at his most admirable—when, for example, he is working to save Harry's life—it is when he is denying himself the pleasures of vicarious payback to follow instead a somewhat loftier goal.

Moaning Myrtle was bound to Hogwarts after she had made a nuisance of herself trying to get some payback on her adolescent tormentor. I think it strongly suggested that this inability to let go of her anger over having been picked on as a student is in fact what is keeping her a ghost, what prevents her spirit from finding rest.

The unwillingness to forgive past wrongs characterizes Voldemort, of course, who murdered his father and paternal grandparents to "pay them back" for their treatment of his mother and himself, and who in the graveyard tells his erring Death Eaters: "I do not forgive."

In GoF, Barty Jr. is shown as highly motivated by vengeance as well. He gloats over his father falling prey to the Imperius Curse. He avenges himself vicariously on Lucius Malfoy, that hated Death Eater who never suffered, by targetting the man's son. He begs Harry to tell him that his master tortured the other DEs for their disloyalty. He is Payback Man. He is also, I think, depicted as profoundly wicked, as well as quite, quite mad.

Tha ambiguous nature of the desire for vengeance plays a central role in GoF, I think.

Lying in the darkness, Harry felt a rush of anger and hate toward the people who had tortured Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom. ... He remembered the jeers of the crowd as Crouch's son and his companions had been dragged from the court by the dementors. ... He understood how they had felt. . . . Then he remembered the milk-white face of the screaming boy and realized with a jolt that he had died a year later. . . .

It was Voldemort, Harry thought, staring up at the canopy of his bed in the darkness, it all came back to Voldemort ... He was the one who had torn these families apart, who had ruined all these lives. . . .

The "rush of anger and hate" that Harry feels at the thought of the terrible wrong done to the Longbottoms is the source of vengeance. His pity for Crouch's son, whom he believes at the time to have been innocent, leads him to the realization that such expressions of hatred can be seen as every bit as much Voldemort's doing as the original wrong itself.

The passage is ironic because Crouch's son is actually not dead at all; instead, he is Harry's unseen antagonist throughout GoF. It is also, however, profound, in that part of what makes Crouch Jr. so utterly consumed by evil is his own inability to reach the same conclusion that Harry himself just has: that the pursuit of vengeance leads, ultimately, to the loss of ones very soul.

These indications combine to make me feel that JKR is most definitely taking the stand that the desire for vengeance is, while natural, normal and even to some extent beneficial, in that it can lend one the strength to resist (anger over Voldemort's taunts about his parents lends Harry strength in both the Chamber and the Graveyard), also a very serious spiritual peril, a lure and a trap for the unwary.

Part of what interests me so much about this, though (and part of why I keep obsessing on scenes like the Train, Step and how they are constructed), is that this emphasis on Vengeance-As-Peril seems so very much at odds with the author's fondness for 'just deserts' humour and 'comeuppance' resolutions to her plotlines.

It is difficult for me, as a reader, to reconcile these two aspects of the books, particularly when, as with the Ferret Bouncing incident, the author seems to wish to have her cake and eat it too: the scene is meant to be funny and enjoyable—Draco had it coming—and yet it is also given a secondary meaning within the text: Moody is really Crouch Jr., who was giving free rein to his vindictive nature, which is in turn presented as a symptom of his very evilness.

Authorial ambivalence?

Oooooh, yes. I think so.

And in a lot of ways, I think that ambivalence is part of what makes the books work so well. I think that one of the reasons that Snape is such an interesting character is that JKR knows how to make his grudge-holding and his vindictiveness really palpable. She knows how to make it seem real. I suspect that she can do this so well for exactly the same reason that she can write such appealing come-uppance humor scenes: because she really does get the desire for vengeance. She understands how it operates. She knows how it works. She knows how it feels.

Which also may be why it is that she emphasizes it so very strongly as a spiritual peril within her books.


Oh, and one other thing...


When I signed onto this list, I expected to discuss predictions and speculation as to what happens in future books- not full blown philosophy discussions. I'm just a simple Math Major, dang it! Math is so clear cut- you're either right, or wrong, and you're not generally judged on either (well, not morally, heh).

Oh, dear. Well, I certainly hope that nobody's judging anyone here. I personally think that it's a lot of fun to discuss these aspects of the books, but only when we can keep it from getting too personal.

A Math Major, eh? So how many students at Hogwarts, then, do you think?

::evil grin::


Posted February 05, 2003 at 8:02 pm
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