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U-M HISTORY 375 - The Good and Bad Witch/Mothers of Harry Potter: A Media Analysis

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1The Good and Bad Witch/Mothers of Harry Potter: A Media Analysis By: Krupa PatelThroughout historic accusations of witchcraft, maternity appears to challenge patriarchy. This is evident by the Puritan belief that a woman’s value is defined by her ability to be a mother. Furthermore, many witchcraft accusations were associated with a woman’s maternal nurture or female sexuality: how she treated children and whether she engaged in sexual relations with the Devil. In the fictional realm of Harry Potter, a fantasy book series written by J.K. Rowling from 1997-2007, these themes are embodied by adult female characters who illustrate what it means to bea witch, mother, or woman. Rowling challenges the negative stereotype of associating witches and bad mothering by presenting witches as “good mothers” in the example of Molly Weasley and Narcissa Malfoy, but also supports villainous witch norms by using bad mother characters like Bellatrix Lestrange and Dolores Umbridge.Many scholars use fantasy tales to present the perception that women are helplessly dependent on men. The behavioral expectation is to be a submissive, loving, and nurturing woman or mother, which Lieberman believes acculturates females to traditional social roles1. While breaking these normative roles in Puritan society would challenge the patriarchy and call for witch accusations, Rowling depicts boldness, independence, and heroism in the example of the good witch/mother figure, driven to defy by maternal love. Furthermore, Rowling reverses patriarchal hierarchies and undermines stereotypical gender expectations with the characters Molly Weasley and Narcissa Malfoy. Their defiance from traditional norms and association with witchcraft is illustrated as heroic instead of dangerous, justified by their motherly love to protect their child.1 Lieberman, “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” 383.2While Molly Weasley conforms to gender roles in descriptions of her constantly cooking andcleaning, she is a dominating force in her household. As the disciplinarian in the family, Molly carries much of the power dynamic in the nuclear Weasley family. As both an outspoken, gifted witch and a fierce mother, she breaks the norm of submission of a proper wife. Her boldness is evident in her duel with Bellatrix Lestrange in the Second Wizarding War2. Molly exhibits a violent display of motherly love to protect her daughter Ginny. By killing Voldemort’s most faithful servant and saving her child, Molly is showcased as a hero. Similarly, Narcissa Malfoy’s compliance to traditional gender roles is challenged by her maternal status. Narcissa often shops or bakes sweets, and like Molly, she is fiercely protective of her son, Draco. During the Final Battle of the Second Wizarding War, Narcissa is told to check if Harry is alive after being hit with Voldemort’s killing curse. After she determines that Draco is alive, she lies directly to Voldemort’s face, claiming Harry is dead when he in fact isn’t3. It’s evident that Narcissa cares for her son more than for life itself, which makes her willing to engage in lying and deceit if necessary. Both Molly and Narcissa face patriarchal subordination in being devoted to their husbands but find courage and empowerment through maternal protection of their children. Furthermore, the good witch/mother complex challenges societal norms of witchcraft to suggest thatin the case of maternal protection, a witch can be heroic and brave. On the contrary, a bad witch Fornication and adultery were criminalized during the Salem Witch Trials4. Isabel Young and Marie Cornu are examples of women accused of witchcraft whose accusations are reflected in the Harry Potter series in the bad mother characters. Young was accused2 Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 806.3 Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 726.4 Goodare, Women and the Witch-Hunt in Scotland, 294.3of witchcraft in 1619 around 60-70 years of age5. An argument over property turned into allegations of adultery and raising a bastard child. Isabel’s own husband also accused her of maleficium, or harmful magic, and her social status, motherhood, and sexuality were prevalent factors in her witchcraft accusation. Additionally, witchcraft accusations were often paired with a charge of some sexual crime associated with the Devil. In her 1611 trial, Marie Cornu confessed to being the Devil’s lover after giving him her soul and a token of some pubic hair6. Furthermore, both Marie and Isabel exhibit the cultural expectations associated with a witch: adultery, carnal lust, devil worshipping, and maleficium to children. Moreover, the bad witch/mother figure makes appearancesin the Harry Potter series through three criterial means: harming children, having sex with the Devil, and using power that is actually conditional on male authority. The two predominant “bad witch/mothers” are Bellatrix Lestrange and Dolores Umbridge.Bellatrix parallels the witchcraft accusations of the sixteenth century in her desire to have a sexual relationship with Voldemort, despite the fact she was married. In Malevolent Nurture, Deborah Willis claims that female witches were thought to be subservient to the Devil, often creating chaos by doing his work7. Throughout the series, Bellatrix remains loyal to Voldemort’s mission for dominance, claiming to be his “most faithful” servant8. Furthermore, she exhibits both a traditional gender role and villainous witch norm by conforming with the patriarchy via her bond with Voldemort. Bellatrix could not have found her power without him, thereby, emphasizing the cultural norm of a witch’s willing subordination to the Devil. Additionally, Bellatrix appeals to the 5 Martin, “Witchcraft and Family,” 14.6 “The Trial of Marie Cornu (1611),” in Kors and Edward Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, 346.7 Willis, Malevolent Nature, 89.8 Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 26.4use of maleficium particularly towards children. This is evident in her emotionally torturing Neville Longbottom through the Cruciatus curse9 and physically torturing Hermione Granger10. Willis suggests that witch accusations often came from mothers in the community, who feared their children’s vulnerability to harm11. Bellatrix’s final battle with Molly Weasley showcases the societal norm of a bad witch: a witch (Bellatrix) mercilessly attacking a mother and child (Molly and Ginny)12. The Malleus Maleficarum discusses a woman’s uncontrollable sexual nature stating, “To


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