Harry Potter and the Unresolved Oedipus Complex – Part 1March 31st, 2010 by Sara
“Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them. Some wizards just like to boast that theirs are bigger and better than other people’s.” – (Hermione – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)
I’m sure it’s not just me who’s noticed the huge amount of phallic imagery in the Harry Potter series. It’s quite hard not to when you’re reading a novel about people running about ‘waving’ their ‘wands’ at each other. It would be fairly easy to brush this off as people reading too far into what is really just an innocent children’s coming-of-age series. Or perhaps even just J.K Rowling having a bit of a laugh. However, I actually think that if you analyse the Harry Potter novels from a Freudian perspective, there’s a surprising amount of material to talk about. Since Freudian psychoanalysis is concerned with development and growth of the individual, and Harry Potter books are about the growth of Harry as an individual, you could argue that it’s relevant to look at them from this perspective. As anyone who has ever had to study psychoanalysis will know, the Oedipus complex is an unconscious desire to kill your father and gain full possession of your mother. It results in castration anxiety, and needs to be resolved for the subject to develop fully. I would argue that Harry suffers from an unresolved Oedipus complex, is trapped in the phallic stage, and many of his neuroses and behaviour throughout the novels can be explained by this.
There is such a huge amount of symbolism in the Harry Potter books that it would be impossible to talk about it all here. It is important to bear in mind, though, that Freud placed a great deal of importance on symbols in dreams as representing anxieties and desires from the unconscious. What you choose to take from this is up to you – some critics see it as possible to read literature in the same way as a psychoanalyst would a dream. Looking for symbols and analysing them can illuminate the anxieties and desires of the author. In other words, you could view all the imagery in the series as demonstrating J.K. Rowling’s own anxieties. You could argue that since the books are so popular, the symbolism represents a public and collective anxiety, and that is why people like them. Or, you could argue that it is there because all development involves resolution of conflict and entering of various stages, that the characterisation of Harry and his development requires portrayal of these conflicts to be believable. I am examining the books from a mixture of these perspectives – I think that the symbolism was put into the novels unconsciously by the author. However, I am not sure whether they represent anxieties of the author, or just of Harry the character. Perhaps he is portrayed so well that his own unconscious anxieties and desires are represented in the symbolism of the novels.
The first major symbol in the Harry Potter novels is the Mirror of Erised. Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst who extended the theories of Freud, argues for a ‘Mirror Stage’ as part of every human’s development. The Mirror Stage occurs when an infant- who is weak and dependent, sees themselves in a mirror as strong and whole. Lacan argues that at this point the infant is alienated from its own body, which is still uncoordinated and weak compared to what they see in the mirror. Harry’s fixation with the Mirror of Erised in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ could be read as a symbol of Harry’s alienation and unresolved anxieties. He sees himself surrounded by his family, when in fact he is stood alone. Harry’s ability to master The Mirror of Erised and make it deliver the philosopher’s stone to him at the end of the novel could be said to represent his resolution of the Mirror Stage, something which Lacan would argue could only happen in a fantasy.
End of Part 1
Written by Lucy Pratt, Edited by Sara Slack