Social Sensitivity

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban features such social issues as crime, punishment, and justice. Black’s unfair incarceration and public disgrace are revealed during the novel’s climax. Peter Pettigrew, the actual culprit, has dishonorably avoided legal repercussions for his criminal transgressions against James and Lily Potter and the Muggles that he massacred with one curse. By allowing Black to be punished for his crimes, Pettigrew cowardly refused to be accountable for his decisions and actions.

Harry’s ability to recognize Black’s innocence and offer him redemption indicates his moral character. Also, Harry’s merciful treatment of Pettigrew despite his heinous behavior exemplifies Harry’s sense of fairness and tolerance toward others. Harry patiently avoided assaulting Marge Dursley with magic until she insulted his parents, an unforgivable act. Perhaps Voldemort is the only culprit that Harry would be unable to interact with without bias because of the atrocities he has committed on Harry’s parents and friends. Rowling injects her personal philosophy that most people are innately good unless they have suffered extreme emotional or physical abuse. She stresses that her stories depict the consequences of evil and how innocent people are often victimized unfairly.

Moral messages are embedded in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry is a role model for courageous and responsible behavior and decision making even when faced with highly-charged and confusing situations and volatile personalities. Harry encourages people to cooperate and work together instead of excluding others. He strives to form his own opinions instead of relying on gossip or uninformed and unsubstantiated news stories. Although pressured by peers and adult wizards to embrace certain viewpoints, Harry is capable of distinguishing right from wrong and does not conform merely to appease others. Such integrity helps Harry become a moral mentor for his friends and readers, establishing standards for acceptable behavior. He resents favoritism between teachers and students and tries to treat people equally. Harry recognizes the importance of choices and sacrifices and understands the importance of helping others rather than pleasing himself.

Accountable for his actions, Harry justifies bending rules only when such extremes are necessary for the greater good of the Hogwarts community. He worries about both humans’ and animals’ welfare, investing energy into helping Hagrid defend Buckbeak, then assertively rescuing the condemned beast from his execution. Harry’s respect and compassion for individual uniqueness and his sense of social responsibility helps readers to understand harmful prejudices they might have themselves. Harry recognizes that knowledge is more powerful than magic. Accepting his imperfections, he urges his classmates to become better people and is loyal to his friends even when they disagree with him. Harry often bravely pursues a course of action despite the threat of ridicule, risks of losing treasured possessions, or possibility of encountering hazards. In contrast, Draco Malfoy purposefully incites trouble for others such as when he insults Buckbeak then seeks punishment for both the creature and Hagrid as compensation for his resulting embarrassment. His faking an injury indicates his lack of character and self-esteem. Other social issues addressed in the third Harry Potter novel include popular acceptance and rejection of predictions, horoscopes, and fortune-telling. Privacy and secrecy are also important social topics, particularly the question of when it is permissible to violate individual rights for the public good. The Dementors provoke depression and guilt, both significant social problems as well as rage and vigilantism which are Harry’s impulsive reactions toward first Black, then Pettigrew.

This Harry Potter novel broaches the topic of the role of legislation and institutions to regulate human interactions and behavior. Much like parallel authorities in contemporary society, in the wizard world, agencies of public servants make laws. Rowling has not clarified if any of these professionals are elected and if wizard voters choose representative groups to pass legislation. Some wizards are law enforcement officers who identify, pursue, and arrest suspected law breakers. Courts and judges decide suitable punishments, including incarceration in the wizard prison, Azkaban, and/or the Dementor’s kiss, which effectively removes a person’s spiritual, emotional, and intellectual essence without physically killing them. The concepts of freedom and happiness permeate Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry gains new appreciation of time and his inner strength to protect himself and others from false accusations.

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