Hermione Granger: A Heroine Comes Into Her Own


Girl geeks of the world, rejoice. One of our own–brainy activist witch Hermione Granger–has come into her own.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” burned up the box office its first weekend, riding to history on a wave of devotion from a worldwide fandom bewitched by the magical wizard and his world-in-peril. But Harry, our scarred and spectacled protagonist, made room for his best friends Hermione and Ron to shine in this film, as the three of them embarked on a fugitive life away from their quirky wizarding school and its legions of supporting characters.

And so this penultimate installment, in many ways, became Hermione’s movie. Her emotions and choices, classically heroic, anchored a piece of the epic story that would have felt muddled and rootless without her.

Director Chris Yates underscored his focus on her right from the get-go, by adding a devastating opening scene. Far away from the wizarding world, Hermione stands behind her non-magical parents in their “muggle” home and erases their memories of her–to protect them from those forces which seek to track her down and kill her. Slowly we see her smiling visage disappear from her family’s mantelpiece pictures and her parents eyes grow blanker. Actress Emma Watson’s face contorts as her character struggles to contain her emotions at this sight, thereby demonstrating that the actress has matured and grown along with her character–and Yates has taken full advantage of her talents to amp up Hermione’s arc. This is a surprise scene, one which was alluded to but not illustrated by JK Rowling in the book, and (in addition to moving stunned audience members close to tears) it has the effect of turning Hermione into what Harry has long been–an effective orphan. She’s become an orphan by choice, sacrificing her family for the safety of her friends and the world. And that’s the kind of thing that heroes have to do.

So as her ties with normal life are cut, it feels as though Hermione is officially inaugurated as a heroine. Later in the film, she has to perform the very same “obliviate” spell on a would-be assassin. Harry and Ron, clueless, wonder what she’s waiting for, while her tearful expression bears the scars of emotional trauma, recollecting what she’s done to her parents. But she casts the spell anyway.

As the film goes on, it becomes particularly obvious that Harry and Ron wouldn’t be in great shape without Hermione’s smarts, both intellectual and emotional. From the get-go, she anticipates everything the trio will need to do to survive, and packs it all into her magical purse–including a tent to shelter them while they’re on the run. While the film could have milked this “women store everything in their purse” trope for easy laughs, Yates instead shows Ron and Harry being amazed and grateful to their friend for saving their hides.

The schoolbook-nerdiness and un-childlike passion for social justice which made the young Hermione a genuine geek have blossomed into incisiveness, courage and leadership as she’s grown older. And her tireless devotion to the oppressed race of house-elves–which all of her classmates once mocked or ignored–proves founded, as all three of our heroes are rescued from certain doom by a house elf that they had previously freed from bondage.

From beginning to end, Hermione is at the ready. She casts complex spells to hide the trio from the outside world and she uses magic to transport them them from place to place when they’re in mortal danger. And even when they finally get caught by a thuggish group of grizzled, nasty “snatchers” she immediately casts another spell to disfigure Harry so he won’t be recognized.

In captivity, as the baddies try to figure out Potter’s identity, Hermione’s status as the group’s leader is cemented when she is singled out for torture by the deranged Bellatrix Lestrange. Her tears and shrieks are horrifying, but she doesn’t give in.

And then there’s the question of sex, which I wrote about when the last film came out. Hermione’s emerging sexuality came as a shock to her male friends (and viewers) as it often does for men who pigeonhole their female friends as brainy or one of the gang. But now it’s been nicely integrated into her strong, womanly character.

Ron is obviously besotted with Hermione, and she shares his feelings, but can’t fully give into them lest she be distracted from saving the world. And so when Ron briefly pitches a fit and leaves the others, she sticks with Harry and their mission, even though it’s all clearly killing her. And in another lovely added scene from Yates, when Harry, “The Chosen One,” dances with her to cheer her up and seems to want some sort of more-than-friendly comfort from her, she gently walks away. Again, Hermione is performing as a classic heroine. She has to clamp down on her feelings (of love for Ron and deep friendship for Harry) and focus on ensuring that evil doesn’t prevail. She spends a lot of time sitting and contemplating the scenery, trying to keep her heart in check, but her weary and determined expression render even these meditative sequences fascinating.

Chloe Angyal recently wrote a touching love letter to Harry Potter character (and Harry’s real love interest) Ginny Weasley–a spunky, owns her sexuality, confident type–who has been, it’s true, terribly ill-served by the films. But that omission has been counterbalanced by this film’s astonishingly touching, beautifully intensified focus on Hermione.

It’s a given that the second installment of this film will turn the lens back to Harry and the ultimate showdown he faces. But the boy wizard right now is literally lost in the woods, knowing he has to do something big to alter history but unable to do it. He’s lucky he has a woman beside him who never doubts for a minute what needs to be done, and is willing to sacrifice everything to see it, and him, through.

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Follow Sarah Seltzer on twitter: @sarahmseltzer

  • ack

    I loved this post. I am a huge HP fan, and it’s really nice to see the feminist analysis of Hermione’s character gain traction. The books have a lot of social justice themes, and she’s at the forefront of a lot, if not most, of them. Obs, the last book in the series was epic, but both the directors and Emma Watson did a great job of portraying her maturation and commitment. What an amazing series!

  • arekushieru

    Do you know what I liked most about this series, ack?  The whole not-blaming-the-victim theme.  Which, kinda, ties into the whole reproductive rights/feminist issue.  Since, anti-choicers are, essentially, blaming the woman for the way her body was developed or for being raped when they say fetal life trumps a womans bodily autonomy.  And, here, in HP, we have the exact opposite. 

    On a side note:  Also one of the reasons why I love Sara Douglass so much!

  • ack

    Exactly. The commentary on oppression was amazing. No one was expected just to accept the fact that Muggle-borns were “less than,” and those who perpetuated that belief were the villians. The house elf subplot was incredible (although I freely admit that Dobby reminded me of JarJar from Star Wars and I was frequently annoyed). But everyone had a role to play, no matter how seemingly bumbling or crazy or thoughtless. We are what we are, once we’re old enough to sort of know what we are. Our “destiny” is happenstance.

     

    Anyhoo, without spoiling too much, I’m really glad to find another HP fan on this site. It has major social justice messages that can be explored with kids who don’t have the language yet, so I want to encourage people to read it with their kids!

  • lories

    I agree with your analysis, and putting the shine on hermione has been great, but i still can’t get over that her charcater is whiny, patronizing and slightly manipulative. ugh that whine. its really ruined her character for me in movies 1-6. With this focus on her in 7 though, she has been able to slightly reduce the whine and turn it into action.  Which leads me to say that her whininess and patronizing tendencies in the books and movies impede her character from being the full leader that she could have been. sure she is a leader in the sense that she always, always stands up for what she believes in and fights for what she knows is right, but her ability to get people behind her and to take her lead just wasn’t written into the character. she would always wind up doing everything herself, typically by herself and feeling misunterstood in the process. which i don’t feel that is such a good quality. and in book 6, harry, who isnt a good leader at all was able to steal the leader shine when he began teaching the dumbledore’s army classes. Yes, he was good at the spells because he had to use them in life threatening situations, but him being a teacher and leader, it was a little too contrived and should have been a place where hermione could have stepped into a leadership role big time. but i guess harry’s character was so rough around the edges in 6, that they have to have some redeming qualities for him.

     

    so yes, we can chalk this up as a small win, but it could have been better…

  • arekushieru

    I am a huge follower of the X-Men.  My favorite literary character of all time is Jean Grey.  Of course, I detest the character that is presented as sort of an anti-Jean Grey, Emma Frost.  The biggest reason I detest her character is her lack of real character development, over the course of several years.  Either there is no forward movement or there is a one step forward, two steps back, kind of deal, there.  With Hermione and Harry, I see it very differently.  To me, the development of their characters is being taken in a plausible direction and these stories are being told in a context where the process of learning (emotional maturity, responsibility, problem-solving skills, etc…) is still ongoing, unlike in the case of Emma.  Over the course of several years within the book, Hermione’s character has mellowed, somewhat and Harry has, who is actually still not quite comfortable with it all, learned to adapt to the situations he has been forced into.  And I think that is what all the books were about.  Focussing on all the angst and growing pains involved in the pre-teen and adolescent stages of development. 

  • julie-watkins

    please delete.

  • julie-watkins

    In CGG. And it’s a comment on how popular culture. The editor of the newsmagazine said he used to read comic books to his kids, his daughter liked FF best, but she wasn’t into comics in high school — oh, well

    OK, college. Dad gets a phone call from Daughter: “What happened to Fantastic Four!?! Susan Richards isn’t saying anything!!” Daughter had checked out or bought a back issue volume and the stories weren’t how she remembered. Well Dad, reading the stories to her, had noticed Susan was just standing there not contributing and that wasn’t the role-model he wanted for his daughter, so he had been rearranging the dialog.

    Is that not the coolest Dad thing to do, or what?