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Briana Morrison
Dr. Hohenleitner
ENG 3014
November 15, 2014
The Pursuit of Knowledge, Equality, Heroism: A Hermione Granger Story
J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series has become a worldwide phenomenon since the
release of the first installment, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, in 1997. With seven
books, 8 movies, a theme park, and an abundance of tie-in merchandise, the Harry Potter
franchise is worth over fifteen billion dollars (Wikipedia contributors). It is no wonder, then, that
the craze has attracted the eyes of critics from every corner of the literary world. Every facet of
the Harry Potter series has been scrutinized, including the role and characterization of Hermione
Granger. The mainstream claims that Rowling places the women in the series in conventional
roles, imply[ing] that the primary role of women in society is the care, socialization, and
education of men at any cost (Gallardo-C, Smith 193). Further, Elizabeth Galway argues that
Harrys most important relationships are with men (74). Among the vast volumes of criticism
arguing that Hermione in no way overcomes the patriarchal structure, one critic dares to say that
Hermione is the true hero of the series. Michele Fry argues that Harrys heroism is dependent on
female support, and that Hermione displays more courage, certainty and self-assurance than
Harry does, making Hermione key to his success (161-63). This essay attempts to agree with
Frys argument, casting Hermione in a more feminist light.
From the very beginning, it is clear that Hermione is destined to play an integral role in
the story. While the sorting hat struggles to place Harry into a house, it shows no hesitation in
giving Hermione a place in Gryffindor (Stone). By placing Hermione in Gryffindor, where

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dwell the brave at heart, the sorting hat clues us in to the fact that Hermiones daring, nerve,
and chivalry will play a greater role in the story than just her intelligence (Stone). Eliza Dresang
states that these are all signs of [Hermiones] self-determination [] against external odds of
initially acting chiefly as Harrys agent (226). Hermiones placement in Gryffindor foreshadows
that her challenges will require not just theoretical mastery of magic, but heroic use of it as
well (Croft).
It is Hermiones intelligence and bravery that solves many of the trios challenges. She
solves the logic potion puzzle in Sorcerers Stone, discovers what lives in the chamber and how it
gets around the castle in Chamber of Secrets, successfully saves Sirius and Buckbeak with her
knowledge of the time turner in Prisoner of Azkaban, spends hours in the library helping Harry
decipher his next task in Goblet of Fire, and the pattern continues throughout the rest of series.
As Dresang points out, Harry and Ron are more dependent on Hermione than she is on them
231). This is evident from Rons notorious line, we wouldnt last three days without her
Dont tell her I said that, in Deathly Hallows, and hes right. Without Hermione, Ron and Harry
would have been helplessly unprepared on the search for horcruxes, for she is the one who
gathers the supplies, plans the journey and whose ingenious ideas save the day more than once
(Berndt 169). Further, Hermione is prepared to do less than well academically in order to
support Harry in his quest to complete the Triwizard Tournament (Fry 162). Hermiones
presence in Goblet of Fire is so prevalent that she appears nearly as often as Harry and much
more frequently than Ron, raising her position from mere agent to Harry to that of a female
character that rises above the patriarchal structure that rules the male dominated franchise. As
Pugh and Wallace argue, Hermiones ability to master advanced magic and her considerable
talent for translating that knowledge into practical powers contrasts with Harrys innate talents

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(270). They further their argument by asserting that it is only Harrys inherent sense of nerve
that allows him to act, not his knowledge on how to do so (270). From this stance, it is safe to
argue that Harry is the irrational nerve, Ron is the sidekick and encouragement, and Hermione is
the driving force and knowledge behind all that the trio does.
Continuing on, much of Hermiones agency stems from her inherent respect for the rules
and authority, but also her will to defy and break them. This, paired with Hermiones at first
obnoxious know-it-all attitude, makes her more real than the other characters. Hermione reminds
readers of the fact that rebels are often perceived as obnoxious trouble-makers before they
succeed in introducing new order (Berndt 165). Readers are not quick to forget the leviosa
scene in Sorcerers Stone, or Hermiones insufferable introduction on the first train ride to
Hogwarts. Despite Hermiones initial inability to present her knowledge in a useful, bearable
way and with her rigid sense of right and wrong, it is evident from the troll scene in Sorcerers
Stone that relationships actually hold the upper hand (Dresang 232). Hermione is willing to lie
to protect her friends, even if it means breaking the rules. Additionally, she is one of the most
rebellious students in the school when the freedom of knowledge is challenged (Croft).
Hermione is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, leading me into my next point.
Just as Hermione will lie to protect her friends, Hermione strengthens her agency by
following her gut instinct to protect them, even if that means angering them. She risks the wrath
of her two best friends when Professor McGonagall confiscates Harry new Firebolt broom
because Hermione suspects it is from Sirius Black and when she defends her cat, Crookshanks,
which continually tries to kill Scabbers, Rons rat (Azkaban).
On a greater level, Hermione becomes somewhat of a social activist in Goblet of Fire.
With the creation of S.P.E.W, Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, Hermione shows her

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true Gryffindor qualities by standing up for what she believes in and showing true bravery as
the only one who dares to oppose Dumbledores and others benevolent attitude towards house
elves (Berndt 172). Fry argues that Hermiones outspokenness on the issue of the house elves
allows readers to view Hermione as more than a strong female character and an essential part of
Harrys life (165). She should also be considered a feminist protagonist in her own right (Fry
165). Hermione understands that it takes more to empower a house elf than a sock, and that it
takes a desire for freedom and education in how to live as a self-respecting free being (Croft).
This is a principle that she understands well because it is the same that she lives her life by.
S.P.E.W. becomes symbolic for Hermiones own quest for agency through education. As a girl
that lived in the muggle world for eleven years, Hermione is able to speak from a position that
allows her to see the inequality that characterizes the wizarding community (Berndt 173).
Dresang sees this as giving Hermione the ability to be a catalyst for social change, though if
you ask Draco Malfoy, he may say that it is because of this that she has no right to speak (242).
As a mudblood, (someone born of non-magical parents), throughout the series
Hermione is ridiculed by Malfoy and his cronies for being undeserving of a place at Hogwarts.
This label is further imposed on her by Umbridge and Bellatrix is Deathly Hallows. However, it
is only when these characters impose it upon her that Hermiones mudblood state shows.
Rather than hinder her, this elitist notion of inferiority empowers her. It sets her apart from Harry
in a way that makes her character arch that much more impressive. Because it is Hermione, not
Harry, [that] becomes the outspoken champion of the marginal in this caste system (Gallardo-C,
Smith 201). Hermione gathers a great power from being a mudblood, for she resists clear-cut
definitions of who can or cannot be a [] witch, since she is the most accomplished student at
Hogwarts (Gallardo-C, Smith 201). As Dresang points out, it is Hermiones acquired

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knowledge of magic rather than her innate ability at it that saves the day (223). It becomes
evident that Hermiones mudblood status really has no reign over her, and that her knowledge
and fervent desire for information bring her a unique power.
As evident from Hermiones idea to begin Dumbledores Army in Order of the Phoenix,
Hermione proves that she recognizes that the opportunity to gain knowledge is the opportunity
to gain powerpower to control their environments, to chart their own courses in the world, and
the protect those they care for (Croft). This is the principle she lives her entire life by.
Hermiones pursuit of information and knowledge proves to be the wrecking ball when
overcoming any obstacle. This principle is put into action in every novel, for Hermione sees
power where others do not. She befriends the underdogs (i.e. Neville, Luna), aids Hagrid in
saving his hippogriff, and covers up Lupins werewolf identity, just to name a few. Berndt
notices that the novels present Hermiones ambitions as individually motivated, but her
knowledge is never applied to serve only her own good (169). Hermione sees the power in these
people, and she know how to use them to her advantage, granting herself an agency that many of
the other characters, including Harry, dont have. She makes for herself new positions of political
and social equality, making her self-sufficient and leaving her free of the inability to use
knowledge to her power in the quest to stop Voldemort.
Many critics see Hermione as weak, her knowledge and desire for change in no way an
indication of strength, but as Dresang tells us, women have been wrongly perceived as weak
when in fact their strength is simply not defined in masculine terms (230). Rons initial aversion
to Hermione evident in his proclamation, Shes a nightmare, honestly! Its no wonder she hasnt
got any friends! reveals two very distinct and important qualities in Hermione: sensitivity and
defiance (Stone; Berndt 165). Sensitivity because of her obviously hurt feelings, and defiance as

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she makes it known to Ron that she heard him and shes not afraid to be seen upset. Though her
sensitivity and strong feelings have been seen as a negative to some critics, Berndt argues that
her frank display of emotional sensations does not normally affect her rational thinking. On the
contrary, her strong feelings positively fuel her resolute actions (166). This can be clearly seen
in Deathly Hallows when the trio must escape the ministry and when they are caught by
snatchers. One might think that Hermiones stereotypical feminine characterization does not
allow her to wield her emotions in a sense of heroism, but her emotions (although strong) hold an
integral part in her decision making. Rather than seeing this as a negative, it is clear that reason
and emotion are not rendered as contradictions, but as corresponding complements: Hermiones
intellectual ambitions are often described in passionate terms, while she simultaneously tends to
express emotional plights in a rather rational vocabulary (Berndt 166). In other words, it is
Hermiones stereotypical feminine emotions that allow her to be daring and make logical
decisions.
With Hermiones femininity brought into question, it opens the door to the discussion of
gender in the Harry Potter series, and how it pertains to her. Meredith Cherland argues that
Rowling uses a certain discourse to create gender as a set of two opposite categories and to
support a common-sense view of how the two interact and relate to each other (274). However,
if we examine the series from Frys point of view that Hermione is the real hero, it is possible to
see that gender is not constructed as a binary in the novels. Rather, there is a lot of overlap in the
function of gender in Rowlings wizarding world. When it comes to positions of power, men and
women do not occupy any traditional roles. Nowhere in the novels does it say that only a man or
only a woman has held any certain position. Whereas the stereotyped male gender role often
includes athletics, the Harry Potter series defies this with a female Quidditch coach and both

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male and female players. Further, a fact that can be seen in a more feminist light is the existence
of the Holyhead Harpies, an all-female professional Quidditch team, with no mention of an allmale counterpart (Prince; Croft).
Fry mentions in her article that opposing critics see Rowling as employing stereotyped
gender roles, with the boys enjoying the action, and the one prominent female character forever
urging caution (164). Fry denies this claim by pointing out that in Chamber of Secrets it is
Hermiones idea to make the polyjuice potion, and it is also her that steals the necessary
ingredients, which is hardly a cautious act (164). This is just one example of how Hermione
combines both masculine and feminine traits, thereby subverting the stereotypes imposed on
her by other critics (Dresang 224). Hermione uses her intelligence (a gendered feminine trait) to
come up with the idea to make the polyjuice potion, but she uses her bravery (a gendered
masculine trait) to make it possible. Dresang agrees with Fry that the multilayered,
multifocused nature of Hermiones character makes it reasonable to see her as a second hero
(224).
It is also possible to see Hermione as a hero because of her resistance to the stereotypical
female gender type. Taking into account that we only see Hermione from Harrys perspective, it
is important to recognize that she is constructed outside the male gaze (Berndt 162). Since
Harry is not attracted to Hermione in any other way than as a friend, her image is not obscured
by a biased male eye. Therefore, we can assume that Hermiones pursuit of education and
knowledge is an honest depiction of her character.
Rather than being the typical female, Hermione challenges existing implications of
gender stereotypes (Berndt 168). An example that Berndt gives is that she never worries about
popularity or being accepted by others (168). Further, Hermione never succumbs to the

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confidence gap (Berndt 168). Rather than go through a phase where she is afraid to voice her
opinion, Hermione never loses confidence in herself or her ideals. This principle is particularly
important when S.P.E.W comes into play. Kept busy by her involvement in trouble and conflict
and getting Harry out of danger, Hermione never has the chance to succumb to the stereotypical
female gender role.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Rowling said, mostly [the kids] worried about
Ron. As if Im going to kill Harrys best friend. What I find interesting is that only once has
anybody said to me Dont kill Hermione, and that was after a reading when I said no ones ever
worried about her. Another kid said, Well, yeah, shes bound to get through OK. They see her as
someone who is not vulnerable. Readers never really worry about Hermione, and for good
reason. She proves time and time again that her intellect and strong will paired with her daring
and bravery allow her to handle herself. Hermione is not a damsel in distress. Rather, she takes
the initiative to push Harry along in his journey, while simultaneously making it her own. In each
novel, Hermione is a key part to finding the solution in every situation. Harry may be the one
that kills Voldemort, but Hermione holds the true agency in his heroism.

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