Welcome to Day Six of Harry Potter Week, the wildcard day! Today I’m going to be defending Harry’s angst in Order of the Phoenix.
You can still join in with the last day of HP Week, which marks the 21st anniversary of the first book!
I see a lot of people saying that they don’t like Order of the Phoenix because Harry is so moody the whole time. Far be it from me to dictate which books people like, but today I want to clear up some misconceptions and explain why Harry’s “angst” feels so right to me based on where we are in the series.
First of all, let’s take a step back and remember where we start off when we join Harry at the beginning of OotP.
If you remember, Goblet of Fire ended on a jarring, dark note with the death of Cedric and the rise of Voldemort. Harry was sent back to the Dursleys, traumatized and more isolated than ever, with nothing to do but wait for someone to tell him what was going on.
It’s easy to forget how short the gap between the books is – OotP picks up mere weeks after GoF ends. Which means that Harry has only had a few weeks to process seeing his classmate and friend die, and the man who killed his parents come back to life and nearly kill him.
I mean, that sounds pretty traumatizing to me.
We learn right away that Harry has been having nightmares. And worse, he has nobody to talk to. The Dursleys would shut down any conversation having to do with magic, not that Harry would ever want to go to them for emotional support. And Ron, Hermione, Sirius, and everyone else has been cagey and distant, refusing to give Harry any information. Understandably, he’s frustrated. He’s hurt. He’s not coping well.
And then everything changed when the dementors attacked.
After that whole debacle, including, oh yeah, getting expelled from Hogwarts, the only place he’s ever considered home, Harry goes to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, where he finally learns (more or less) what’s going on. At this point, he explodes at Ron and Hermione, which, okay, isn’t the greatest move since they’ve been doing what they’re supposed to do. But he’s been isolated for the past month, and he can’t take it out on Dumbledore (the person who’s actually to blame for his situation).
And let’s just take a moment to remember that Harry is fifteen years old. He’s fifteen, suffering from PTSD, just spent the last month completely isolated from people who care about him, and is worried that any day the darkest wizard of all time is going to fly in and murder everyone. That’s a lot for anyone to handle.
Moving forward, we have Harry dealing with a trial determining his entire future (during which Dumbledore appears but refuses to speak to or even look at Harry). Then we learn that the rest of the wizarding community is in denial about Voldemort’s return. In fact, they’re so in denial that they’re saying that Harry is the one who’s imagining things, who’s unhinged and lying about what he saw.
Let’s just take a moment to imagine that, shall we? Almost everyone around you is denying your trauma and telling you that what you experienced is not true. Even the newspapers are against you and defaming your credibility. Yikes.
Enter Dolores Umbridge.
Basically the embodiment of the Ministry’s denial, Umbridge punishes Harry for even talking about Voldemort’s return. She denies him what he so desperately needs – an outlet to let people hear his truth so he can begin to recover. Of course Harry gets worse then. He lashes out at his friends and the people around him because he’s fifteen, he’s traumatized, and he feels like everyone is against him.
I could go through the book and talk about every little thing that Harry has to struggle against, but we don’t have time for that. An abridged version of some of the things I can think of off the top of my head:
- constantly in detention, having to carve words into his own skin
- getting a lifetime ban from Quidditch (one of the things that makes him happiest in the world)
- girl trouble with Cho Chang!
- plagued by nightmares about a mysterious door (aka, not sleeping well)
- thinks he might be a danger to the people around him because of his connection with Voldemort
- Dumbledore is avoiding him and refusing to give Harry answers
- Snape invading his mind in Occlumency lessons
- worrying that his dad isn’t the person that he thought he was
- and basically just struggling with grief and PTSD and general stress because oh yeah he has to take the O.W.L.s this year
- then to top it off, his godfather – the closest thing he’s had to a father – dies.
In the words of Ron Weasley: “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”
And as a reader, it feels right to me that Harry is acting this way. With all of this going on, Harry acting cheerful would seem wrong. Harry is the lens through which we experience this world, and as a reader, Cedric’s death and the dark ending of GoF is really terrifying and upsetting. Harry’s mood feels like a reflection of my mood – I’m upset, I’m struggling to understand the changes going on in this world, I’m angry at the Ministry for denying the truth. I want Harry to be feeling those things, because otherwise I would be left wondering if my own feelings are invalid. Harry’s anger allows me to also be angry about the injustices going on in this world.
The chapter “The Lost Prophecy” is one of my favorite chapters in the entire series because it feels like something we’ve been building up to since the first chapter of the first book. Finally, finally Harry can express his anger at Dumbledore for abandoning him, for denying him the ability to grieve in a healthy way or learn the truth of what was going on. It feels so cathartic when Harry is screaming at him. Mostly because it’s what I want to be doing too. And the things that Harry says – “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANY MORE” – hurt me so deeply because he’s lost so much, and it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to feel anything. Everything that he’s been through, all the horrors that he’s faced, have built up until this moment, when he can finally show how much they’ve hurt him.
For me, Harry’s mood in OotP is more a reflection of his situation and his PTSD than of his character. It feels almost disrespectful to simply call it angst, because it’s the result of so much trauma and grief. And as a reader, his anger feels justified because I feel the same about everything that he’s experiencing.
So in conclusion, @ book 5 Harry haters:
What are your thoughts on Harry’s “angst” in OotP? Did you make it through my gigantic rant?