Tracking adolescent development in Rowling: Freudian and Jungian growth in Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

 Sam Pull

ACP Composition


1 May 2018

Tracking adolescent development in Rowling:  Freudian and Jungian growth in Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

“Rowling has artfully created a textual looking-glass where young readers can observe their own unconscious conflicts in a displaced and imaginary form, indulge their fantasy lives, and find magical solutions to otherwise helpless troubles.”

Lisa Damour, PhD (2004)

In a previous paper, it was argued that the third Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, could be seen in psychosocially functional terms for what it potentially offers its preadolescent audience: a mentally-hygeinic, narrative escape. In the millenia-old tradition of fairy tales and folk stories, this Potter story offers younger viewers a temporary release from the unpleasantness of puberty, while also mirroring important, if unconscious, developmental crises in the audience’s mind. The Prisoner of Azkaban could be seen to work, in the words of folklorist Maria Tatar, as “an enabling device” to help viewers “work through their fears and to purge themselves of hostile feelings and damaging desires…[the audience of fairy tale narrative enters] the world of fantasy and imagination, [securing] themselves a safe space where fears can be confronted, mastered, and banished” (Tatar 291). In Harry Potter, children from 10-14 (early adolescents) see someone they can relate to–someone who, like them, finds himself in battle against huge, mysterious (and therefore fear-inducing) forces threatening his continuous sense of self.  In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry learns how to stand up to the soul-sucking dementors and how to channel his aggressive energy in productive ways. The pubescent human viewing this film sees models therein for sublimating the powerful inner forces Freud called  Eros (toward procreation and nurturing) and Thanatos (toward destruction and aggression) (Cherry).

While Freud’s theories provide a useful frame of reference when looking at the first three books (and movies) in the Potter series, one finds a greater correlation in the later books of the series to the humanistic paradigm of human growth and development found in the psychological theories of Freud’s younger colleague, Carl Gustav Jung (Gammil). According to Jung, humans typically mature psycho-socially through four distinct phases:

  1. The Athlete phase, in which one (typically at the start of adolescence) becomes absorbed in one’s emerging strengths, feeling rather narcissistic and generally critical of others. Draco Malfoy seems to be stuck in this phase.

  2. The Warrior phase, in which one decides to use a portion, but not all, of one’s energies to serve the interests of others and external goals; vanity fades from what it was in the Athlete phase, but one still feels the egocentric urge to “conquer the world.” Harry has reached this phase from at least episode three, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and it fully flowers in the next title, The Order of The Phoenix, where Harry acts as a Warrior leader to his peers in forming “Dumbledore’s Army.” The Warrior phase occurs during adolescence (which for Jung lasted until age 40).

  3. The Statement phase, in which adolescence is over, and one has reached a certain objectivity regarding one’s existence. This is the phase when humans start to fully devote themselves to the service of others; they strive to make their life a “statement” of service to others. Jung describes humans attaining this phase after adolescence. Interestingly, Rowling has Harry achieving this phase during The Half-Blood Prince, when he starts to accept his role as “The Chosen One” who will defeat He Who Must Not Be Named for his fellow witches and wizards. 

  4. The Spirit phase, in which one prepares to leave this plane of existence with satisfaction, having achieved full integration of the individual ego with the collective unconscious (or “world spirit”) and one’s own shadow, or individually-repressed dimensions of personality (Gammil).

Regarding this last phase of life, which Harry Potter seems to have precociously started in the sixth book and movie (The Half-Blood Prince, when he is 17), McCrae says that this, for Jung,  is the whole purpose toward which a life well-lived is pointed: an integration of one’s internal opposites, a reconciliation of one’s personal sense of self (ego) to one’s situation in the cosmos (universal mind). “In order for there to be a full and complete expression of the self,” he writes, Jung saw that “the repressed side of the personality would …have to be allowed,” and personality structures, “such as the persona (the mask one wears in social interactions) and shadow (the rejected and unconscious aspects of the psyche) and the anima or animus (the feminine side of men or the masculine side of women) must …be integrated” (McCrae 12). This paper hopes to show the extent to which Jung’s, and to a lesser extent Freud’s, theories of human development account for some of the behaviors and character development of the protagonist in the 2009 film version of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince. In the next paragraphs may be disclosed just a few of the ways Rowling has skillfully worked overtly psychoanalytical features into her later narrative, The Half-Blood Prince, potentially making it even more helpful for audiences seeking models of healthy human development that extend past childhood, puberty, and adolescence (as it is normally understood).

The Freudian emphasis on biological sources of behavior is introduced immediately in the film version of The Half-Blood Prince, with Harry, by himself in a London cafe at night, being propositioned by an attractive female muggle (non-magical human) who works as a waitress in the cafe. Harry seems intent to go with her (“I’m off at 11,” she purrs to him), but then he sees Dumbledore, and his focus immediately changes. In Jungian terms, Harry has the choice to pursue the relatively immature and short-term goal of personal enjoyment with this female (obeying his biological urges) or to obey the higher, more social and even spiritual calling of serving the cause led by the wizard he recognizes as the leader in an existential struggle. In the last episode, The Order of the Phoenix, Harry has received the prophecy that he is learning to accept as his destiny, that either he or Voldemort must die at the hand of the other, for, in the words of the prophecy, “neither can live while the other survives.” And so faced here at the start of the sixth episode with the choice of a flirtatious dalliance or an adventure with Albus Dumbledore, Harry goes immediately to the old wizard. Thus, the film begins with a clear statement of Harry’s surprising maturity. Though still a teenager, he very much steers clear of what Jung describes as the source of most problems of youth [“The common and essential factor,” he wrote, is “a more or less patent clinging to the childhood level of consciousness (with its phallic and libidinous craving for pleasure), a rebellion against the forces in and around us which tend to involve us in the world. Something in us wishes to remain a child”] (Jung).  Clearly, Harry no longer “wishes to remain a child”; he has transcended the typical self-absorbed teen state of consciousness at the start of this episode, pursuing a course that will definitely involve him “in the world” of his society. Later in the film, before he gives him the important task of uncovering Professor Slughorn’s memory, Dumbledore will ask Harry if the reason he spends so much time with Hermione is because they are in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Harry assures the old wizard that they are friends and colleagues, not lovers, and with this understanding, the mission can continue. In case the point was not clear from the opening sequence, the later interaction suggests that this teenager has begun seeing himself as something more than a typical adolescent. His feelings about himself have matured, in a Jungian sense. He has started to embrace the role as the one “chosen” to serve his fellows, a sense of self that for Jung typically only appears in the “Statement” phase of existence, in one’s 50s or 60s..

Harry’s mission in this film is chiefly to get Slughorn’s true recollection of what transpired during a conversation between him and the Hogwarts student Tom Riddle (the future Lord Voldemort) several decades before. Once Dumbledore knows what the young Voldemort learned from Slughorn about the diabolical horcruxes (a storage space for the partitioning of a person’s soul), the wizarding society can better prepare for and counter the Dark Lord and his Death Eater’s attacks against innocent witches and wizards. A measure of Harry’s willingness to put his skills in the service of a larger cause (and evidence of his acting within Jung’s “Statement” and “Spirit” phases) is seen in his willingness to be “collected”  by the egotistical Slughorn so that he can gain the sought-after information. A less mature Ron (and a more typical teen) is giving into his libidinous urgings in this episode, with a willing Lavender Brown, who evokes the first scene of Harry and the almost-hookup with the waitress) even asks Harry if it’s wise to accept Slughorn’s invitations to private dinners. “If it weren’t important,” the committed, more mature Harry responds, “Dumbledore wouldn’t ask” (Yates). And that settles it for him. He is committed to the “Statement” phase of  service to the commonweal.

In scenes between Slughorn and Harry, we learn that Harry looks like his father and that he has his “mother’s eyes” (Yates). Since Slughorn taught his parents, the statement may not seem more significant than a physiological description, but we know from previous episodes that Harry’s father was something of a bully, and that his mother was extremely loving (she dies sacrificially defending the infant Harry). The split inheritance of his parents is seen physically in Harry’s body, but also psychologically, since the mature Harry has channeled his father’s meanness and since he looks with loving, generous eyes on his unloved peers Neville and Luna. The physical oppositions in Harry that Slughorn points out suggest, from a Jungian point of view, the complex elements that must be “integrated” in the mature human being (Gammil). These include the repressed, unconscious self, or “shadow.” In Potter books 1-6, Harry succeeds in thwarting the usurpation of the shadow self by “allowing it,” or even adopting it. In earlier climactic battle scenes, Harry typically is guided by an inner sense, an intuitive knowledge that leads him to the correct choices in critical moments. But in The Half-Blood Prince, Harry’s intuition is doubted by his supporters, though it has mostly steered him correctly in the past. The logical Hermione presses him to logically defend his suspicion of Draco and Snape. “I just know it!”  Harry says finally, affirming that intuition (the realm of the unconscious) is where he places his trust (Yates). Even adult members of the Order, like Remus Lupin (his former Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher) and Ron’s father Mr. Weasley, don’t think Harry is right to doubt Professor Snape and Malfoy of ill-doing. Using narrow logic, Remus says, “Dumbledore trusts Snape. Therefore I trust Snape.” He accuses Harry of being “blinded by hatred,” since Snape was instrumental in the death of his parents (Yates). A key moment in this film that shows Harry’s “shadow” figure occurs in the flashback to the conversation Slughorn has in his office with a teenage Tom Riddle. Professor Slughorn is delighted by Riddle’s gift of pineapple treats, and asks him “How did you know it was my favorite?” Echoing Harry’s inner conviction in most of the series, the future Dark Lord responds with un-nerving certainty, “Intuition” (Yates). Given the trajectory that will lead Harry and Voldemort into their ultimate showdown in the next and last episode of the series, The Deathly Hallows, it seems certain at this point that Harry will succeed in fully integrating–or in any event deeply confronting==his Jungian “shadow” self, essential to one’s complete self realization in Jungian theory. 

Before the final showdown with Voldemort, The Half-Blood Prince sets up Harry’s double or “shadow self” as the sinister student leader of Slytherin House, Draco Malfoy. It is easy to contrast Malfoy’s immaturity, in the Jungian sense, with Harry’s relatively mature state, when Malfoy’s protector Snape questions him after Draco fails to kill Dumbledore through indirect means. In stark contrast with Harry’s readiness to submit to the duties of being “chosen” to serve his fellows, Malfoy responds with a decidedly “Athlete” or “Warrior” ego-based response when asked if he needs assistance. “I don’t need protection. I was chosen for this,” Malfoy proudly sneers, “ …Out of all the others, me…It is my moment” (Yates). Contrast Malfoy’s self-absorbed insistence on doing his task alone (and bringing him lasting status with Voldemort), with Harry’s quick submitting of his own will to that of the Order of the Phoenix, with its larger, social ends, and Harry’s reliance on his fellow witches and wizards to carry out his missions. 

One final contrast that suggests Jungian development in The Half-Blood Prince is the way in which Voldemort (whose name literally means “death flight) and Harry (whose name evokes contrasting images of youth and vigor) go about dealing with their own souls (or psyches).  While Voldemort expends  his energy over the course of the series dividing up his soul into seven different horcruxes, and thus perpetuating eternally the existence of his “Athlete” self, Harry’s efforts go in exactly the other direction, as he tries to integrate the strong forces of aggression and his own anima, or female characteristics, into his personality. Evidence of his anima integration can be seen at the Christmas Banquet Slughorn gives, and Harry is expected to bring a date. While the witches in Harry’s class would all use love potions to capture a date with Harry, he extends an invitation to the oddball Luna Lovejoy, a figure of scorn for her classmates. Because, one might argue, Rowling has expedited Harry’s Jungian development to the “Statement” phase, he looks beyond the more superficially alluring witches and chooses Luna, whom he sees, one could say, with the loving eyes of his mother. 

Many other instances in The Half-Blood Prince movie (e.g., Ginny’s matrimonial caged unicorn imagery, Harry’s surprising parenting behavior toward Slughorn and Dumbledore, Draco and Voldemort’s dark mirroring of the Harry-Dumbledore partnership) could be adduced to support the claim that while Rowling’s narrative in the first three films owes much to Freud’s theory of biology-based crises and influence on psychosocial development, the later episodes of the series, including the sixth film, present a convincing case that Jungian thought informs Rowling’s later books. Perhaps, by compressing an entire Jungian evolution into one character, the author has been able to use Harry as an Everyman character, relatably advancing through trial and error toward further spiritual development, and inspiring similar healthy growth in audience members from puberty to old age. 

Work Cited

Bettleheim, Bruno. “Fairy Tales and Modern Stories.” From The Uses of Enchantment (1976).  Reprinted in Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 14th edition. New York: Pearson. 2019.

Cherry, Kendra. “Freud’s Theories of Life and Death Instincts.” Web. Accessed 4 April 2020

Damour, Lisa. “Harry Potter and the Magical Looking Glass: Reading the secret life of the preadolescent,” in Epstein, David G.. Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays. United Kingdom, Praeger, 2003.

Gammil, Justin. “The Four Stages of Life According to Carl Jung.” 9 Oct. 2018. Accessed 1 May 2020.

Jung, Carl G..  Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Eastford, CT. Martino’s Fine Books, 2017 (reprint of 1933 original). 

Tatar, Maria. “An Introduction to Fairy Tales” (2002). Reprinted in Christine R. Farris & Deanna M. Luchene, eds. Writing and Reading for ACP Composition, Third edition. New York: Pearson. 2018.

Yates, David, Director. “Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince.” Feature Film. 2009. Warner Brothers.

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