Harry Potter: House Symbolism and Rivalry

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I went to Durham University I took a class about Harry Potter. In this class, the students are sorted into one of the four houses and earn house points based on how well they do in essays. I unfortunately missed the sorting ceremony but I was sorted later in class. And naturally, I was sorted into… Hufflepuf :I

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with being a Hufflepuff. But I’ve always identified as more of a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw. I’m a Gryffindor on pottermore though, so at least that’s some kind of consolation. Besides, Hufflepuff have won the Durham house cup since the class started. So there are some perks to being a Hufflepuff.

The four houses are incredibly important to the world created by JK Rowling and in the class, we talked extensively on the prejudice and discrimination that comes from having a house system. And I do find this to be a pretty interesting area of the Harry Potter world, so I figured why not write about it.

Most people are aware about the different colours and the animals which represent the houses. So I’m not going to go into that. I will say that the films change a lot about Ravenclaws symbolism, their house colours change from blue and bronze to blue and silver and their eagle was changed to a raven, possibly because it makes more sense to have their mascot be the same as their namesake. It seems to be that this choice to change the colours and symbol was mainly aesthetic on the part of the film crew.

The four houses each correspond to one of the four elements. Gryffindor’s colour is red and its students have a fiery nature, so naturally they represent fire. Hufflepuff’s mascot is a badger and the students tend to succeed in Herbology, so they represent earth. Ravenclaws emblem is a bird, which related to the element of air, and Slytherins dorms are situated underneath the black lake, meaning that they represent water.

The regalia for each house are significant, particularly in terms of Voldemorts horcuxes, but they’re also symbolic of the traits of each house. For example, Godric Gryffindors sword represents bravery and the ability to fight for what you believe in. Helga Hufflepuffs cup may be symbolic of her houses hospitable nature. Rowena Ravenclaws diadem places emphasis on the head and therefore knowledge. And Salazar Slytherins locket could be indicative of the houses vanity and obsession with wealth and status.

As a boarding school, Hogwarts removes you from your real family and replaces it with another. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll be in the same house as your relatives. For example, Sirius Black was unusual in his family for being sorted into Gryffindor and the Patil twins were separate (another fact which the movies conveniently ignored).

This house system creates a sense of unity and comradery but it also insights discrimination. In the epilogue, Ron threatens to disinherit his children if they’re not in Gryffindor. And in the beginning, when Harry is just learning about the house system, Hagrid regards to Hufflepuff as a “lot o’ duffers” but makes a point of saying that that’s not the worst you could be and that Slytherin is the house were all evil wizards come from. Interestingly at this point, Hagrid would be aware that Sirius has been blamed for betraying Lily and James, which would therefore make him a bad wizard from Gryffindor, but it’s likely that Hagrid remained loyal to his friends, and didn’t believe that Sirius was capable of betraying James.

Anyway, Harry had gone his whole life without hearing about the houses. But he’s suddenly been told by both Hagrid, and Ron, that Slytherin are the bad guys. This leads to him begging the hat to sort him anywhere else. It would be interesting to see where Harry would have ended up if it hadn’t had these preconceptions, particularly since he has a part of Voldemorts soul is attached to him, so he would have had a greater chance of being in Slytherin instead, which may have entirely changed the perceptions of the novel.

There are also a number of issues with the process of sorting. Dumbledore himself says “sometimes I think we sort too soon.” At the age of eleven, the kids haven’t fully developed their personalities and it may be that the house that they’re in develops them instead. So instead of being born brave, you have the capability of bravery, which is fostered by the Gryffindor environment. And the same goes for the other houses.

This leads to the phenomenon where not all Gryffindors are good, not all Slytherins are sneaky, not all Ravenclaws are intellectual and not all Hufflepuffs should just be seen as ‘and the rest’. For example, Dumbledore and Pettigrew are two Gryffindors with very questionable morals. But everyone seems willing to just brush over the fact that Dumbledore once planned to rule all muggles, because deep down, we will always see him as the good guy. Likewise, it’s very easy to argue that Draco isn’t all bad as well as Snape who at the end he (kinda) earns his redemption. There’s also Slughorn, who just appears to be a genuinely nice guy despite his fondness for the Slytherin house. Luna is an example of unconventional wisdom and she doesn’t exactly fit into the Ravenclaw stereotype. Similarly, the ditzy, superficial Lockheart was also a Ravenclaw at his time in Hogwarts. Hufflepuffs have a reputation for not really doing a lot but Cedric was incredibly brave up till his death and Tonks is the biggest bamf I have ever seen. (Upon reflection, I do feel a little better about being sorted into Hufflepuff.)

The ultimate point is that their houses do not define these characters. They may be influenced by peer pressure to conform to house standards and develop the house traits, but these are only external influences which don’t fully create an individual’s personality.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you agree that the house traits are nurture over nature? What house do you most identify with? I’d love to hear from you guys.


One thought on “Harry Potter: House Symbolism and Rivalry

  1. Stephanie Gallon

    Commenting from uni. Like a BAMF.
    I’ve always read it not as what the character is, but rather what traits they place prestige on. There are characters who don’t fit neatly in to these packages. Wormtail was never brave. But aged 11, he might have wanted to be. Hermione could have been a Ravenclaw because she hold knowledge in high esteem, but bravery is more important to her. She stands against adversity in all forms, from the prejudice of her peers to the one-woman revolution that was S.P.E.W.
    I agree it’s nurture over nature though. At 11 you’re still discovering yourself. The greatest thing for the series could have been to place Harry in Slytherin. See him make friends with the children of Death Eaters, and show them in a dimensionalised light.
    Also, bite me. Huffle’s gonna huffle. Badger Pride 😛


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