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Bullying in the Books by Subtle Science, Norbertha, and SIP
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Bullying in the Books by Subtle Science, Norbertha, and SIP
Some Wounds Run Too Deep For the Healing

by Norbertha, Subtle Science, and Silver Ink Pot

Note: The authors would like to thank
Chievrefueil, Monkshood, The Black Adder and Thestralgrin
for their help

On October 11, 2005, Mugglenet reported that actors Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) were to present the “Pride of Britain” award to Liz Carnell, a British mother who founded an anti-bullying campaign. The choice of these two actors from the Harry Potter films is very appropriate, as J. K. Rowling has dealt with many issues concerning bullying in her novels. The depiction of bullying is an accurate portrayal of the types of bullies in the real world and the effects of their actions on victims. Though long dismissed as a natural phase of growing up, bullying has recently been analyzed in research through the use of group dynamics and studies of the long-term effects. Research is now confirming, in fact, what Rowling says succinctly through the words of Albus Dumbledore in OotP: “Some wounds run too deep for healing” (OotP ch 37).

The first “bullied” child we read about in the books is the hero himself: Harry Potter. He lives with his cousin Dudley, a bully from whom there is no escape at home or at school. Dudley has a “gang” of followers who persist in “Harry Hunting," and the other children avoid “that odd Harry Potter in his baggy old clothes and broken glasses” because, we are told, “nobody liked to disagree with Dudley’s gang” (PS/SS ch 2). By the time Harry arrives at Hogwarts, he is able to judge Draco Malfoy, rightly, as being just another bully, so Harry aligns himself with Ron and Neville, who are also taunted by Draco.

In creating a hero who is also a victim of bullying, JKR shows that the subject is near to her heart. Harry’s suffering makes him the person that he is. Indeed, Harry’s experiences are quite in line with various scenarios involving many different characters, both of Harry’s generation and those in the past.

So what is bullying? Well, that is debatable. People disagree on the lines between bullying and being rude, being cruel, or being funny. Most readers would find the Slytherins’ use of "Potter Stinks" badges to be insulting, but perhaps not bullying. Some incidents could be called rude "pranks," though the victims might disagree. What about Ron, who throws a first year out of a chair because he wants the chair for himself? (HBP ch 12) It's mild--but it still bears the hallmarks of bullying, as he disregards the first year's existence as a person. So, it's not a big deal that he orders an 11-year-old out of a chair...but, it is: it says something about Ron--what he thinks of himself, what he feels he deserves and is entitled to, and how little he thinks of the other student as a person with a separate identity. Ron has power, and he uses it carelessly. Increase this by a factor of 1,000, and you end up with Snape’s Worst Memory, which is perhaps the most wrenching depiction of ruthless bullying in the books (OotP ch 28).

Who is the bully?

Bullies come in three main forms: physical, verbal, and “invisible.”

The physical bully is exemplified by Dudley Dursley, who used Harry as “his first punching bag” (OotP ch 1). Spoiled and bad tempered, Dudley threatens Harry with bodily harm on a daily basis, or seeks to humiliate him by such acts as making him “stand in a toilet” (OotP ch 26). The role of refined, verbal bully is played beautifully by Draco Malfoy, who delights in laughing at Harry and his friends.

J. K. Rowling said about Dudley and Draco:

Quote:“[Draco] is the bully of the most refined type in that unlike Dudley, Harry’s cousin who is a physical bully, but really not bright enough to access all of your weak points. Draco is, um, he’s a snob. He’s a bigot and he’s a bully, and as I say, in the most refined sense, he knows exactly what will hurt people and the scary thing is, but the predictable thing is that most of the children I meet say that they know him or they know her because you get female Malfoys as well.”
(JKR, 1999 Interview)

What we term the “invisible” bully is the intangible crowd. Harry and Luna Lovegood both have to face this challenge. Luna is whispered about and laughed at, due to her unusual appearance, and she seems to be bullied by her own housemates in Ravenclaw who hide her belongings. Not knowing whom to blame, she pins a note on the wall, asking that the "someone" please return her possessions (OotP ch 38). In CoS, Harry is shunned for being a Parseltongue and sees other students whispering about him (CoS ch 11). Throughout OotP, after a series of news articles appears, Harry becomes the object of a whisper campaign: “Again, Harry noticed people putting their heads together to whisper as he passed; he gritted his teeth and tried to act as though he neither noticed nor cared” (OotP ch 11).

Bullies typically operate in groups. Dudley has Piers and Malcolm; Draco has Crabbe and Goyle to back him up. In the past, the Marauders were at least two, if not four, against Snape. A scientific study of bullying confirms this observation: “In only a small minority of cases did the bully operate alone. It would seem that the bullies needed one another to persist in their hurtful, cowardly behaviour” (Kidscape study, p. 4).

In the case of the Marauders, James and Sirius are described by their Head of House, Professor McGonagall as "the ringleaders of their little gang" and "a pair of troublemakers"; Peter Pettigrew is described as someone who "Hero worshipped Black and Potter." (PoA, Chapter 10, "The Marauder's Map") We learn at the end of PoA, that there was another "less obvious" member of the the Marauders' Gang, and that was Remus Lupin. Sirius Black describes Lupin in OotP as "the good boy, who got the badge" when he was chosen to be Prefect. (OotP, Chapter 9) Lupin says:

Quote:"I think Dumbledore might have hoped that I would be able to exercise some control over my best friends . . . I need scarcely say that I failed dismally."

J. K. Rowling has commented on Lupin's relationship with his friends, saying that "Lupin’s failing is he likes to be liked. That’s where he slips up – he’s been disliked so often he’s always pleased to have friends so cuts them an awful lot of slack." (Royal Albert Hall Interview, 2003)

Lupin also seems easily swayed to participate in whatever activities the others are doing. One major bit of evidence for this is the Marauder's Map, written by Lupin and the other Marauders. Within it, they placed a way of "making their voices heard," as JKR described it on her Official Site, with a "recording" of their teenage voices. When Professor Snape attempts to "reveal the secrets" of the Map, he hears a list of insults about his appearance.

Quote:"Mr.Moony prsents his compliments to Profesor Snape and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people's business"
"Mr.Prongs agrees with Mr.Moony and would like to add that Professor Snape is an ugly git"
"Mr.Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a Professor"
"Mr.Wormtail bids Professor Snape good day and advises him to wash his hair,the slimeball"

We expect that the first ones might be from the "ringleaders" of the gang, but that is not the case. The first insult is from Remus Lupin, good boy and Prefect, and the one who was supposed to set the example for his friends. Clearly friendship for Lupin meant going along with the crowd of bullies, and he actually seems to look back sentimentally to that time of his life. Though Lupin is "more mature" as an adult than the "flawed" Sirius Black, he is also a teacher who plays a sort of prank on Severus Snape - he suggests that Neville Longbottom create a "Riddikulus" Boggart combining Snape in women's clothing. In Book Three, that scene appears humorous or even "deserved" due to Snape's own harsh demeanor in class. Yet as the series has unfolded, and we read about the extent of the Marauders' bullying in OotP and HBP, it becomes harder to dismiss Lupin's unprofessional act which helps him become a popular teacher on the first day. He still seems to believe that popularity is great even when it is gained at the expense of others, which is what many bullies believe. Unfortunately, he also targets the same victim from their younger days - Severus Snape.

There is a myth about bullies: that their low self-esteem leads them to take out their frustration on others. Studies have shown this is not true. Dan Olweus, a Norwegian who has done ground-breaking research on bullies, lists the following traits common to most bullies:

• They have a strong need to dominate and subdue other students and to get their own way
• Are impulsive and are easily angered
• Are often defiant and aggressive toward adults, including parents and teachers
• Show little empathy toward students who are victimized
• If they are boys, they are physically stronger than most other boys in general
(Olweus, 1993)

Bullies tend to have overly inflated self esteem, and many, if not most, bully because they enjoy the pain they inflict, mentally or physically, on others. It's fun. In OotP, the chapter called "Snape’s Worst Memory," James and Sirius are quite full of themselves: everything they say and do in the scene demonstrates their pride in themselves and what they perceive as their cleverness. Tormenting Snape lets them show off their power, skill, and superiority for others to admire. Though many would dispute the connection, the Marauders parallel the eleven-year-old Voldemort, who proudly tells Dumbledore: “I can make people hurt” (HBP ch 13).

The Victim

A victim of bullying can be anyone, and there is nothing that can guarantee you that you will or will not be one. The fact is, bullying just happens, often to give the bully something to do. In OotP, Snape is first attacked because Sirius is “bored.” Later, James Potter is asked by Lily Evans what Snape has ever done to deserve being humiliated. James says lightly, “He exists” (OotP ch 28).

In PS/SS, Hermione is ignored and resented because she is so bright, and the Weasleys are singled out for being poor. Neville is taunted by Malfoy for having “no brains,” and “if brains were gold you’d be poorer than Weasley, and that’s saying something” (PS/SS ch 13). Moaning Myrtle in CoS says she went into the restroom to cry because people made fun of her glasses. Luna Lovegood, who has an unusual appearance and outlook, is ostracized by her own housemates. In HBP, Neville and Luna both long for the DA club meetings because, as Luna puts it: “It was like having friends” (HBP ch 7). Nobody wants to share a compartment on the Hogwarts Express with Luna or Neville – and when Harry does, he gets this reaction from a more popular girl: “Why don’t you join our compartment? You don’t have to sit with them” (HBP ch 7). Luna explains it wisely to Harry: "They expect you to have cooler friends than us."

In one study, former victims were asked why they thought they were targeted. The answers displayed the random quality of how bullies choose their victims:

Quote:“Most adults thought they were bullied because they were: Shy, didn’t answer back; too short or too tall; good or bad looking; not interested in or bad at sports; too sensitive or cried easily; parents divorced or died or in prison; too intelligent or too stupid; a minority race or religion in their school or neighbourhood; skinny or fat; talented in music, art or poetry; too poor or too rich; posh or ‘lower class’ accent; wrong type of clothes” (Kidscape study).

According to this list, the young Severus Snape stands out as an obvious target. He has a large, hooked nose, sallow skin and greasy hair, all frequently mentioned throughout the novels. In fact, it is his physical appearance, and not his supposed Dark Arts connection, that is the subject of James and Sirius' insults at the start of "Snape's Worst Memory." He is possibly bad at sports, as shown in his memory of a bucking broomstick (OotP ch 26). He might have been a sensitive child who cried easily, since he is taunted by the Marauders with the nickname “Snivellus” (OotP ch 28). Snape most likely came from a troubled home, as shown by his memory of a woman "cowering" while a man yells at her and a small boy cries in the corner (OotP ch 26). In addition, Snape is extremely intelligent and studious, and a half-blood in Slytherin house.

These last aspects may factor into what is seen in "Snape's Worst Memory." Snape also seems to have had no friends. He walks out from his OWL exam alone, and no one greets him. He doesn’t approach friends to compare how the exam went. Instead, he sits down “on the grass in the dense shadow of a clump of bushes” (OotP ch 28). He seems to be keeping a low profile, trying to remain as invisible as he can. This is typical behavior from a victim of bullying. Victims tend to attract negative attention, such as dirty looks, taunts or name-calling, whenever they move out in the open. Therefore, Snape fits the profile by staying out of people’s vision. In his research on bullying, Dan Olweus points out that victims of bullying are often "cautious, sensitive, quiet, withdrawn and shy" (Olweus, 1993).

Though Harry has been bullied virtually all his life in the Muggle world and then Hogwarts, and even by Professor Snape himself, he reacts differently than young Snape did. That is because Harry has something that young Snape didn't have: Friends to support him.

Hermione and Ron are always there for Harry as a buffer zone; JKR says Harry nominated [them] as his family (Mugglenet Interview, 2005). Hermione "shields" Harry from Malfoy's taunts by telling Harry to "just ignore it" letting Harry know that fighting with Malfoy is “not worth it” (PoA ch 6). Ron does the same by showing anger on Harry's behalf, which validates Harry's own anger. Severus Snape seems to have had no such shield or support when he was a teenager.

On the occasions when Harry is left without the support of his friends, however, his reactions suddenly resemble the young Snape's. When left on Privet Drive, cut off from the magical world, he becomes resigned, sarcastic and withdrawn. This behavior is emphasized in OotP: Harry is very miserable at the start of the novel.

In Chapter One, Harry thinks he's been abandoned by all of his friends and even Dumbledore, and he's lashing out in a rather Snape-like fashion: he's sarcastic to the extreme, such as when he says snidely to his aunt and uncle about the news: "Well, it changes every day, you see." He also considers provoking a fight with Dudley and his gang, though outnumbered, which mirrors Lupin's accusation that Snape in his sixth and seventh year never missed an opportunity to hex James.

Harry begins to neglect himself: "He felt very conscious of the fact that he had not combed his hair for four days" and "His room was certainly much messier than the rest of the house. Confined to it for four days in a very bad mood, Harry had not bothered tidying up after himself" (OotP ch. 3). Rowling describes Harry's moods as "one of his apathetic phases.” Everything indicates a lonely, frustrated, depressed boy, not unlike the Severus Snape that we see in the Pensieve memory, killing flies in a darkened room (OotP ch 26). When the positive support from friends is missing, Harry becomes what seems to be an early version of young Severus Snape--with the classic reactions of a victim of bullying.

The Bystanders

Bullying isn't just about bullies and victims, but about everyone who watches the spectacle. These are the bystanders, and according to one study, "victimisation most commonly occurs when other people are watching."
In “Snape's Worst Memory” (OotP ch 28), everyone is staring at Snape as James and Sirius bully him, although we are told, “Some looked apprehensive, some amused." According to Olweus, the more people who watch an act of bullying, the longer it lasts. Bullies are encouraged by the seeming "participation" of bystanders. Another researcher says: “An audience is the lifeblood of a child who bullies. The bystanders’ reactions – their active assistance, comments, and laughter – encourage, reinforce and even incite his behaviour" (Slaby, 1997, Challenging Behavior).

There are some interesting bystanders in "Snape’s Worst Memory." Peter Pettigrew clearly enjoys the activities of the "biggest bully on the playground." He is too weak to target others, and he must toady to the leaders in order to keep a place in the group--he's one of those kids on the margin of the herd who, if there isn't a better target outside the group, may very well become the next victim. So he caters to the leaders. In addition, he likes seeing others suffer: it isn't he who is being subjected to the humiliation; the worse the other suffers, the better for Pettigrew.

Lily Evans becomes Snape's one defender, showing her courage and ability to go against the crowd. She is the exceptional bystander who speaks up for the victim. Intervention by bystanders is quite rare, but when it occurs, it can stop the bullying 50% of the time (Rigby, Challenging Behavior). Lily’s efforts are rebuffed, however, when Snape lashes out at her verbally, calling her a "Mudblood." That taunt, unfortunately, causes an angry retaliation by James, who demands that Snape apologize. The courageous Lily then turns on James and gives him a tongue lashing that pinpoints all of his faults and walks away. In order to save face with the crowd, James redoubles his efforts to humiliate Snape, playing to the crowd: "Who wants to see me take off Snivelly’s pants?” (OotP ch 28).

There is actually research to explain the actions of James using the pleasures of aggression to mask his failure to “win” Lily’s admiration in that scene. As the Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler wrote: "The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge to conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation" (Brainyquote).

Remus Lupin remains silent, neither laughing nor trying to stop his friends. Unlike James, bystander Lupin doesn't react to defend Lily's honor, anymore than he acted to defend Snape. He seems to be frozen into inaction by the things he sees and by fear of jeopardizing his position within the group if he openly disapproves.

Bullies tend to be popular—not loners, as once believed. They establish the norms of social behavior in the group; those who deviate from the norm are punished, and the punishment can involve ostracism, if one is a member of the group to begin with. Once exiled, then that person is subject to the same treatment that total outsiders have always been given--those who are seen as a threat to the bullies' social order are disciplined. The bullies must maintain the order, so that they maintain their power and social position.

Hence, James and Sirius go after Snape--in public. They are making a very strong point. Lupin aids them in making that point--he knows it's wrong, he doesn't approve of what they're doing...and he sits by and allows them to continue. For fear of ostracism, he's willing to put aside all of his beliefs, his morality, etc., in order to keep his position in the group; his individuality becomes subservient to the will of the group, particularly of its leaders.

The long-term effects

Some wounds do indeed run too deep for the healing. In a scientific survey of 1000 adults, carried out in 1999, it was shown that bullying at school continues to affect victims later in life (Kidscape study). While the feeling of being scared and vulnerable had subsided once the former victims were grown up, their feelings of anger and bitterness had not. This was even true for the oldest respondent in the survey, who was 81 at the time of the study. Time had not dimmed his painful childhood memories. In fact, the majority of the respondents reported feeling angry and bitter about the bullying they suffered at school). Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that Professor Snape is likewise feeling angry and bitter about what the Marauders did to him – even if it is 20 years ago. It is one of the last things Snape talks about to Harry as he leaves Hogwarts in HBP.

Other long term effects of bullying, that continue to affect the former victims as adults, are problems with low self-esteem, difficulties relating to other people, and difficulties making friends. We see these problems in Professor Snape. As an adult, he is not sociable and seems to prefer solitude in his dungeon office. At the Yule Ball in GoF, Professor Snape prefers to go outside rather than participate in any dancing or socializing (GoF ch 23). In OotP, he does not seem interested in spending any social time with the Order – he is only at Headquarters for as short as he can. At Slughorn's party in HBP, Snape is accused of "skulking" (HBP ch 15).

Ironically, the damage done to Snape expresses itself most clearly in his own damaging treatment of Neville Longbottom. Snape cannot, for all his intelligence, seem to understand that his approach to Neville only worsens Neville's problems as a student. It would seem obvious--but it's not to Snape: he appears to believe that, the more harshly he treats Neville, the more likely it is that Neville will change the objectionable behavior. Postive reinforcement isn't in Snape's vocabulary; it is something with which he has had little or no experience, and so he is unable to relate it to others.

Does the Half-Blood Prince send a bad message to children about bullying?

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Snape kills Albus Dumbledore in a seemingly cold hearted way which benefits Lord Voldemort. His actions towards the Headmaster who trusted him completely seem to fulfill Harry's worst opinions of Snape. Some readers will now believe that the greasy-haired kid with a big nose has grown up to become the most evil of wizards and that his outward appearance must have been a "sign" all along that he was a bad guy.

Research shows that when classmates start to perceive a victim as “weird” or perhaps “deserving to be harassed," the bully is viewed as the “good guy” (Olweus 1978, 1993). James and Sirius seem to have felt that Snape deserved his treatment. A similar moment in the books is Fake Moody's transformation of Draco Malfoy into a ferret. It's actually difficult to find people who don't think that scene is funny--who don't look forward to its being in the film. Most people react like Ron, who thought it was wonderful--Draco deserved it. Bullying relies upon judgments of others, and the reader becomes another bystander in those scenes, either enjoying the moment or being appalled at the violence.

Many readers feel a righteous anger toward Snape, due to his treatment of Harry, Neville, and Hermione as students and his killing of Dumbledore, and believe he deserves what he gets in the past because of what he is yet to do in the future. Yet it is an illogical view that, because Snape will become a Death Eater in the future and then go on to bully children, that he somehow deserved his punishment in the past, when he was only a 15-year-old boy. That is not poetic justice.

Following this faulty logic, HBP may lead some children to believe that “oddballs” like the young Snape should be punished, because they will turn out evil later in life, and therefore such episodes as "Snape’s Worst Memory" are okay. This would be a very dangerous message for young readers, who are likely to be in contact with bullying in everyday life at their schools, either as bullies or victims, but most likely as bystanders.

If the Harry Potter books are going to teach children something about bullying, we hope it will be that bullying is not okay, under any circumstances, and that the damage bullying inflicts lasts far beyond the schooldays. Snape did not deserve to be judged by his appearance any more than Harry deserved to be judged by his baggy clothes and glasses, or his ability to talk to snakes, or his connection to the death of Cedric. Harry and Snape were targets just because they were in a certain place and time and had an unorthodox appearance. So far, Rowling's primary message seems to be that any form of bullying is wrong--and that people need to examine their own reactions to and their understanding of what comprises bullying.


J.K. Rowling:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

J.K. Rowling interview transcript, The Connection (WBUR Radio), 12 October, 1999:
Courtesy of Quick Quotes Quill

Mugglenet Interview, 2005, Page 2

Royal Albert Hall Interview with Stephen Fry, 2003

Liz Carnell’s Website: Bullying Online

Kidscape survey: Long term effects of bullying.

Dan Olweus' (1993) book, Bullying at School, Quoted on the Website Stop School Bullying.

Barbara Kaiser and Judy Sklar Rasminsky: Challenging Behavior in Young Children, Excerpts Page

Alfred Adler Quotes
(This post was last modified: 06-12-2012 09:49 AM by Silver Ink Pot.)
05-11-2012 10:12 PM
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