Harry potter and the theme of good vs. evil

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On September 1, 1998, the first Harry Potter book was published in the United States, aimed at children aged nine to eleven. It was well-received by young readers at the time, who made it much more popular with the older generation. Another reason for its success, especially among older people, was its genre and theme, as it produced a tale that redefined adventure. Following the introduction of the second volume, a larger number of adults appeared in bookstores and libraries to buy it. The second publication was a continuation of the first book which gave birth to a fan base that kept growing. Subsequently, Harry Potter movies began to be produced based on novels. Similar to the novels the movies adopted a mix of various genres including horror, fantasy, sports, pulp fiction and romance. These themes are part of the components that make the story attractive hence the wide fan base consisting of both the young and adults. The magical adventure in the movie is exciting and makes the audience want more. This paper seeks to create an insight of the stories’ major theme of good versus evil.


The Harry Potter series has been received well by a lot of people including children and adults. The books are widely popular and readily available in most bookstores in the United States and the United Kingdom even though the author keeps creating subsequent series. Various bookstores in major cities have the complete sequence of the series, this way, the new readers of the books do not need to struggle to find them hence the sustenance of popularity. Another possible reason for the story’s popularity and influence is the series of movies that are based on Harry Potter novels. When the first release was made, there was a growth in the fan base mostly from the adult section of society. Most of the people became fans of the book after watching the movies; the first film was released in the year 2001.

The books have been translated into 67 different languages. Foreign readers also have also gotten a chance to indulge in the book and could also enjoy the adventure that it presents. The novel’s translations have made it more popular among readers, especially the young who have become faithful fans of the series reading it avidly and watching the movie versions. Children and adolescents are known to keep up with trends and since the story has become popular among them, it is possible that they influenced their peers who had not gotten the chance to read or watch the story (Whited 3). In the Harry Potter books, the main source of power is magic. Harry is the main character and as a young boy who has to go to a wizard school in order to learn how to use his magical skills to deal with his life, he struggles and most importantly pursues revenge for his parent’s death and defeats evil once and for all. Rowling, in the books gave an impression that the authority is not always right, and instead of one just sitting down and keeping up with the wrong authority he or she should seek out power and make the changes that are necessary (Gaiman 42).

Good versus Evil

Unlike other authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Rowling style of presenting good and evil is not that explicit. According to Halloran (2002), her ambivalent presentation of the moral issues offers an opportunity for free thinking, this is why the book has been seen as both educational and recreational. A reader has presented a chance to apply social standards of the moral issues in order to establish what could be considered evil or good. The perception of a character’s values, beliefs, and behavior is taken into account. Judging such issues would eventually lead to an interpretation of the moral standings of each character.

Harry Potter series gained and retains its success and appeal due to the eternal themes discussed in it; the battle of good and evil, power of love and family bonds, and the importance of friendship.”If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals”(Rowling, Goblet of Fire 100).The themes are close to everyone regardless of age and hence the story appeals to the great number of readers all over the world. Through the story, Harry Potter, who is the main character, is on a quest to defeat and overcome dark wizardry. Since he is an orphan he is faced with a great task at his young age. His friends and peers also help in the fight to ensure that there is no evil in the society. Harry Potter’s main enemy is Voldemort, throughout the book he is on a mission to bring Voldemort down. He is forced to play two roles whereby on the one side he is a typical student studying wizardry, and on the other side he is solving and fighting the world’s greatest mysteries together with his friends (Rowling, Chamber of Secrets 26).

In the book series, the reader can derive some indirect hints regarding Rowling’s ethical perspective and her ethical frame. For instance, she portrays ethical rule as personal choices that people have to make in order to define who they truly are besides their abilities. There is a clear indication that Rowling aimed at bringing to light the difference between good and evil through the depiction of the protagonists and antagonists in her story. Harry Porter being the main character represents the protagonist views and the good in the story while characters such Voldemort and Snape being the antagonists and, therefore, the evil. From Harry’s actions in the story, goodness seems to call for other attributes such as courage in order to face off with evil such temptations. In essence, goodness is a virtue that often requires ethical actions while on the other hand, evil is easy and requires less restraint in actions (Le Lievre 27). Rowling values life and those who move to protect it with bravery, sacrifice, and love, hence the definition of ‘good’ in the story. Therefore, characters such as Voldemort who commit acts of murder are seen as evil.

However, Rowling helps the reader come to terms with the ethical perspective and distinction between good and evil that it is not black and white. Rowling conveys a dynamic interaction of experiences and moral choices made by various characters. There are two forms of evil depicted in the stories: Empirical and Transcendent, their distinction is important. First, the empirical evil describes the humans’ understanding and observation of what is considered evil. Commonly, people will attribute evil to characters or people who cause uncalled for harm and pain to others who are underprivileged and prone to suffering (Peters 60). Human behavior such as terrorism and genocide are examples of events instigated by humans that are seen as the evil. Such is replicated in the stories from characters such as Voldemort who want to exercise their power by destroying other people he considers inferior. Secondly, the Transcendent evil describes evil associated with religion or magic. Such evil is beyond human understanding and many cannot relate to it. The Harry Potter series generally deals with magic, it is through the descriptions of the stories that the reader gets to understand what makes up the evil and good use of magic. Harry porter and other characters such as Dumbledore use and teach power for good while a character such as Voldemort uses magic for evil (Dooley 38).

Character Analysis

Snape is one of the characters in the series that is seen to be the most surprising. He is difficult to characterize his actions as either evil or good. Several scholars have argued that he is neurotic, egocentric, selfish, and blindly obsessive in regards to love. His obsessive love is the genesis of most debates as many argue that if he turned to the good side because of his love with Lily then he cannot be defined as a good person. By definition, obsessive love refers to a psychological condition whereby an individual becomes emotionally obsessed or preoccupied with feelings towards another to an abnormal extent. As per the story, there is some evidence that Snape was suffering from obsessive love, like his insistent attention to Lily, bullying behavior, and his hatred of Harry. Professor Snape is also seen as a stereotypical villain who is notoriously against Harry, “To me, Potter, you are nothing but a nasty little boy who considers rules to be beneath him” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 516). Regardless he is to also have some type of respect to the power of evil; this can be seen in his fear and terror during the Occlumency of Harry, “Do not say the Dark Lord’s name!’ spat Snape” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 470).

At the end of the series, The Half-Blood Prince is where Snape comes out as evil when he exhibits his loyalty to Voldemort. His evil character can also be seen at the start of the series The Deathly Hallows when he seems to enjoy the foulest of Death Easter. His true character of evil is revealed after his death and his memory is extracted. He harbors a lot of bitterness, nastiness, and resentment while being motivated by loyalty and love towards Voldemort and Lilly respectively. Rowling created the character of Professor Snape with an aim creating a representation of the fine line that separates evil and good (LiPuma 147). Throughout the series, readers are constantly conflicted on the choice between perceptions and feelings regarding Snape’s character. Humans are known to have the desire to categorize people as either bad or good even before hearing the whole story, ‘judging the book by its cover.’ Even the characters are faced with that struggle to understand the other character’s intention, “I should’ve shown the book to Dumbledore,’ (Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 635). Readers get to learn Snape’s actual character after his memory is extracted from his corpse. Harry describes how he had proof that Snape was evil even when he was helping him with Voldemort (Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 638).

To cover up his true intentions, Snape was always deceiving both Harry and Voldemort. During Harry’s Occllumency, Snap states, “The Dark Lord, for instance, almost always knows when somebody is lying to him” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 332). Eventually, he becomes the ultimate hero despite his dislikable character. Other characters such as Dumbledore do the opposite as their moral standing seems to shift at the end of the series. At the beginning of the story, Dumbledore was one of the characters who were seen to be good and with a flawless behavior, but that is not the case at the end (Theowyn 2).


The Harry Porter Series present two opposing factions that make up the structure of the battle between Good and Evil. It is from the characters of Professor Dumbledore, Harry, Professor Snape, and Voldemort that Rowling successfully educated the readers in the fact that no one can be fictitious or factual, distinctly be good or evil. Human beings experience the same internal battle as depicted by some of the characters (Klaassen and Christopher 135). The line between good and evil is quite thin and people tend to define others’ characters by the decisions or choice they make regarding the two. In the story, Snape is constantly struggling to manage his hatred towards Harry and his love for. The fact that one cannot explicitly be evil or good is also seen in Snape character. As mentioned above, throughout the series, he is seen to have allegiance to evil but in the end, he becomes a hero and could, therefore, be said to have been good. The complexity of the human brain is what gives people the ability to make choices of evil or good. It also gives people the capability to make self-impositions on the moral standings. Rowling depicts her choices basing on the human understanding of what makes a friend and Foe, evil and good. Her decision to avoid labeling the characters as either good or evil gives the story the constant variation of two opposing attributes. Through this, the idea that one can be inherently good or evil is rendered false (Purdie 32).


Evil is purely evil and good is purely good, confusion only comes about when characters exhibit conflicting behavior. As mentioned above, Snape was a character who was known to be evil but he eventually breaches the line does something heroic and good. Through this, Rowling portrays the possibility of people two change their choices. Good characters can choose to become evil, while evil characters can choose to become good. The only place an individual is frozen into a character is in contexts of stories and films, it is the authors’ decision choice to allow the change. In such cases, the struggle between evil and good tend to have no moral implications. In the Harry Potter series, the character that came up with the strongest magic was seen as the winner. It was the exercise of the power that defined their ‘goodness’ or ‘evilness.’ In the series, ‘evil’ is depicted as a break-off from the norm, while the ‘good’ is portrayed as conservation of the status quo and as an effort to shun away evil.

Works Cited

David and Catherine Deavel. “A Skewed Reflection: The Nature of Evil.” Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristole Ran Hogwarts, edited by David Bagget and Shawn E. Klein. Open Court, 2004 p. 132-147.

Dooley, David. “Harry Potter: Pro and Con.” Children’s Literature Review, edited by Scot Peacock, vol. 80, Detroit: Gale, 2002, p. 37-39. Literature Resource Centre.

Gaiman, Neil and Linda Richards. “January Interview: Neil Gaiman.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter, vol. 195, Gale, 2005. Literature Resource Centre.

Halloran, Jennifer A. “The Ideology behind the Sorceress of the Strand: Gender, Race, and Criminal Witchcraft.” English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, vol. 45, no. 2, 2002, p. 176. Literature Resource Centre.

Klaassen, Frank, and Christopher Phikips. “The Return of the Stolen Goods: Reginald Scot, Religious Controversy, and Magic in Bodleian Library, Aditional B. 1.” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, vol. 1 no. 2, 2006, p. 135. Literature Resource Centre.

Le Lievre, Kerrie Anne. “Wizards and Wainscots: Generic Structures and Genre Themes in the Harry Potter Series.” Mythlore, vol. 24, no. 1, Mcfarland, summer 2003, p. 25-35 Literature Resource Centre.

LiPuma, Edward. “Sorcery and Evidence of Change in Maring Justice.” Ethnology, vol. 33. No. 2. 1994, p. 147. Literature Resource Centre.

Peters, Molly. “The Choice between Good and Evil: An Analysis of Identity.” Diesis: Footnotes on Literary Identities, vol. 1, no. 1, 2011, p. 56-64 Literature Resource Centre.

Purdie, Helen. “Review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Children’s Literature Review, edited by Scot Peacock, vol. 80, Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Centre.

Rowling, Joanne K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Rowling, Joanne K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.London: Bloomsbury, 2000. 100.

Rowling, Joanne K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: London: Bloomsbury, 2003.

Rowling, Joanne K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: London: Bloomsbury, 2005.

Theowyn. “The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.” The Leaky Cauldron. Web, 11 Jan. 2009.

Whited, Lana A. ‘A Survey of the Critical Reception of the Harry Potter Series.”Critical Insights. The Harry Potter Series.

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