image: fanpop.com

Strong Female Characters: Hermione Granger

For those of you that don’t know, Hermione Granger is one of the main characters in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Set in a secret magical boarding school, the books deal with the adventures of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger’s efforts to stop the evil Lord Voldemort (aka. Wizard Hitler). While she’s not the protagonist, Hermione is one of the most important characters in the series, and she has been hailed as a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Unlike the rest of the Golden Trio, Hermione is the only one who consistently has her eye on the big picture. She’s very engaged in the world around her – she keeps up with contemporary politics throughout most of the series – and frequently tries to change it. She’s the one who persuades Harry to start the DA, she’s the one who starts a campaign for elf rights when she sees how they’re treated, and she’s the one who discovers – and makes – the Polyjuice Potion to help them find out more about the Heir of Slytherin.

Hermione is constantly examining and questioning the world around her on a massive scale, and even though she has limited resources, she does her best to change it. In true Granger style, she passes this round with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Throughout the series, Hermione displays some very consistent goals: she wants to do well in school, get a job that lets her make a difference in the world, and maybe defeat some evil on the side. Defeating evil is a goal that many other characters share, but her academic motivation is entirely hers, and she owns it.

Yeah she does. image: pinterest.com
Yeah she does. (image: pinterest.com)

While Hermione’s two main hobbies (reading and knitting) can be a little solitary, her personal beliefs are a mix of her own opinions and what she has learned from other characters in the books. Like many other characters, she believes that blood discrimination is wrong and that Voldemort is evil, but unlike many other characters, she believes that enslaving house elves is wrong, and is more than willing to argue her case. This mixture of beliefs is actually much more realistic than you would usually find in a YA novel, and adds another layer to her character.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

For the most part, Hermione is a pretty consistent character. Her intelligence and compassion remain a constant force throughout the series, and she never wavers in pursuing her goals.

The one place where this consistency falls down is in her attitude to her love life. Hermione has a tendency to get extremely petty over her love life (particularly when Ron starts dating Lavender Brown) and given the emotional maturity she shows through the rest of the series, I don’t feel that this is particularly consistent with her character. However, her tendency to be petty over things she cares about is previously established – just look at how annoyed she is when someone does better than her in a test – and this is an attitude she maintains consistently, so I’ll give her a pass on this one.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A fiercely intelligent young witch who’s determined to stop the spread of evil.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Most of Hermione’s decisions are influenced by her own moral compass or her determination to do well in school. Of course, some of her decisions are influenced by her love life, but the majority of them are not. In the final book, she shows that she’s more than capable of making choices without letting her love life influence her: when Ron leaves the Horcrux hunt and asks her to come with him, she refuses even though she has feelings for him because she knows destroying Horcruxes is more important. That’s another point for Gryffindor.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

Four for you Granger, you go Granger image: tumblr.com
Four for you Granger, you go Granger (image: tumblr.com)

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Hermione develops very naturally over the course of the Harry Potter series (and no, I’m not going to make a puberty joke). She learns the value of breaking the rules, the importance of standing up for what she believes in despite the costs, and grows up into a young woman who is proud of who she is. This is a very positive message for children everywhere, as well as very realistic character development, and so once again, she passes this round in a blaze of glory.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Hermione is prone to occasional bouts of irrational panic (usually over her grades), but this is most prevalent in her earlier years; in her final year at Hogwarts, she has grown out of it enough to skip her final year altogether. She’s a stickler for procedure and at times, can be a little close-minded (particularly in her interactions with Professor Trelawney and Luna Lovegood). More worryingly, her greatest weakness is a tendency for petty, sometimes cruel behaviour in her love life, but I’ll go into this in more detail later.

Regardless of the unfortunate implications that some of her weaknesses possess, they do still count as weaknesses, so the point goes to Granger.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Without Hermione getting stuff done, Harry and Ron would probably have dropped dead from sheer incompetence in their first year. Hermione is consistently the character who puts the clues together, who comes up with the solutions, and who makes the plans work. She does occasionally get captured, but they’re usually minor incidents and never the main focus of any of the books, so she passes this round once again.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

OK, hold onto your wizard hats.

LOOK AT HIM HE'S SO MAGICAL (image: crimsonkeep.com)
LOOK AT HIM HE’S SO MAGICAL (image: crimsonkeep.com)

In some ways, Hermione goes against traditional gender stereotypes. She’s very intelligent, stands up for what she believes in, and rises up over gossip and bullying in a way that contemporary stereotypes about teenage girls would have us believe is impossible. In some ways she can be very traditionally feminine (her emotional maturity and interest in knitting, for instance) but this is never presented as a bad thing, and this is all a very positive message for young girls.

Where it all falls down is how she behaves in her love life, particularly in the sixth book. For those of you who need a refresher, the part I’m referring to is where Hermione develops feelings for Ron only to find that he has started going out with another student (Lavender Brown). When she finds out, she sets a flock of birds on him, which leave cuts on his arms that take days to heal. Hermione – not any other character in the book, for that matter – never expresses any remorse for causing physical harm to someone she has feelings for.

WHAT THE HELL, GRANGER??

This is actually really dangerous behaviour that enforces a lot of harmful stereotypes about gender. Hermione – usually a very calm, controlled character – completely loses it when she experiences romantic rejection. Afterwards, she goes out of her way to make Ron jealous – including dating someone she really dislikes and shows little concern for her well-being – and once Hermione and Ron get together, this is never addressed again. This subtly reinforces the belief that women are slaves to their emotions, particularly when dealing with romantic rejection, which is a belief that can have a very harmful impact on the lives of contemporary women. However, this incident also reinforces harmful stereotypes about men, too. If you imagine the situation without magic, Hermione’s behaviour would legally count as relationship abuse, and I have no doubt that if the genders were reversed, it would be treated as such, but the characters just brush it off and the fans often treat it as a joke. This is symptomatic of a much wider trend in fiction where female characters often use unnecessary force to prove their strength, but it reinforces a lot of frankly poisonous stereotypes. By trivialising abuse committed by women against men, it reinforces the beliefs that women are not strong enough to harm men and men are too strong to be harmed by women – a belief which trivialises both female domestic abusers and their male victims in real life.

This is by no means the kind of behaviour we should be endorsing.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Like Katniss, Hermione has a range of different relationships with a range of different female characters. She looks up to Professor McGonagall, looks down on Rita Skeeter and rightfully despises characters such as Professor Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange. However, it’s worth noting that over the course of the series, Hermione doesn’t really develop a close friendship with another female character. She is close to Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood – she sticks up for them and seems to know a lot about what’s going on in their lives – but she doesn’t always engage with them. When the reader is presented with scenes that show her interacting with them, Hermione comes across as aloof: she looks down on some of Luna’s more eccentric beliefs, she makes no interest to share Ginny’s passion for Quidditch, and there are not many scenes that show her really engaging her friends in topics that interest them, which is a hugely important part of any friendship.

This takes its toll on the storytelling. Hermione is not a character that is incapable of forming friendships; her bond with Harry and Ron is proof of that. However, Hermione is frequently used as a vehicle to dispense information about other characters, particularly those outside Harry’s house and year. When she tells Harry (and, by extension, the reader) a myriad of very personal details about Ginny and Luna’s lives, yet has no scenes establishing the depth of her bond with those characters, she seems more like a plot device and less like a realistic character. With that in mind, I’m only going to award her half a point, as I feel this lack of depth really undercuts some of her most important relationships with other female characters.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Hermione Granger is a well-rounded character who develops over the course of the Harry Potter novels. While some of her behaviour carries some deeply unfortunate implications about gender, she does display realistic and developed strengths and weaknesses, and has a huge impact on the plot of the series. She’s certainly passed my test – ten points to Gryffindor.

Next week, I’ll be venturing into Sunnydale. Buffy Summers, I’m coming for you.

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15 thoughts on “Strong Female Characters: Hermione Granger”

  1. I would only award her half a point (or maybe no point at all) as far as her weaknesses are concerned. She’s almost always regarded as the most brilliant witch, always the brightest who can do no wrong. Hermione doesn’t really have a fatal flaw. She’s kind of a Mary Sue but that doesn’t really surprise me since she’s a self-insert for JK Rowling.
    In book 3, there’s an interesting tidbit about her being insecure and afraid of failure but unfortunately this is never explored again.
    On the other hand, I completely agree with your answer to question 9.
    Hermione is a great character and it’s easy to sympathize with her but I can’t help but feel she’s a bit overrated as a literary feminist icon.

    1. I’d certainly say that’s true of her academic abilities, but I don’t think she’s completely without flaws.

      She certainly does get away with a hell of a lot though, especially where the fans are concerned.

  2. After reading the last comment carefully and going back to analyse question 7 and its respective answer, I sort of agree.
    – Bouts of irrational panic over her grades? Is it really a flaw? It seems more for humorous effect.
    – A stickler for procedure and rules? Why is that always regarded a bad thing is most fictional works? It seems that being nonconformist and always questioning everything is the only acceptable way of being a legitimate character.
    – I wouldn’t say Hermione is close-minded, more like a skeptical until she sees some proof. Again this attitude of hers doesn’t lead her to any real trouble. Not a definite personality flaw.
    – Her behaviour concerning her love life is valid, I’ll concede that. But you go into detail about that and evaluate her for it in question 9.

    I would give her half a point in question 7. Withholding the point wouldn’t be too shocking either. But the latter action would have made Hermione fail the feminist test and that would be taboo for many people (hahaha).

    1. That’s a fair point, but I still stand by my judgements – even though Hermione’s flaws are mostly played for laughs, they do actually hold her back (like when she’s panicking over the Devil’s Snare, or almost fails her DADA exam in book 3). From my point of view, I do think that she’s got enough well-developed flaws to pass the test, but I definitely would’ve liked to have seen these explored a bit further.

      1. Another example of her flaws is when she misjudges the centaurs in book 5. This almost got her and Harry captured. She also is the first of the students to go down during the battle in the Department of Mysteries, because she didn’t pay attention for a tiny moment. It’s totally fair to give her a point for this.

      2. There’s another pretty significant flaw that you could have talked about her, namely she could be very bossily. It caused Harry to frequently ignore her advice to him (even though most of them are spot on in hindsight) and lie or even explode to her. This source of trouble in her communication with Harry is something I feel pretty significant.

        1. I see where you’re coming from, but I’m not sure if that would really count. Poor communication skills is a problem, but you can’t really blame her for Harry’s decision to ignore her.

          1. I agree and it’s mostly Harry’s problems for not taking her advice even when he doesn’t wish to hear them. For me, it isn’t a weakness for Hermione the first few times, but I thought she might eventually learn that another way to reach out to Harry would be better than what she was doing (like what Sirius and Remus and Dumbledore did for example) but I don’t think she ever learned that.

            1. Just had some additional thoughts on this idea of Hermione’s weaknesses. I think her bossiness is a reflection of the bigger problem of her being tactlessness at times (and in the case of Harry, it showed she at times just doesn’t understand he preferred to be left alone and came to his own conclusions). At times she was just too rational for her own good and said things that offended people which were better left unsaid (the centaurs scene as hg pointed out is the perfect example, other people include Lavender over her dead bunny in PoA, Luna, the elves, etc.) which I feel made some of her interpersonal relationships rather strained.

              In some ways she is worse than Ron here whom lots of people seem to think is the epitome of tactlessness which I feel is a very harsh label.

  3. Hey, there are more of these! I love this series.
    I wanted to ask another question (sorry if I am being annoying in some ways, I’m just really curious about this). How does having weaknesses make a strong character? It’s paradoxal to me, I don’t quite get it.

    1. Don’t worry about it – always nice to have an interested reader!

      The reason why I included the weakness question is because I define ‘Strong Female Characters’ as characters who are well-developed, complex and nuanced. A really well-written character will have flaws that affect their progression through the story regardless of gender, and part of their strength (in the sense of personality) will lie in how they face those flaws.

      Personally, I don’t like female characters that get everything handed to them and are only there to kick ass. They don’t feel like real characters. I find it’s much more compelling when you read a story where a female character really has to work for the things she wants, rather than just breezing through everything effortlessly.

  4. Hi Jo,
    First of all let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on the female characters I knew (as unfortunately I haven’t read as extensively as you have) but I do have some comments on what you said here.

    I agree with not giving a point for category 9 for Hermione mostly for the reasons you listed and I would say the time when Ron returned to the Horcruxes quest and Hermione hit and later on remained cold with him is extremely petty as well since she knew how horrible he felt already.

    “This is symptomatic of a much wider trend in fiction where female characters often use unnecessary force to prove their strength, but it reinforces a lot of frankly poisonous stereotypes. By trivialising abuse committed by women against men, it reinforces the beliefs that women are not strong enough to harm men and men are too strong to be harmed by women – a belief which trivialises both female domestic abusers and their male victims in real life.”
    About the canaries incident – Yes, I dislike that scene as well and I would have preferred for Ron and Hermione to get together naturally in OotP or at Slughorn’s party and I would cut out the whole Lavender/McLaggen triangle out of the book entirely. However, I feel the core problem here is that physical violence is normalised in HP compared with the real world as opposed to what you said here. Remember, this is a world where Quidditch a sport which will mostly be banned in the real world is followed with a fanatical zeal by most of the wizarding world and many many incidents of physical violence is seen in a humorous context and Hermione is by no means the only person who did something like this.
    Harry, for example, has ordered Hedwig to peck Ron and Hermione till they bleed in OotP, thrown a badge at Ron and hexed people for fun using the HBP spells and he showed no regret for any of these incidents. The Twins’ joke products would most likely be illegal in the real world given that they include things like love potions, and canary creams that turned their unsuspecting victims into canaries or nose-blood products that could potentially make someone seriously ill (e.g. Katie Bell in OotP). Ginny rammed into Zacharias Smith in HBP and if it is the Muggle world, she could easily have seriously injured him and yet it is shown for laughs.

    “Hermione – usually a very calm, controlled character – completely loses it when she experiences romantic rejection.”
    I agree she is normally very calm but she could also be really vindictive as well and not just because of romance rejection. For example, she kidnapped Rita Skeeter and locked her in a jar for almost a week and used a pretty dark jinx that scarred Marietta for life for betraying the DA. None of these things are done for any other purposes other than revenge, so I feel the canaries incident is actually rather mild compared with those incidents given the scars did fade rather quickly.

    To her defence though, when Ron was snogging Lavender she was still doing her best to help Harry with his problems, like researching Horcruxes for him when he couldn’t bother doing it himself.

    “Hermione – not any other character in the book, for that matter – never expresses any remorse for causing physical harm to someone she has feelings for.”
    “Afterwards, she goes out of her way to make Ron jealous – including dating someone she really dislikes and shows little concern for her well-being – and once Hermione and Ron get together, this is never addressed again.”
    I agree if the books showed a scene where she apologised to Ron for her horrid behaviour that would have been much better than what was shown. I am going to have to assume she did apologise to him in the hospital (and the same goes for the punching scene in the Silver Doe chapter by the way) when she first saw him wake up. I think this is a problem with Ginny as well but this is getting off-topic.

    Regarding her friendship with other female characters – Yeah, I found it a bit disappointing as well that there were rather few examples of strong friendships between female characters, like between Ginny and Hermione which was mostly kept in the background. I would also contend she has more trouble finding friends (due to her sometimes personality) than either Harry or Ron but that’s another discussion.

      1. Thanks. I just thought I should point out how incredibly violent Potterverse is; I feel is at least a mitigating factor for some of Hermione’s actions just like how even historical progressive people’s morals and actions are influenced by the cultural values of the historical period they lived in.

        I will definitely try to read through and comment on your other posts in the series.

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