"You place too much importance... on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!"
Dumbledore's criticism of Cornelius Fudge gets to the crux of the matter, doesn't it? Whether it's making laws against interracial marriage, following Hitler, or taking to the extreme biblical notions of impurity and mixing apparently unlike things (Lev 19:19: "'Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material'"), requiring others to fit into one's own notion of "purity" often leads to dreadful consequences.
Throughout the Harry Potter
series, Rowling plays with this notion of purity. Dumbledore's a loving parent for those that certain segments of wizard society deem unclean (Hagrid the half-Giant, Harry the half-blood, Muggle-born Hermione, the poverty-stricken Weasley's, Snape the forgiven Death Eater). The Malfoys (Lucius and Draco) stand in stark contrast to the perceived "messiness" of Dumbledore, preferring "pure-bloods" to "Mudbloods" like Hermione and Harry. The Malfoys treat the poor, house-elves and muggle-born like trash. I hate the Malfoys. And Voldemort? A man so loathing of his muggle roots that he's willing to massacre "impure" innocents to cleanse his own sinful self. I hate him too, though I hold a sliver of hope that he'll be redeemed of his self-hatred at some point.
I don't hate Hagrid. Actually, I like him alot. Rowling's clever in how she treats social issues in ways that might engage younger readers. She uses Hagrid's "coming out" as a half-giant to speak to others trapped in their own closet-prisons:
"I am what I am, an' I'm not ashamed. 'Never be ashamed,' my ol' dad used ter say, 'there's some who'll hold it against you, but they're not worth botherin' with.'
Rowling also engages the issues of slavery and activism through Hermione's work on behalf of house elves. Does the genetic disposition of a house elf make slavery the only choice for them? How does the house elves' apparent willingness to be enslaved tie in with Dumbledore's belief that it's not birth, but character and action that matter most? Are house elves less than human, and thus excluded from Dumbledore's life principle? Rowling's labeling of Hermione's free-the-elves movement as the House-Elf Liberation Front (a take-off on the Animal Liberation Front) proves that she's exploring the rights of humans and animals/non-human beings. Since people have used race to determine if a person is human or non-human (ie, African slaves in the U.S. once deemed as partial, or 3/5ths human at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787), this slavery debate using house elves makes sense as part of the broader discussion on purity and uncleanness running throughout Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
. Resolution of the slavery and non-human rights issues must come in a later book. But despite this lack of resolution, Rowling's warning against erecting imaginary boundaries between classes, races, genders, and even species comes across loud and clear.
Imaginative world-building, deftly handled social and philosophical debate, and a true-to-life (at least in my experience) depiction of the angst and relational awkwardness of the teenage years make Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
yet another modern classic. Rowling's really good! Color me fanboy.