Atonement with the Father
Figures in Harry Potter
Analysis By Lynne Milum
Copyright © 2004-2007
by Lynne Milum. All rights reserved.
There are three
transformative events that are the possible culmination of the
hero's journey. These are Meeting with the Goddess, Atonement
with the Father and Apotheosis. For the protagonist who was
raised in the absence of a father figure, reconciliation and
atonement is the life goal. This type of story culminates in a
confrontation and ultimate role replacement of the dominant
father figure. This father figure may be benevolent or
"monstrous" in form. The latter situation is accompanied by the
hero himself incorporating that monstrosity into his
self-identity…or perishing by the same. The benevolent face of
the father carefully balances his role as the requisite guide
for the hero - bittersweet in the knowledge that he must
ultimately submit to the rising hero's power.
Just as every
woman represents a manifestation of the Goddess image and the
whole of human existence arises from her - both the positive and
negative aspects, so too does each man represent the 'Father'
image. That image was, is and forever will be the role of the
father to yield to the son.
hero’s attainment of oneness with the father, the hero takes his
father’s place. The myth invokes questions in the observer:
Where do I fit in this human formula, this heroic journey? How
am I living the life that is my destiny? Am I indeed following
my bliss? What personal boon do I bring to the human family?
Father for the Series
Harry Potter is a
boy with many fathers – the biological father of course is James
Potter; the father of memory is Vernon Dursley; the godfather is
Sirius Black; the protector is Albus Dumbledore; and the demon
who created Harry’s destiny is Lord Voldemort. There many are
other men cast in the father archetype within the series – each
of these relationships is to be discussed here.
For Harry, the
series is driving towards eventual confrontation for survival.
The reader has been warned through guise of prophecy that only
Harry or Voldemort will survive this final battle. The reader
also knows that Dumbledore is preparing Harry for the battle –
yet we still don’t know Dumbledore’s true motives.
Who is the most
powerful wizard? Does it rest on the side of dark in Voldemort
or the side of light in Dumbledore? Can either power exist in
the absence of the other? Will Harry atone the separation itself
and replace both Voldemort and Dumbledore simultaneously in his
rise to power? Only Jo Rowling knows the answer – if answered in
the Deathly Hallows, we will know soon as well.
Relationships in the Harry Potter
series are complex, and some roles appear to overlap in multiple
characters. The Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) addresses the
atonement of, for and to the Father.
This adventure does not yet detail the final
confrontation with the 'Father', however this theme is more
prominent than in any adventure to date. Witness the following
- Vernon's minimal atonement
is to let Harry return to Privet Drive just one more time.
Dumbledore even refers to Vernon Dursley's failure as a
father not only to Harry, but to Dudley (as one to be
- Draco Malfoy is set up to
perform a task as atonement for Lucius failing to secure the
prophesy, and exposing Voldemort’s return prematurely.
- Snape is obligated to make
an Unbreakable Vow to save Draco (At this point, it is
unclear whether this atonement is made to Lucius, Narcissa,
or Dumbledore). The Unbreakable Vow will claim the life of
any person breaking it.
- Arthur witnessed a
pseudo-atonement when Percy was forced to visit at Christmas
by the new Minister of Magic.
- Hagrid must ‘civilize’ Grawp
to atone for bringing a giant to Hogwarts.
- Slughorn must atone to Harry
for his part in Lily's death.
- Harry ultimately seeks
atonement for the deaths of his ‘accepted’ father trinity –
James, Sirius and Dumbledore. He chases Draco and Snape from
For the series, Harry is the
orphan child and has multiple father figures with feelings of
attachment, hatred and ambivalence, and yet there is an
obligation to each of these characters.
Relationship to Harry: Biological Father; Died when Harry was
one year old
To Another: No familial relationships known, metaphorical
brotherhood with (Moony, Padfoot and Wormtail) and the Order of
Light: James is perceived
primarily as exceptional - excelling at School, Quidditch,
friendship, wizardry and member of the Order. He gave his life
fighting Voldemort and in protecting his wife and son under
attack. James is Harry’s ideal – the perfect and unattainable
Shadow: James was an illegal
animagus, who regularly broke the rules and physically abused
Severus Snape. At the end of the fifth adventure, Harry
witnesses flaws in James character which unsettles him – what
Harry sees in Snape’s memory is distinctly at odds with Harry’s
perceptions of James as the fantasy father.
Atonement Situation: Voldemort killed James and deprived Harry
of his real father. Harry has a righteous sense of atonement for
Relationship to Harry:
Albus Dumbledore is Harry’s protector, the keeper of the
prophecy, the wielder of old magic based in love, the enchanter
of the Dursley home, the keeper of the Order, and the master of
Harry’s education. Dumbledore is the archetype of the Wise Old
Man who seems to know what Harry is thinking even before Harry
can formulate his thoughts. Dumbledore is so closely linked to
Harry, it seems as if he is an older version of Harry who knows
what is about to happen – a sort of Merlin who can remember his
To Another: Dumbledore is the
Father/Grandfather figure for all at Hogwarts – both for
students and staff. In particular, Dumbledore is very particular
about his relationships with Harry, Snape and Draco. Dumbledore
is protector of Draco’s (relative) innocence by offering
sanctuary to keep Draco from committing murder. Dumbledore also
is protector of Severus Snape, keeping him out of Azkaban and
providing him safe haven as part of the Hogwarts staff.
Dumbledore does ask Snape to take dangerous actions on behalf of
the Order, presumably based on a secret pact. Dumbledore also
has a special relationship with Hagrid and protects him from
adversarial forces as well.
Light: Dumbledore appears to have
command of both space and time. He also demonstrates superior
insight and a higher state of consciousness. Dumbledore has a
transcendent authority that is obeyed by both good and dark
wizards, the latter complying despite individual will and verbal
commentary. Even Voldemort/Riddle indirectly submits to
Dumbledore by fleeing the Ministry of Magic. Dumbledore unveils
Harry’s powers gradually, emphasizing repeatedly that his
greatest power is love.
Shadow: While Dumbledore was very
knowledgeable, he was also highly secretive. For example, he
kept Harry from knowledge that Snape was the prophecy spy.
Dumbledore also acknowledges that some of family members are
less than reputable.
Atonement Situation: Harry, after
witnessing Dumbledore’s murder, goes after Snape and Draco in
anger. He seeks revenge and atonement for his mentor’s wrongful
death. Despite this anger, Harry ultimately does not lose sight
that Voldemort must neutralized for the sake of the Magical and
Muggle worlds. Atonement must be
sought despite the loss of the great wizard.
Relationship to Harry:
Sirius is Harry’s godfather and surrogate father in the wake of
third adventure. His original promise, made in Prisoner of
Azkaban, was that he and Harry would be family. The promise was
delayed until Voldemort appeared and the Order of the Phoenix
regrouped. Harry and Sirius spent part of the summer together
and also Christmas break, but the expectation never fully
manifested itself. Sirius was immersed in a type of self-pity –
Harry loved him as the only real family he knew, but the
relationship was bittersweet.
To Another: James Potter's best
Light: Sirius was James Potter’s closest friend who overcame his
dark wizardry upbringing. Sirius opposes the Death Eaters and
other dark wizards with the whole of his being. He is brave,
handsome and an adventure seeker.
Shadow: Sirius wants Harry to be
James. He hates Snivellous Snape to the extent that it eats him
up inside. Sirius is to a large
extent self-destructive. He can be unforgiving and reckless,
even vindictive toward those not in his inner circle. He seemed
to lose his will to live in Order of the Phoenix and was
dejected living in the house of his youth. Revenge was
frequently dominant in of his thoughts. He was empty inside and
even Harry could not help him overcome this.
Atonement Situation: The loss of
Sirius creates a new vacuum in Harry’s life.
Harry yields to thoughts of revenge after Bella Lestrange
killed Sirius. Harry feels he must atone for Sirius’ death.
Relationship to Harry: While Harry
perceives Sirius as his surrogate father, Mr. Weasley largely
adopts Harry from the point where his Ford Anglia retrieves
Harry from Privet Drive in the second adventure. Arthur advises
Harry, particularly from a safety perspective throughout the
series, and takes Harry’s concerns seriously. Harry confides in
Mr. Weasley when he can’t share issues with Ron. Arthur is as
proud of Harry’s accomplishments and bravery as much as any
To Another: Arthur is a man with a kingly name and princely sons
who seem to provide for his magical round table. Like King
Arthur, he is the romantic father who ‘was mad’ for Molly back
at Hogwarts. His manner expresses a deep and gentle love.
The kingly relationship of Arthur's clan:
- (Prince William) Bill - Grown; Arthur has
not only accepted Bill’s choice of curse-breaker from his
principal heir, he has brought him into full partnership and
trust within the Order of the Phoenix. Bill is prepared to
assume the duties of ‘The Father’.
- (Prince Charles) Charlie - Grown; Arthur
has reconciled Charlie’s choice to become a dragonkeeper.
- (Sir Percival) Percy - Asserting
adulthood; Arthur finds difficulty in dealing with the moral
rejection of son. Percy is making his own way in adulthood
replete with immaturity. He is intellectually gifted, but
rigorously seeks a way imposed by others such as Crouch,
Fudge and Scrimsgeour. He has not matured enough to make his
own moral judgements and as a consequence was prematurely
separated from his parents. Percy is headed towards his own
atonement with his father.
- (Sirs Frederick and George) Fred/George -
Grown; Arthur is dealing with their choice of opening a Joke
- (Sir Ronald) Ron – Has achieved the age
of wizarding majority and found his love; Arthur’s
acceptance of Ron’s adulthood is pending. Ron still
struggles with the authority of his mother. He has the model
of his elder brothers breaking through to independence (with
both positive and negative results in his mind). He should
know at this point what he must do.
Whence shall the quest commence?
Light: Arthur expresses loving relationships,
understanding, and a wishful and inquisitive manner bordering on
childlike innocence. He is in on the secrets of his children,
supportive if not a co-conspirator. Through his efforts in the
Order, he is known to be brave but not aggressive.
Shadow: There is some secrecy in why Arthur is
in a subordinate position at the Ministry, when he commands
great respect and is capable of transforming the magical world
with his values. The reader also has a sense of Weasley loyalty
to Harry but no understanding of why this relationship exists.
Atonement Situation: There is a deep divide
between Arthur and his son Percy, who rejected his parents’
involvement in the Order. Pseudo-reconciliation was presented in
Half Blood Prince, but this encounter revealed Percy being
manipulated by the new Minister of Magic to get at Harry.