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Sat Jan 27 18:10:26 MST 2001
French Marxist attacks 'bourgeois' Harry Potter
By John Lichfield in Paris
The Independent (UK)
28 January 2001
Harry Potter is a sexist neo-conservative meritocrat who perpetuates a
"degrading image of women". The French newspaper Libération has published
the first extended, Marxist-structuralist analysis of the works of J K
Would-be "progressive", "non-élitist" and "non-sexist" children are urged to
avoid the politically incorrect symbolism of the four Potter books, which
have sold more than a million copies in France.
Harry Potter, the trainee wizard, may look like an "intellectual" with his
glasses and his unruly hair, writes Pierre Bruno. Once "deconstructed," he
is "only too clearly" the hero of a "political allegory" of the triumph of
the socially ascendant (on broomsticks presumably) petite bourgeoisie.
Mr Bruno, a university lecturer in Dijon and author of a book on adolescent
culture, has applied the principles of structuralist literary criticism and
Marxist social analysis - the twin pillars of French left-wing
intellectualism - to the wizard from 4 Privet Drive.
His critique has touched off an impassioned defence of Harry and Rowling by
French publishers, teachers and parents in the same newspaper. How, they
ask, can a book be socially undesirable if it helped a generation of
children to rediscover reading?
The charge of "sexism," they say, does not stick. Harry's friend Hermione -
inaccurately presented by Mr Bruno as a stupid, ineffectual bookworm - is a
brilliant scholar who plays a pivotal role in most of the books'
comic-horrific adventures. The violent game of Quidditch, played on
broomsticks, is a unisex sport, in which girls excel alongside the boys
(unlike, say, boules).
Mr Bruno is unrepentant. Rowling, he says, has failed - despite having
studied in Paris - to take account of the "critical theories of literature
disseminated by higher education". She has not applied the ideas of such
great French thinkers as the structuralist Roland Barthes and the
unreconstructed Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
Instead, her "traditionalist" and "conservative" political symbolism is
"only too obvious" Mr Bruno says. The four houses at the Hogwarts' School -
Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw - are competing social
groups. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw are the lower orders, hard-working but
stupid. Slytherin "represents the propertied-classes" and Gryffindor -
Harry's house - the "ascendant" class of the bourgeoisie.
The whole series, he says, is not about the struggle of Good and Evil (as
millions of children have wrongly surmised) but about the "conflict between
established and rising classes".
Mr Bruno finds no place in his deconstruction of Harry Potter for the most
terrifying characters in the series: the Dementors, faceless, hooded figures
whose very presence chills the heart and sucks joy from the bones. Perhaps
they come too close to home.
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