2. House qualities, their ideal and perverted forms
Usually (for example in Harry Potter Wiki from where these definitions are copied) the house qualities are characterised this way:
- Gryffindor values bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry.
- Hufflepuff values hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play rather than a particular aptitude in its members.
- Ravenclaw values intelligence, knowledge, and wit.
- Slytherin values ambition, cunning and resourcefulness.
It has also been suggested that the Houses most reflect J.K. Rowling’s personal preferences and prejudices, which would makes them difficult to compare on a neutral scale. This would be particularly visible in the prominent characters that she presents in the books – after all, we only see a small selection of all Hogwarts students, and even smaller sub-group whose characters are documented in a level of detail that allows reliable analysis without a lot of speculation.
To overcome the above challenges and constraints, the idea in this essay is to disregard the author's intentions and try to figure a systematic framework that would result in the characteristics we observe. Like an algorithm that JKR has been using without knowing it herself.
I first try to outline personal qualities, in as neutral terms as possible, which would cover the House characteristics exhaustively, yet keeping the number of attributes limited. I suggest two qualities for each house: one denoting an aptitude, another one referring to an inclination. For some Houses this dichotomy works better than for others, and the distinction is not always very clear. Nevertheless, I find it useful for the analysis. Of course, the full ranges of meanings for these two words are overlapping, and for the purposes of this essays the words are used in a narrower sense than what a full dictionary entry would suggest. In addition to neutral aptitudes and inclinations, I also try to define (examples of) their ideal and perverted forms.
By aptitude, I refer to a quality that is at least partly visceral, i.e. independent of the persons free will. It would be difficult for a person to suppress such quality at will and on the other hand, if one does not possess such facility, it would be almost impossible to excel in it solely based on practice. In psychological terms, these can be (but are not necessarily) characteristics of temperament. The suggested House aptitudes are:
Ideally, Gryffindor daring manifests itself as courage, but it can also develop into undesirable recklessness.
The Hufflepuff patience appears a rather positive trait in itself. However, both Hufflepuff qualities could be seen as catalytic; their value is really seen in combination of the traits of other Houses. For example: with intelligence, patience may result in great academic discovery but without it, it can just appear as annoying dreariness. In its most virtuous form, patience could manifest itself as perseverance. An overly patient person, in turn, might not get anything done while 'waiting and seeing.' This perverted form can be called inertia.
An ideal Ravenclaw elevates the wit to intellect and intelligence. However, smart people have a risk of becoming arrogant. When speaking of house qualities in this essay, by arrogance I mean particularly intellectual arrogance for simplicity. However, arrogance can also result from other factors, and this will be discussed later in connection to vices and the dark side of each house.
For the Slytherin House, the distinction between an aptitude and an inclination is the least clear, as both qualities can be regarded as somewhat controllable. However, we can consider ambition as determination, an inherent personality trait, which ideally manifests itself as resourcefulness but can lead to power-hungriness as so often presented in the books.
Inclination is a bit more difficult to characterise precisely than aptitude (which isn’t by any means straightforward to characterise either). A person would typically be able to exercise at least some level of control over his/her inclinations. Many of the inclinations may also be affected by the environment, or result of upbringing or training. The suggested House inclinations are:
Selflessness, here associated with Gryffindor, is of course normally seen as a positive quality as such. It can present itself in several ways that are generally desirable. Here I call its most virtuous form altruism. Despite its inherent positive connotations, there is a risk that the selfless quest for greater good clouds one’s judgement, leading to 'ends justifies the means' kind of thinking, ignorance about the actual will of the ‘object’ of the action, and self-righteousness.
For several qualities associated with Hufflepuff – like loyalty and fair play – there is a common denominator: compliance. Loyalty comes from compliance with social norms of one's reference group while fair play is a result of following the (commonly agreed) rules in general. In its ideal form, compliance shows as sense of duty whereas under other circumstances it may result in harmful groupthink.
With the Ravenclaw quality curiosity I refer to an inquiring mind, the corresponding House ideal of which would be thirst for knowledge. It is difficult to think of a truly nasty counterpart for this quality, but without discretion, it can eventually lead to annoying nosiness and prying. Possession of knowledge can also be misused, but this is not a straight counterpart to curiosity; it will be discussed further in the following sections.
The Slytherin inclination, conviction, is somewhat obscured in the books as we mainly see it as various levels of subscribing to the pureblood ideology. In essence, conviction means that one has a sound and coherent basis, at least one consistent point of reference whether that is in the past (tradition) or in the future (idealism) or preferably both for their actions. In other words, knowing where we are coming from and/or going to. Idealism may be regarded as a positive, or ideal (sic!) form of conviction. The dangers of strong conviction are well illustrated in the books: it can lead into failure to change one’s mind even if all the evidence points elsewhere, to stubborn dogmatism and even blind creedalism.
Arch-characteristics – product of aptitude and inclination
Observed archetypical, representative characters in each House emerge from the combination of the aptitude and inclination. Aptitude is like a seed that will only grow if planted in fertile soil, i.e. inclination. It is also possible – and indeed we have examples – that a person’s house characteristics are ambiguous. This would be a result of either having several almost equally strong qualities, or applying an aptitude associated with one house with an inclination of another house. This will be discussed further in the next section of the essay (on secondary house choices). Let us first look at the archetypical house characteristics.
The Gryffindor archetype is produced by selfless application of daring, i.e. showing courage that is motivated by common good or by well-being of a friend or – even better – an enemy. [I intend to leave the references to the books to later sections, but as a note to self: Harry saving Draco in the Room of Requirement would be a fine example.] Let us call this chivalry.
I think the best word to describe the epitomic, hard-working, persistent and dutiful Hufflepuff is dependability. Hufflepuffs tend to get overshadowed by other Houses most of the time, and even the description of their virtues suggests that they have no aptitude in particular, just loyalty and willingness to work. However, this does make them particularly trustworthy, which is a virtue in itself.
Out of the four houses, Ravenclaw qualities are perhaps the most obvious and straightforward, at least on surface. When the wide body of knowledge is used with great analytical skill and intelligence, we get wisdom. However, Arch-Ravenclaw differs from other House archetypes in that wisdom requires an additional component in order to grow, namely experience. The thirst for knowledge has to materialise in an actual body of knowledge. And as experience can be gathered in alternative ways, truly wise persons do not necessarily only emerge from the Ravenclaw house.
An archetypical Slytherin has a sense of direction built on a sound and coherent basis, the consistent point of reference provided by the conviction, which in turn is pursued with determination. Thus, a typical Slytherin ambition is focused on a clear target, and all available means are used to achieve it.
An excursion: Roman Virtues [to be added]
Table 1: Compilation of House Qualities