HPEF presents Infinitus 2010, a Harry Potter conference            TEXT  MENU

July 15-18, 2010
Orlando, Florida

Dumbledore's Search for Identity
Keli Rowley  

In the Harry Potter series, Albus Dumbledore is idealized and beloved by readers for his gentleness, sympathy, wisdom and humanity. But, in the seventh book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, author J. K. Rowling reveals parts of Dumbledore's past which show that his identity is more complex than readers previously believed. The kind and wise persona that is so well-liked in the series is, in fact, the end result of many years of reflection, change and personal growth brought about by a tragic mistake in his youth.

For the Infinitus 2010: A Harry Potter Symposium, I will argue that while Dumbledore is interpreted by many readers of the Harry Potter series as a paragon of virtue, a closer analysis of his past and his subsequent character development suggest a more complex identity. Dumbledore's persona shifts dramatically after a fight with his best friend Gellert Grindelwald results in the death of his sister Ariana. Prior to the fight, Dumbledore desires power, glory and fame. After the fight, he becomes a proponent of compassion, kindness and purity of heart.

I will show that Dumbledore changes his identity by getting rid of the darker parts of his psyche. This act of discarding can be explained using Julia Kristeva's theory of the abject in “Approaching Abjection.” As part of this abjection, Dumbledore discards the more paternal sides of his personality in favor of what would be considered more feminine attributes. I will show how this can be explained using Judith Butler's theory of performativity from “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.”

Finally, I will show that Ariana's death, while tragic, was necessary to shock Dumbledore into seeing that the path he was going down was not the right one. After her death, the changes he makes in his life turn him into a great and influential person who changes the lives of many people, including Snape, Slughorn, Lupin and Hagrid, but most notably Harry. His support helps Harry find his identity, resist his shadow side, defeat evil and restore goodness to the world.

Keli is a graduate student pursuing a Master's degree in Literature at California State University – Northridge.  She has a particular interest in identity studies related to children's and young-adult literature. I have written papers on J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. Keli has also done a presentation on children's book pop-up artist Robert Sabuda. In particular, she has an interest in applying literary critical theory concepts to writing for young people. After completing her studies at CSUN, she plans to go on to get a doctorate degree in literature with an emphasis in psychoanalysis and children's and young-adult writings.
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