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Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Harry Potter

Harry Potter became a household name in the Wizarding world when he was just a baby, after successfully warding off an attack by the infamous Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, this same attack killed Harry’s parents, James and Lily Potter, who were members of an anti-Voldemort league called the Order of the Phoenix. No one knows exactly how or why Harry survived Voldemort’s attack, and many of his fellow Wizards are simultaneously impressed by and suspicious of Harry’s mysterious powers. Despite all this special attention, Harry is a kind and humble teenager, instinctually averse to flattery and excessive praise. He is loyal to his friends and to Dumbledore, and his placement in Gryffindor ensures that he’ll exhibit extreme bravery. Harry spends much of his time at Hogwarts trying to live up to his widespread reputation, and he often wishes that his life at school could be more normal. Now fifteen years old, Harry is experiencing the same emotions as any other fifteen-year-old boy. He gets angry and frustrated with his friends, is confused by girls, and often reacts unhappily to authority figures that try to impose limits on his behavior. Although Harry always has good, noble intentions, he can be impatient and overeager. Dumbledore continually stresses that education is achieved over time, and Harry does not always want to wait.

In Book V, we learn that Harry is the subject of a prophecy that claims Harry will eventually need to either destroy Voldemort or be destroyed by him. Harry’s connection to Voldemort is complex and often enigmatic. Harry’s infant encounter with Voldemort left him with a lightning-shaped scar, which he tries to conceal under his shaggy brown hair, and the scar burns whenever Voldemort is feeling any kind of powerful emotion. At various points in Book V, Voldemort uses this connection to invade Harry’s mind, appearing in his dreams and lending Harry his terrible impulses. Harry now must deal with Voldemort more intimately than he ever has before.

Sirius Black

Sirius Black and James Potter attended Hogwarts together, and Sirius is Harry’s godfather. Sirius is an Animagus, which means he can transform himself into a black, shaggy dog named Padfoot at will. Years ago, Sirius was wrongly imprisoned at Azkaban for the murder of thirteen people. Following his escape, he has been forced to live in absolute secrecy. To keep Sirius safe, Dumbledore demands that Sirius not leave his parents’ home at Twelve Grimmauld Place, lest the Ministry of Magic catch him and return him to Azkaban. In this sense, Harry and Sirius lead parallel lives, since Dumbledore orders Harry to spend his summers with the Dursleys. In both cases, Dumbledore is simply attempting to ensure his friends’ safety, but both Harry and Sirius resent the lack of freedom that goes along with such isolation, likening it to imprisonment. Sirius grew up at Twelve Grimmauld Place but has long since dismissed the rest of the Black family, who chose to follow Voldemort. Being trapped in that house simply reminds Sirius of his alienation, just as Harry’s time at Privet Drive reminds him of his own lack of real family.

Although Mr. and Mrs. Weasley often act as Harry’s surrogate parents, Sirius is the closest Harry has to family, and Harry clearly treasures their relationship. Whenever Harry is in trouble or confused, he turns to Sirius for advice. Sirius, in turn, is protective of Harry, doing his best to assure his godson’s safety and well-being. As other members of the Order of the Phoenix have observed, Sirius occasionally confuses Harry with his father, James Potter, and Sirius’s relationship with Harry seems to be deepened by his mourning for James. Often, when Harry expresses reservations about one of Sirius’s suggestions, Sirius reprimands him for not being more like James, who thrived on risk-taking. In a way, Harry can get to know his own father through Sirius, and, surprisingly, the images he stumbles across in Book V are not the unequivocally positive ones he has always carried with him.

Dolores Umbridge

Dolores Umbridge introduces a seemingly endless string of problems to the students at Hogwarts. She serves as the Senior Undersecretary to Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, and is extremely loyal to him. Like Fudge, she refuses to acknowledge the return of Lord Voldemort, and she believes that both Dumbledore and Harry Potter are devious liars. Fudge forces Dumbledore to appoint Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and from her first moment at the school, when she interrupts Dumbledore’s welcome speech to give a long, tedious lecture about her role at Hogwarts, she is massively disliked by both students and faculty. This dislike, however, is rooted in more than just her unpleasant personality. Defense Against the Dark Arts is a crucial class at Hogwarts, but Umbridge refuses to teach her students any actual Defense spells, instructing them instead to simply read their textbooks during class time. Her students are forced to meet in secret. The only students who seem to respond favorably to Umbridge’s presence are Draco Malfoy and his gang of Slytherins, and even then only because Umbridge expresses such a strong dislike for Harry Potter, whom Draco has long despised.

When Umbridge is appointed High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, her negative effect on the school increases a hundredfold, especially for Harry. She insists on posting new and progressively more ridiculous Educational Decrees to the student bulletin boards. She bans Harry from the Quidditch team and forces him to carve “I must not tell lies” into the back of his hand until he bleeds. She reads Harry’s mail and prevents him from corresponding with Sirius. Ultimately, she discovers the secret meeting place of her Dark Arts students and forces Dumbledore to resign, effectively destroying the central spirit of Hogwarts. Umbridge’s name is very close to the word “umbrage,” which means “to take offense,” and this characterization fits Umbridge perfectly. Umbridge takes much offense at Harry and even more at the way Hogwarts is being run: besides forcing Dumbledore’s resignation, she fires Professor Trelawney and Hagrid and clashes frequently with Professors McGonagall and Snape. Umbridge ultimately gets her comeuppance, but the damage she causes will surely linger even after her very welcomed departure from the school.

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