Coping with Trauma in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Near the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter, at the young age of fourteen, is forced to watch Voldemort and one of his Death Eaters kill Cedric Diggory before Harry’s very eyes. This is likely the most traumatic event Harry has ever witnessed in his life at this point, and the repercussions of this event are seen in detail in the following book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Order of the Phoenix is primarily about Harry learning to cope with his trauma, and due to the millions of children throughout the world who deal with abuse, neglect, and other types of trauma, it is a lesson that they also must learn as they grow up.
Upon first glance, Harry’s anger and defensiveness in Order of the Phoenix seem as though they are simply typical symptoms of teenage angst. However, upon further investigation, it is actually much more likely that Harry is suffering from something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder aka PTSD. PTSD is defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as a “debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events” (“Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)”). There are three major symptoms of PTSD, and Harry exhibits each of them in Order of the Phoenix.
The first main symptom is “Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares” (“Symptoms of PTSD”), which Harry experiences in Chapter One of Order of the Phoenix:“I heard you last night”, said Dudley breathlessly. “Talking in your sleep. Moaning.” “What d’you mean?” Harry said again, but there was a cold, plunging sensation in his stomach. He had revisited the graveyard last night in his dreams. Dudley gave a harsh bark of laughter then adopted a high pitch, whimpering voice. “‘Don’t kill Cedric! Don’t kill Cedric!’ Who’s Cedric – your boyfriend?” (Rowling 15).Harry’s dreams and flashbacks about Cedric’s death show that it has affected him much more deeply than any other death in the series so far, to the point that he is truly traumatized.
The second main symptom of PTSD is “Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma” (“Symptoms of PTSD”). Although it is extremely difficult for Harry to avoid reminders of Cedric’s death at Hogwarts due to the majority of his peers who wish to either hear about the story or expose him for lying about it, there are examples of Harry trying to force himself to forget about Cedric also found in the first chapter. “Don’t think about that, Harry told himself sternly for the hundredth time that summer. It was bad enough that he kept revisiting the graveyard in his nightmares, without dwelling on it in his waking moments too” (Rowling 8). Harry also refused to talk about Cedric’s death at the first meeting of Dumbledore’s Army (Rowling 341), or when Cho asked about Cedric on their first and only date (561).
Finally, the third major symptom is “Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered” (“Symptoms of PTSD”). Harry is easily startled: “A loud, echoing crack broke the sleepy silence like a gunshot…and as though this was the signal Harry had been waiting for he jumped to his feet, at the same time pulling from the waistband of his jeans a thin wooden wand as if he were unsheathing a sword” (Rowling 4). He has difficulty concentrating due to feelings of anxiety: “Every day this summer had been the same: the tension, the expectation, the temporary relief, and then mounting tension again . . .” (Rowling 3) There are many examples of Harry’s angry outbursts throughout the book, the first of which appears in the fourth chapter of the book: But before he knew it, Harry was shouting. ‘SO YOU HAVEN’T BEEN IN THE MEETINGS, BIG DEAL! YOU’VE STILL BEEN HERE, HAVEN’T YOU? YOU’VE STILL BEEN TOGETHER! ME, I’VE BEEN STUCK AT THE DURSLEYS’ FOR A MONTH! AND I’VE HANDLED MORE THAN YOU TWO’VE EVER MANAGED AND DUMBLEDORE KNOWS IT – WHO SAVED THE SORCERER’S STONE? WHO GOT RID OF RIDDLE? WHO SAVED BOTH YOUR SKINS FROM THE DEMENTORS?’ (Rowling 65) When considering all of the symptoms exhibited by Harry in this novel, one could easily diagnose him with PTSD.
Because of this, much of Order of the Phoenix is about Harry learning to cope with the trauma he was forced to endure, just as many traumatized children learn how to cope with trauma as they grow up. He is forced to move on with life after Cedric’s death, but due to Professor Umbridge increased Ministry of Magic presence at Hogwarts, it is difficult for him not to stop thinking about his trauma. The Daily Prophet refers to him as an attention seeking liar, and he is further abused by one of his own teachers during his detention with Umbridge. Two of Harry’s most important mentors have opposing views on what Harry should do to deal with this trauma. The headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, seemingly does not want Harry to deal with his trauma until he is old enough to do so. Dumbledore states that, “I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth, more for your peace of mind than my plan” (Rowling 838). Dumbledore wants Harry to keep his traumatic memories suppressed and try to be happy for as long as he can. Meanwhile, Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, wants Harry to deal with his trauma by breaking rules and going on adventures. Sirius believes risk taking will help Harry cope, but due to the dangerous wartime environment the characters find themselves in, it would be too irresponsible for Harry to heed Sirius’s advice. Sirius is also trying to deal with his own trauma, living in the same house he was abused in during his childhood, and when Harry rejects his advice, Sirius reacts immaturely: “‘You’re less like your father than I thought,’ he said finally, a definite coolness in his voice. ‘The risk would’ve been what made it fun for James.’” (Rowling 305). This statement about James is meant to intentionally hurt Harry’s feelings, just because Harry does not wish to endanger Sirius. This immaturity and lack of forethought shows that Sirius has not fully dealt with his own problems of trauma, and is not the most reliable source for Harry to take advice from.
Due to Harry receiving less than stellar guidance from his most trusted mentors, Harry is forced to find his own way to cope. He manages to find a makeshift support group in Dumbledore’s Army, an organization founded on the basis of studying Defense Against the Dark Arts in secret. Harry finds comfort and meaning in teaching others, and it eventually becomes “the only thing he really looked forward to…” (Rowling 451). Harry, just like many other youths growing up with trauma, must find his own way of growing up and dealing with his problems. It is not easy for him, and he endures even more trauma throughout the course of the book, but the fact that Harry is able to make it through the year while dealing with so many issues shows how much Harry has grown since the first book.
AADA. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 2018, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd.
AADA. “Symptoms of PTSD.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 2018, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999. Print.
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