Emotional Development in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban is an important book in the series due to its transitional nature, both in the maturity of the overall plot of the series, and in Harry Potter’s emotional state. While both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were generally very lighthearted, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the point in which the story begins to mature. Similarly, the character of Harry Potter turns thirteen in Prisoner of Azkaban, officially entering adolescence. Harry and his friends begin to experience various emotional changes in this book, such as mental illnesses and overcoming phobias. This signifies a major step in the series’ progression from childhood to adulthood.
One of the major emotional changes that new teenagers often experience are mental illnesses such as depression. Depression is often described as “a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living” (“Depression (major depressive disorder)”). According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, approximately twenty percent of adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and between twenty and thirty percent of adolescents have one major depressive episode before they reach adulthood (“Adolescent Mental Health in the United States”). If one considers the connections between adolescence and depression, it is no surprise that one of the first major signs of the Harry Potter series beginning to mature in this novel is the appearance of the Dementors. Dementors, as described by new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Professor Remus Lupin, are …among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. (Rowling 178) As the effects of the Dementors and the effects of depression are extremely similar, it is clear that the Dementors were written by Rowling as a metaphor for depression. Some people have depression so intense it starts to ruin their life, which is similar to those in Azkaban who become “trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheerful thought” (Rowling 188) due to the effects of the Dementors. The Dementors are merciless and attack anyone who gets in their way, just as depression can strike anyone without warning, even those undeserving of such a burden. Sirius Black, the titular Prisoner of Azkaban who has been surrounded by dementors for nearly half of his life even though he ultimately turns out to be innocent of his crimes, has the ability to turn into a black dog. It is no coincidence that the black dog is a literary motif commonly associated with suicide and depression (Quaile 38-39) as Sirius is the character most heavily associated with the dementors and their effects.
Harry, being old enough in this book to begin experiencing depression, has a very intense reaction to the Dementors, the wizarding equivalent. This results in Professor Lupin teaching Harry the Patronus Charm, a way to repel Dementors, just as a depressed teen would seek help from a trusted adult. The Patronus Charm is cast by “…concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory” (Rowling 237). Just as the Dementors represent depression, the Patronus Charm represents hope, faith, and love. Such positive thoughts and memories can often help negate the real life effects of depression.
Another sign of the characters growing and developing in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban can be found in the theme of overcoming fear. Many individuals gain certain fears during their childhood, such as heights, the dark, enclosed spaces, or animals/insects, that stay with them well into adolescence and even adulthood. Confronting and overcoming these fears is an overarching theme throughout the entirety of the Harry Potter series, but the clearest evidence of this theme is seen in Professor Lupin’s boggart lesson. Remus Lupin, being the excellent mentor that he is, wants to give those students who are entering adolescence the tools to start overcoming any childhood fears they might have, and decides to teach them how to defeat a boggart. Boggarts, as described by Hermione, are creatures who possess the ability to “take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most” (Rowling 133). Lupin then teaches the students the Riddikulus Charm, which transforms the boggart from their worst fears into a humorous parody of them. If one considers Prisoner of Azkaban to be Harry’s entrance into adolescence, than one could consider the Riddikulus Charm to be a metaphor for gaining maturity and realizing that a childhood fear is not actually as scary as originally believed, something many teenagers and young adults experience.
The final major theme in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that has to do with emotional development is dealing with stress. According to a study by Professor Krishan Lal, the vast majority of high school students consider academic stress such as tests, grades, homework, and expectations from parents and teachers, to be one of their greatest stressors (Lal 124). An example of this in the novel can be found in Hermione and her significant academic stress. Near the beginning of the novel, Hermione, being exceptionally smart for her age, is given a Time-Turner (a device that manipulates time) by Professor McGonagall, in order to take more classes than time would allow. Although Harry and Ron do not learn exactly how Hermione is accomplishing everything on her impossible schedule until the end of the book, they do observe firsthand how her extensive amount of work is affecting her mentally: Even so, he wasn’t showing the strain nearly as much as Hermione, whose immense workload finally seemed to be getting to her. Every night, without fail, Hermione was to be seen in a corner of the common room, several tables spread with books, Arithmancy charts, Rune dictionaries, diagrams of Muggles lifting heavy objects, and file upon file of extensive notes; she barely spoke to anybody, and snapped when she was interrupted. (Rowling 244) Hermione’s stress becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on, resulting in her arguing with Professor Trelawney and dropping Divination class out of frustration (Rowling 298-299) and the boggart taking the form of Professor McGonagall giving her a failing grade when she sees it (Rowling 319). At the end of the book, Hermione finally admits to herself that she is working too hard and goes back to a normal course load, returning the Time-Turner to McGonagall. The fact that Hermione is able to make this decision for herself shows that Hermione has grown, and learned how to better handle work and stress.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban marks the beginning of an important transitional period in the Harry Potter series that continues throughout the next few books. The main characters move away from the more childish conflicts from the first two books, and their problems begin to mature. Emotionally, Harry and his friends deal with more issues than they’ve ever had to before. Although these issues increase in intensity as the series continues, the lessons learned in this novel equip the characters with the tools to succeed in dealing with their emotions in the future.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999. Print.
“Depression (Major Depressive Disorder).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Feb. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007.
Lal, Krishan. “Academic Stress Among Adolescents in Relation to Intelligence and Demographic Factors.” American International Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, International Association of Scientific Innovation and Research, 2014, www.iasir.net.
Quaile, Sheilagh. “‘The Black Dog That Worries You at Home’: The Black Dog Motif in Modern English Folklore and Literary Culture.” The Great Lakes Journal of Undergraduate History, Vol. 1 : Iss. 1 , Article 3, 2013, www.scholar.uwindsor.ca/gljuh/vol1/iss1/3.
Schwarz, Susan Wile. “Adolescent Mental Health in the United States.” NCCP | Child Poverty, June 2009, www.nccp.org/publications/pub_878.html.
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