In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it immediately becomes apparent exactly how much Harry Potter has grown since the first book in the series. In the beginning of the novel, Harry looks around 4 Privet Drive, his childhood home, and reflects on how he has grown since he first discovered he was a wizard. Soon after this reflection, Harry talks with the Dursleys, who are upset and angry about having to leave their home. It is only when Dudley Dursley, Harry’s cousin and long time bully, says he wants to go into hiding that his parents agree to flee to safety, and during this decision, Dudley says to Harry, “I don’t think you’re a waste of space” (Rowling 40), and it is with these words that Dudley makes one of the first acts of responsibility and personal sacrifice seen in the book. Dudley convinces his parents to make a responsible decision and protect themselves from Voldemort, and sacrifices his reputation with his parents to apologize to Harry in his own way. This act shows just how much Dudley has matured through the series, and introduces the major theme of the novel: responsibility through sacrifice. This theme appears multiple times in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, with great importance to both the plot, and Harry’s journey into adulthood.
According to a study done by the University of Massachusetts, society views “responsibility for self” and “responsibility for others” (Lowe 7) as two of the most important aspects of adulthood. These two aspects explain the decisions the three main characters make while hunting for horcruxes and trying to defeat Voldemort. For Harry, he feels personally responsible as the one who must kill Voldemort because he is the Chosen One, and Dumbledore tasked him with finding and destroying the horcruxes before he died. This is made clear when he says to Aberforth, “Your brother knew how to finish You-Know-Who and he passed the knowledge on to me. I’m going to keep going until I succeed – or I die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years” (Rowling 568-569) He also feels responsible to his loved ones and the wizarding community as the only one who can protect them from Voldemort, which is implied when he states “sometimes you’ve got to think about more than your own safety! Sometimes you’ve got to think about the greater good!” (Rowling 568). For Ron, he feels personally responsible as a pure-blood to protect those with impure blood from Voldemort’s regime, as exemplified by his disdain of the word “mudblood” (Rowling 489), and fierce protection of Hermione. And for Hermione, she feels a responsibility to protect herself and other muggleborns. Due to her activism in matters like S.P.E.W., Hermione likely also feels responsible for house-elves, goblins, and other non-wizard races that would be in danger under Voldemort’s regime, which is made apparent when she says to Griphook the Goblin, “We protest! And I’m hunted quite as much as any goblin or elf, Griphook! I’m a Mudblood… Mudblood, and proud of it! I’ve got no higher position under this new order than you have, Griphook!” (Rowling 489)
Because of these responsibilities, Harry, Ron, and Hermione each make sacrifices to help them succeed on their quest. Harry ends his relationship with Ginny Weasley in order to focus on his mission to stop Voldemort, and to protect her from danger (Rowling 117). Hermione erases the memories of her parents and sends them to Australia to protect them as well (Rowling 96-97). And Ron leaves his family and the cozy lifestyle he had grown accustomed to in order to help Harry (Rowling 99). The sacrifices made by these three characters are truly indicative of the level of maturity they have obtained. If this were their first or second year, it is unlikely they would have been able to make these choices and live up to these responsibilities. But since the trio are now adults, they are capable of making these difficult decisions in order to do what is necessary to finally defeat Voldemort.
Another great example of the relationship between responsibility and adulthood can be found when Harry is told the Tale of The Three Brothers. In the novel, the tale is meant to introduce the the concept of the Deathly Hallows. However, the tale also serves as an allegory about behaving maturely towards death. In the story, three brothers narrowly escape Death, and as a reward, Death grants them each a gift:So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death…Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, decided that he wanted to humiliate Death still further, and asked for the power to recall others from Death…And then Death asked the third and youngest brother what he would like. The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Death. So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth from that place without being followed by Death. And Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of Invisibility. (Rowling 407-408) The moral of the tale is that the only way to defeat death is to be mature and accept him with open arms. The first two brothers are irresponsible, and seek to gain power and humiliate others. This attitude towards responsibility are exemplified in Dumbledore and his dark past. When Albus Dumbledore’s mother died, Dumbledore came home to take care of his sick, younger sister Ariana. However, instead of focusing on taking care of Ariana, he made plans for world domination with Gellert Grindelwald. Dumbledore’s desire for power caused him to ignore his responsibilities to his family. In his own words, “I wanted to escape, I wanted to shine, I wanted glory…I was selfish, Harry, more selfish than you, who are a remarkably selfless person, could possibly imagine” (Rowling 715-716). Because Dumbledore refused to swallow his pride and temporarily sacrifice his access to power to take care of his family, he became indirectly responsible for the death of Ariana. Ariana’s death forced Albus to realize how important his responsibilities to others were, and marked the point where he gave up trying to become powerful and truly entered adulthood.
The difference between Dumbledore and Harry is that Harry, unlike Dumbledore, immediately understands the responsibility he has to others. As Dumbledore states: “the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying” (Rowling 720-721). Harry sacrificing himself to defeat Voldemort as his parents and mentors tell him he is “so brave” and they are “so proud of [him]” (Rowling 701) is the clearest evidence that Harry is now an adult. He understands that he is responsible for defeating Voldemort, and does what is necessary to accomplish that goal.
This theme of becoming a responsible adult and sacrificing yourself for others is truly universal. It even appears in the first ever Western literary work, The Epic of Gilgamesh:Like the brother who wants the all-powerful sword, Gilgamesh sees himself as invincible, a fighter who cannot be beaten. Like the brother who wants the stone that brings loved ones back from the dead, Gilgamesh wishes he could resurrect his friend Enkidu. But after much exploration and consideration, Gilgamesh makes the same choice as the brother who takes the cloak that makes him invisible to Death; both men accept their mortality in the end and go peacefully to their deaths. (Whited 321)This theme is so universal, because everyone grows up and is faced with responsibilities. Harry Potter sacrificing himself in order to save the wizarding world is a massive sign that he is now an adult. He is able to make important decisions about his responsibilities, and do what is right for the people he loves.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007. Print.
Lowe, Sarah R. “Defining Adult Experiences: Perspectives of a Diverse Sample of Young Adults” Journal of adolescent research vol. 28,1 (2012): 31-68. Web.
Whited, Lana A. “From Sorcerer’s Stone to Deathly Hallows: The Failed Quest for Immortality in the Harry Potter Series.” The Harry Potter Series, edited by Lana A. Whited and M. Katherine Grimes, Salem; Grey House, 2015, pp. 306–325. EBSCOhost, felix.albright.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.felix.albright.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2018580939&site=ehost-live.