Student Well-Being Opinion

Character Development in the Half-Blood Prince

By Starr Sackstein — July 10, 2016 2 min read
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@JK_Rowling’s books have spoken to many - her writing has depth and is able to be enjoyed on many different levels.

If you’ve read your way through the first several Harry Potter books, like me, you are probably hooked. Having developed feelings for the characters, cheering for them or booing at them as each new confrontation arises.

There is one character that still leaves the reader baffled. Rowling artfully clues us into truths and misleads us in other instances, in particular reference to Severus Snape, arguably one of the most complex and wonderfully written characters in a long time.

In life, we are often introduced to people who we hasten to judge without knowing much about them. We see them, make assumptions about them based on their appearances or perceived actions only to find out later we were wrong. Yet, if our minds have been made up, we justify this incongruence to help us remain safe in our judgment.

There are some facts we know about Snape at this point and his early life that presents a foundation for belief in his connection with “dark” forces but there has also been considerable evidence that suggests he has been reformed.

What's Harry supposed to believe? What's the reader supposed to think?

Adolescents are the most judgmental and the most forgiving age group I have ever met. They are very quick to judge, be judged, profess not caring, confess to really caring but beneath it all, like all people have a deep need to feel accepted and understood. So they waiver in their choices and perceptions, trying on new interests, friends or personalities until they find one that fits to comfort.

Another character in the sixth novel who is experiencing growing pains is Draco Malfoy. He and Harry have hated each other for a long time but the pressure of Draco’s current mission forces him into isolation. He is driven and focused and increasingly alone. This is not an uncommon situation for adolescents particularly as they go through family challenges and/or problems with their friends. Solitude seems to be the first answer when they can’t cope the magnitude of their issues. So in the beginning, Draco serves as an antagonist to Harry or a foil, but the depth of Draco’s character is deepened in this novel.

The reader also gets their curiosity about Tom Riddle whetted. Throughout the novels, we learn about Voldemort’s terrible feats and Rowling gives us just enough. As writers, we need to consider how much to give our readers and in life, we need to determine how much information is safe to share. Harry learns about Tom Riddle’s childhood through Dumbledore’s memories in the pensieve, a basin where memories can be re-experienced. In life we call that nostalgia, but one advantage to the pensieve is that emotion doesn’t cloud the remembrance.

As a teacher of students and of writing, building, nurturing and understanding characters is essential to doing my job well. In the 6th novel, we watch characters we have known become dimensional individuals as we watch our students grow into young adults along the way. We must offer encouragement and support as our students face challenging choices, teaching them to make good decisions without making them for them.

How do you help students turn into responsible adults who have depth of character? Please share

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