The conversation surrounding diversity in children’s and adolescent literature has been growing for decades — despite little change in the publishing industry — with readers, writers, and educators clamoring for more stories from, about, and for underrepresented groups, such as the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, and people of color.
This movement also opens the door to discussion of cultural hybridity, or the negotiation of two or more cultural identities that are often internally conflicting.
While many YA critics focus on the cultural hybridity in realistic fiction such as Purple Hibiscus, The Hate U Give, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, my master’s project turns this lens to the fantasy genre, and more specifically, Harry Potter.
Rowling’s series has been praised for limiting the social hierarchy and creating an inclusive community by expanding the definition of humanity with hybrid characters. However, I consider cultural hybridity from the perspective of control rather than resistance, and argue that Harry Potter represents hybridity as a tool to be wielded by socially superior characters, rather than appreciating it as a valuable and fluid identity.
My project uses Gloria Anzaldúa’s borderlands theory to explore how not only the general wizarding world but heroes such as Dumbledore, supposed champion of outcasts himself, exploit and weaponize the hybridity of Muggleborns, Squibs, Animagi, Hagrid, Lupin, and others for wizarding gain. Despite immense sacrifice, hybrid characters in Rowling’s work are still untolerated and unable to reap the full benefits of the cause they fight for.
I hope to expand my investigation to other YA fantasy series as well, such as Percy Jackson & the Olympians, the Binti series, and the Bartimaeus trilogy. Considering how hybridity functions, particularly as a tool, across the fantasy genre could indicate broader perspectives on otherness not readily apparent in contemporary realism. In the meantime, an abridged version of my project will be published in The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter Vol. II (edited by Dr. Lana Whited), available later this year.
— Molly L. Burt (M.A. ’20)