Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes: Hermione Granger, the Perfectionist

In a weekly series, staff writer Katie Majka takes a look at some of our favorite witches and wizards, and how they fit into literary and social archetypes. This week: Hermione Granger

Author’s note: I’m taking a slightly different tack in this week’s character analysis. Rather than completely dissect who Hermione Granger is, I’ll dive more into who the films wanted her to be, and in doing so did the character a great injustice.

Hermione Granger is the quintessential overachiever, always pushing herself and those around her to be at the top of their game, because she wants to be the best and you can only achieve that when you compete against everyone else’s best. This ambition and drive is to be admired, but it would be a mistake to think Hermione’s desire for perfection is completely healthy—there is such a thing as pushing yourself too far, and this is one area in which Hermione hardly budges. She is unapologetic in the face of her flaws, but striving for perfection can be harmful (as we see in Prisoner of Azkaban when she has a panic attack when faced with her boggart—Professor McGonagall, telling her she’d failed everything).

Therein lies the issue with Hermione’s film counterpart: she is everything that the original Hermione wished to be, meanwhile much of what makes Hermione who she truly is falls by the wayside. We get a small taste of Hermione’s true nature in the movies, but it hardly does her justice. In the books, she is bossy and overbearing, pushy and critical, at times both self-aggrandizing and self-conscious, and often snaps at her friends for no reason other than her own bad mood. Some of these traits are worse than others, and some aren’t that bad at all. We’ve all been there, and that relatability is what makes Hermione so well-loved amongst fans.

But like much else within the Potterverse, the filmmakers chose to ignore that and instead created their own version of events. Perhaps they thought they were doing everyone a favor by perfecting Hermione but, to the contrary, they eviscerate her. She becomes not a symbol of self-love and feminism, but rather something closer to a caricature of what women should aspire to be; that is to say, flawless, when in fact Hermione is flawed through and through.

She becomes not a symbol of self-love and feminism, but rather something closer to a caricature of what women should aspire to be

Imperfection is an inevitability. Flaws are part of human nature. So why strip Hermione of her personhood? Because Emma Watson grew up prettier than the producers anticipated, so they couldn’t be bothered to so much as frizz her hair anymore (maybe I’m grasping at straws, but it seems a fitting enough reason for Hollywood)? Or perhaps the filmmakers fancied themselves progressive and therefore fine-tuned Hermione’s character almost beyond recognition in order to fulfill their understanding of feminism? Of course, this backfired into having the opposite effect, as rebuilding a flawed, realistic female character so she can more snugly fit atop a pedestal doesn’t quite exemplify the feminist notion that women are not objects to be toyed with or worshiped, but human beings entitled to all the follies of personhood.

This discussion merits mention of the interview that tore the Potter fandom in two, in which J.K. Rowling and Emma Watson discussed Hermione as a whole, and the former expressed her doubts that Ron and Hermione are a good match. I said at the time and I’ll say it again: It’s not wrong for Rowling to have and voice these misgivings. Harry Potter is her world, after all, and we don’t have to agree with everything she chooses to do with it. In this case, it almost doesn’t matter, and has no effect on the outcome of the series because the series is ended, and it ends with Ron and Hermione together.

Ultimately, this all gives Hermione more clout than she deserves, despite how important she actually is.

However, this interview has rubbed me the wrong way since its release, and it’s entirely because of all the insinuations that Ron really is the joke he was always afraid of becoming, and consequently unworthy of the grand goddess Hermione Granger. There is a point in which Rowling and Watson agree that Ron had to become the man Hermione needs, and yet no mention of Hermione becoming a better person for Ron as well. If there’s any reason why the pair would have inherent marital problems, I’d have to say it’s because of this mentality—that Ron has to measure up to an imagined perfection in order to be deemed “good enough.” As if Ron’s self-esteem hasn’t taken enough hits, now his ability to be a good man is in question? This is wildly unfair to both Ron and Hermione, who know themselves and each other far better than that.

Ultimately, this all gives Hermione more clout than she deserves, despite how important she actually is. I can’t even feel bad about saying that, either, because Hermione has been put on such a high pedestal that an unkind word from me will hardly upset that position. I couldn’t write another piece that praises Hermione; her positive attributes have been acknowledged, lauded, and eventually exaggerated. An essential part of Hermione’s true character is that sometimes she needs to be knocked off her high horse, and yet all that seems to be done is not only keeping her up there, but applauding her for it.

We admire Hermione for her unabashed intelligence, for never downplaying it to impress anyone. We love her for her pursuit of knowledge, for her critical thinking, and how she applies those things to aid in the greater good for which the trio is always fighting. She showed us there’s nothing wrong with expressing our thoughts, feelings, and ourselves in general, and that we should be proud of who we are.

There is so much good in Hermione that has nothing to do with being perfect. The whole point of Hermione is that it’s okay not to be flawless, but rather we should embrace our flaws in order to better understand ourselves, and then we can make those flaws work for us (in Hermione’s case, she might bristle when unprovoked, but she can also bring out the big guns when Rufus Scrimgeour gets under her skin in Deathly Hallows). Hermione’s worth is never defined by romance, never dictated by a man, and she loves herself despite all the people who would have her feel otherwise—that’s what makes Hermione a feminist icon. It was never about how others saw her, but rather how she comes to see herself.

We would have been far better off with that Hermione, the one we knew, rather than the Hermione the filmmakers thought we wanted. Maybe their motives were altruistic; maybe they really thought they were doing right by Hermione, her fans, and women on the whole. But they miss the point, which boils down to this: Hermione worked so hard to be perfect, but at the end of it all discovered that she didn’t need to be perfect in order to be worth something. That’s the Hermione who taught us something, who showed us that we don’t have to prove anything to matter, and that’s the Hermione we should remember.

Be sure to check out our other Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes installments.