Growing up Potter: Becoming Ron

  In my early adolescence (think 13), I spent many hours doing stranger and stranger ‘personality’ tests in an attempt to discover myself. I would copy paste the results on a Microsoft Word document and pore over them later, analyzing every word in those descriptions (probably written by girls only a little older than me) and convincing myself that these computer-algorithm-based assumptions told the truth about me.

 It was, as I said, a phase.

 Of course, I did tweak my results at times, especially when it came to those ‘Which Harry Potter house would you be in?’ or ‘which character are you?’ tests. I always worked it so that I got Gryffindor (I was such a populist) and more often than not, aimed to be classified a ‘Harry Potter’ in the ‘character’ tests. When I was a little more honest with my answers, as I grew older, I was told I should be in Slytherin or Ravenclaw, and that I was Ginny Weasley. The last, I think, was chiefly because I answered with absolute adoration when asked how much I liked Harry himself, admitting that I wanted to marry him.

 And then, at the age of twenty three going on twenty four, I took a mandated MBTI test. And was told I now had the same personality initials as … Ron Weasley.

Image Yes, this was a surprise. No, I had never seen myself as Ron, Ron—the least conventionally ‘academic’ of the trio, the most traditional in terms of blood status, the most prone to being used for random comic relief. I am not a Ron, I thought. I don’t like to think of myself as a side-kick, a second-fiddle. I am not perennially insecure about my own abilities, needing a boost before every test. I am not the ‘funny’ one in my group.

 The shock and, dare I name it, outrage that gripped me for a couple of seconds after getting the result is telling, I think. It reveals a lot about my inherent snobbishness (seriously, I might have preferred the rich and aristocratic Draco Malfoy, budding Hitler Youth though he is), but it also says something about Ron. If someone who’s read the books back to front countless times can’t recall anything especially emulation-worthy about him in a second of being confronted by his name, whither the appeal of this character?

 I sat back, and I thought about it, and I realized what my problem with Ron was.

 Through books 1 to 4, Ron is undoubtedly Harry’s best friend. He is, in many ways, Harry’s guide to the wizarding world, volunteering as ‘second’ in a planned midnight duel with Draco, sacrificing himself in a game of chess to enable his friends to move forward, providing Harry a family that welcomes and takes him to their hearts. It is a matter of course that these two ‘partner off’ in most lessons, including reading each other’s tea leaves in that memorable first Divination class in Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry does not seem to share the same sort of unquestioned, deep-seated bond with Hermione; in Azkaban, there is a period of time when Hermione’s ‘interference’ results in a fight within the group, with Ron and Harry refusing to speak to her. When compared to the rift that Ron’s jealousy creates within the Trio in Goblet of Fire, however, and the amount of emotional energy Harry expends in ‘hating’ Ron, the break with Hermione seems inconsequential. Rowling devotes large portions of her text to how angry and betrayed Harry feels at Ron’s seeming lack of interest in his fate.

 I would argue this is not only because of Harry’s ‘dark’ teenage angst surfacing (it comes into full throttle in Order of the Phoenix), but because the idea of Ron turning his back on his best friend is so incomprehensible as to shock Harry out of his (until now) usual emotional quietude. Harry is curious or nervous or determined, he is very rarely bitterly angry until this point in the books. Another point to note is that even before they became friends, Hermione has shown a tendency to interfere and boss over Harry and Ron; recall the ‘Midnight Duel’ chapter of Philosopher’s Stone where she waits up to waylay them in the Gryffindor Common Room as they sneak out to meet Draco. Rowling even states that ‘Harry couldn’t believe anyone could be so interfering.’

 Ron’s betrayal was necessary for his, as well as Harry’s, character development. The ever-loyal best friend was shown to have depth and a bit of a petty streak (only natural when you’re usually the underdog, even in your own family), and Harry was forced to make do without one of his usual emotional crutches and so begin his long and lonely hero’s journey. It also allowed him to bond with Hermione, who really begins to steal the limelight at this point in the series.

Image So given that the betrayal has already happened once, and Ron has walked out on Harry when needed already, why have a repetition of the same in Deathly Hallows? Aside from the improbability of Ron managing to get home and stay undercover without putting both his family and himself in grave danger (in the middle of a media campaign which paints his known best friend as Undesirable No. 1), his departure has no significant effect on the plot. He might as well have stayed, stewed, rescued Harry when needed and then destroyed the Horcrux. The information he brings back, that Voldemort’s name is now Taboo, is relayed too late to be of any use.

 This, really, is why I don’t have great fondness for Ron, or the way Rowling treats him in the latter half of the series. The staunchly loyal strategist with a marked flair for improvisation (he was the one who bashed the troll with its own club in the infamous bathroom scene in Philosopher’s Stone) becomes a young man who needs a book to charm the supposed love of his life (who he’s known for six years), who chooses the comforts of home and effectively abandons his best friends and is the only one of the Trio to persist in calling Voldemort ‘You-Know-Who’ (though he is, ironically, vindicated for his nervousness). He’s even stupid and petty in matters of romance, his insecurity laid bare when Ginny lashes out at him and calls him jealous because both Harry and Hermione have ‘snogged’ people. The best Ron has done, Ginny whines, is be kissed by Auntie Muriel.

 Ron had a big moment in Book 5, when he becomes prefect and is given responsibility that even Harry does not have. Again, we are witness to his surprise and insecurity when he says that he expected Harry would get the title. Of course, it turns out that the only reason, ostensibly, Harry didn’t get the job was because Dumbledore thought he had far bigger worries. Poor Ron.

 I do  think the Horcrux-destruction in Hallows was very important and certainly called-for, given the sustained reminders we’d been getting of Ron’s insecurity and inferiority complex, but I’m not sure it was enough. I don’t deny that the movies have also played a huge role in the undermining of this character, the most memorable being the stealing of Ron’s lines in Azkaban in the Shrieking Shack. In the book, Ron, bed-held by a broken leg, screams out ‘If you kill Harry, you’ll have to kill us too!’; in the movie, Hermione, both legs sound, throws herself in front of Harry and delivers the same line. Ron is silent.

 And I’m not even going to mention the fact that in Hallows Part 2, Hermione volunteers to accompany Harry to the Forest while Ron stands around looking macho. Okay fine, I mentioned it.

 I feel sort of, sad, when I think of Ron now. I feel like I often overlook the brave little boy who faced a cold, stone-faced White Queen, not knowing what was going to happen, to help his friend. The unquestioning right-hand man who braved his worst fears and went into the Forbidden Forest, convincing himself with a glance at his Petrified friend. The friend who wasn’t too proud to come back and confess to his mistakes, not once, but twice. Instead I remember the insecure boy who runs around screaming ‘HERMIONE!’ when he really should be keeping his head cool and figuring out a way to get the hell out of that basement.

 But at the same time, I can see why I, or most people for that matter, would be Ron. Constantly beset by insecurity and doubt, measuring ourselves against other, seemingly more ‘collected’ people and feeling and responding to peer pressure in the most immature ways possible. Ron’s is a messy growing up, with ups and a hell of a lot of downs. Ron’s is, therefore, perhaps the most realistic growing up. We don’t all have Dark Lords and prophecies riding on our shoulders, but we sure as hell do have pettiness, jealousy and insecurity to contend with.

 And that’s when Ron becomes a hero.

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14 thoughts on “Growing up Potter: Becoming Ron

  1. Wow. *Great* post. I love looking deeper into the character development and true meaning behind Rowling’s words, but never had I really thought about Ron. Very interesting and enlightening. Again, simply fantastic!

  2. This is an awesome analysis. Ron is not one of my favourite characters, but I do like him. However, when I think about him, I mostly stick with the earlier books of the series, because I have general issues with books 6 and 7. I agree very much: Ron has the most realistic growing up journey. I guess that’s why I like him – because he’s one of these ‘normally’ flawed characters. By the way, a BIG virtual hug to you that the first image is fanart and not a picture of Rupert Grint! 🙂 Because… I can’t help it, the book characters differ from the movie characters for me.

    • I know what you mean! I prefer to use fanart images myself, if only so I can throw in other people’s perspectives subtly while I put out my own. Thank you so much for your very kind comment!

  3. Wonderful read. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Ron is a type of the Faithful Follower or “batman” (servant-soldier) character common in much British literature, particularly in boys’ adventure stories and fantasy; a stereotype that dates back to the literature of World War I at least. Samwise Gamgee is possibly the best example in fantasy. There’s this wonderful essay by Mark T. Hobber, called “Frodo’s Batman” on the topic; have you read it?

    Through his insecurities and doubts though, Rowling inscribes the entire narrative of adolescence into Ron, and renders an otherwise flat stereotype interesting. Which is why I probably felt more affinity towards him than I did towards many characters. He was one of her better characters.

    But I also have to point out–as you’ve suggested in this essay–that Rowling’s characterization/character-building leaves much to be desired. She’s frankly not the best at it, and to me the strength of the series is in the magical, enchanting world, and the plot. You are one of the few readers I know who is so invested in the characters.

    But I differ with you on one point: I think Ron’s abandoning the trio in Hallows was warranted at a number of levels. Firstly, psychologically, I think he was insecure about the growing bond between Hermione and Harry; his walking out was a manifestation of jealousy. Secondly, the abandoning added to Harry’s, and through him, the reader’s sense of fear and darkness. Lost in the woods, no clear purpose or direction. Then the faithful batman abandons Harry, and he’s lost without his Boswell. The woods suddenly grow darker for the reader.

    • I disagree. I do not think Ron needed to abandon Harry and Hermione in Book 7. True, he was probably growing insecure about the bond between the two, but in purely plot-related terms, I don’t see his successful abandonment of the two as tenable at all. The Burrow was most definitely being watched by the Death Eaters–the Weasley family are known Harry-sympathizers. I don’t for one second believe the Death Eaters would be cool with Ron strolling in and out of his house without being questioned on where he came from or was going to. There were probably Apparition wards in place around the house! This was a war situation!

      But fine, let me asssume that the Death Eaters do not think strategically (though really, it would be pure stupidity on their part to not monitor the Burrow and nothing excuses them but the fact that Rowling didn’t want to complicate her chosen storyline) and are in fact okay with HARRY POTTER’S BEST FRIEND coming home unexpectedly. This is a kid’s book after all.

  4. Wow! Great character analysis!

    I think Ron often goes unseen through the books…after all he is the ‘side kick’ right. But then when I stop to think about it…if we had to choose a character that we actually wanted to BE I think most of us would choose Ron. He has a great family, really good friends. He is famous by association but has none of the pressure that Harry faces. He is reasonably talented, smart, and funny. He is very loyal, trustworthy, and helps as often as he can. He doesn’t have a lot of money but he always has what he needs. And is is loved by and and loves another very deeply. I think this pretty much summarizes what most people want.

    So congratulations on being associated with Ron. I think he’s great. 🙂

    ~Aspen

  5. One, academically, Ron is on the same level as Harry. Harry may be better at “Defense Against the Dark Arts” , but Ron is a better strategist, as revealed in his talent for chess. I find it hard to believe that a first-rate chess player like Ron is supposed to be intellectually inferior to both Harry and Hermione.

    Two, regardless of whether Ron’s abandonment of Harry is irrelevant or not, I understood it. I understood the fact that he was wearing the locket when he had his big blow out. I understood his insecurities in regard to both Harry and Hermione. I know I would hate to be regarded as someone’s “sidekick”. I find the term insulting. And I understood his fears regarding his family. What I didn’t understand was Harry and Hermione’s inability to realize what Ron was going through emotionally. Especially Harry, who for all of his kindness and compassion, has a unique blindness to his friends’ emotional state and a willingness to use them as emotional crutches.

    • I don’t think, objectively speaking, Ron was any ‘stupider’ than Harry academically, but since he’s not presented as being particularly spectacular at any one subject, the way Harry is, Rowling rather skews the impression in that direction. i agree that this may be simply because we have the series from Harry’s and not from Ron’s point of view. Still, I thought it was a bit of a deliberate effect on Rowling’s part.

      Second, of course we understand Ron’s blowout–it was an amazingly normal reaction for a 17 year old, used to the comforts of home and far from in a secure environment, to have. I think in many ways Harry and Hermione differ from Ron’s normalcy–Hermione is shown to have an amazing ability to put emotion aside in the face of logical and/or academic problems, and Harry, never having known any other kind of life, cannot be expected to really ‘get’ Ron’s inability to play the hero 24/7 or put up with a tough life. I don’t think Harry is blind to his friends’ emotional states–I think he’s actually incredibly perceptive. I just think at this point in the series, when he’s really stressed out adn going out on a limb to fulfill a seemingly impossible quest, he can’t be faulted for not being tuned in to the moods of those around him.

  6. Pingback: A daemon on your sleeve | Where the Dog Star rages

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