The Death Eaters: A Kind of Community?

Finally, we’ve worked our way to Book 4!

From here on out, the plot thickens, and Voldemort’s defeat is more crucial than ever. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire marks a significant shift in the Harry Potter series. Books 3 and 4 in the series are sometimes referred to as “gateway books,” in that they shift from the light-hearted, children’s book to a much darker tone. In Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, the books come to a complete resolution at the end. Harry gets to the Stone and stops Voldemort; he rescues Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets and prevents Voldemort from returning. In Prisoner of Azkaban, the ending is not quite resolved, as readers are left wondering what becomes of Sirius, if the truth will ever come out, and whether Peter Pettigrew returned to Voldemort to be his servant. Additionally, Goblet of Fire marks a shift in focus. In the first three books, there is a clear significance placed on school events, such as Quidditch, exams, and classes. In Goblet of Fire, the characters begin to focus more on the bigger conflicts–of finding out how to defeat Voldemort and save the Wizarding community.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire also signifies a transition in the development of Harry. Harry, although still referred to as a boy in the novel, is clearly portrayed as an adolescent being exposed to more serious, adult issues. In Goblet of Fire, Harry witnesses death firsthand when Lord Voldemort murders Cedric Diggory. He is plagued with the question of who put his name into the Goblet of Fire, and why that person would want him harmed or killed. He is exposed and made aware, for the first time, of the corruption within the Ministry of Magic. One instance is the treatment of house-elves, particularly when Barty Crouch dismisses Winky after being found with Harry’s wand, even though he believes she did not conjure the Dark Mark. Another is when Cornelius Fudge and Dumbledore part ways, because Fudge refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned. Finally, corruption within the Ministry is shown during the graveyard scene after the final task, where many of the Death Eaters are also people associated with the Ministry. Harry is also aware of the looming presence of Voldemort, who returns, in the flesh, at the end of the novel. As Harry matures, he is introduced to a range of themes and plot lines that are much darker and more mature, and his connection with Lord Voldemort becomes much more pronounced.

Community in Goblet of Fire

One prominent theme in Goblet of Fire is that of community. The concept of community is particularly significant in this book because of the various types of communities introduced: the communities within each Wizarding school, the various Wizarding communities around the world (seen during the Quidditch World Cup), and the community of Death Eaters. Goblet of Fire presents a contrast of two different communities: Harry Potter and his friends, and Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters. While on the surface, it may appear that the Death Eaters are a community, comparing them to the community of Harry and his friends shows that the Death Eaters are a false community. False community, in this case, refers to a community formed through selfish, vicious motives; while a true community is a community formed on virtuous, selfless motives. Ultimately, a true community has the capacity to endure and flourish, while a false community inevitably falls apart. The differences between these two communities highlight several dominant ideas in the series, namely the relationship between good and evil. The false community of Death Eaters shows that evil is simply a perversion of what is good, and therefore, evil cannot exist without good–and ultimately, good prevails.

One thing I found intriguing in Goblet of Fire is how the Death Eaters are presented as a distorted version of a true, good community; the Death Eaters and Voldemort are a perverted version of Christ and His disciples. When Voldemort is returned to a full body and the Death Eaters are summoned by means of the Dark Mark, the Death Eaters each “fell to [their] knees, crawled toward Voldemort, and kissed the hem of his black robes” (647)*. This instance echoes the passage in Matthew 14:36, where the sick begged Christ “that they may touch if only the hem of His garment,” they would be healed. The Death Eaters prostrate themselves before Voldemort and kiss the hem of his robes, as a sign of reverence, that they may be welcomed back into Voldemort’s inner circle and good graces.  Their actions toward Voldemort are a grotesque version of the actions of the sick towards Christ in Matthew 14:36; the Death Eaters want to be “healed,” and re-accepted by Voldemort, by touching his garment, yet being accepted by Voldemort is the very opposite of healing, the very opposite of what is good.

This portrayal of evil as simply a perversion of what is good is also present in Dante’s Inferno, when Dante and Virgil reach the very pit of Hell. There, Satan is described as a three-headed beast, submerged in ice, and in the mouth of each head is Brutus, Cassius, and Judas, the betrayers of their kin, those who betrayed a special relationship. Satan’s description in Inferno is a perversion of the Trinity, with Satan having three heads, being three yet also one. Both portrayals of evil in Goblet of Fire and in the Inferno depict evil in this way to show one of the most fundamental distinctions between good and evil: evil is not a thing itself; rather, it is a privation of good. Both Rowling and Dante imply, through their portrayals of evil, that evil cannot stand on its own; it cannot exist without good. By portraying Voldemort and his Death Eaters as a distortion of what is truly good, Rowling shows that evil can only take that form; it can only take the form of a perverted version of the good. Evil is simply the absence of good; darkness is simply the absence of light. This depiction of Voldemort’s community shows the parasitic nature of evil and the transcendent, permanent nature of good.

Voldemort and his Death Eaters also highlight key differences between his distorted version of a community and a true community, such as Harry Potter and his friends, Dumbledore’s Army in Book 5, and the Order of the Phoenix. There is no love, there is no forgiveness, in Voldemort’s community of Death Eaters. The Death Eaters do not genuinely care for each other, and they fear Voldemort; they do not selflessly love him. Voldemort, instead of welcoming back his followers, demands, “Why did this band of wizards never come to the aid of their master, to whom their swore eternal loyalty?” (647). What binds the Death Eaters together is not love, but fear – fear of Voldemort, a selfish fear of what he might do to them. What binds Voldemort to his Death Eaters is not love, but a selfish love of power – his followers represent people he has conquered, people whom he can bend to his will – the Death Eaters are merely a symbol of the power he has already gained. Voldemort does not care for his Death Eaters; he treats them cruelly, just as cruelly as he treats his enemies (this was something Dumbledore stated in Sorcerer’s Stone, how Voldemort treated Quirrell cruelly, and makes almost no distinction in how he treats his enemies and friends). He uses the Cruciatus curse on Avery after Avery begs for Voldemort’s forgiveness. The Death Eaters and Voldemort are held together by selfish motives, and they are cruel and unforgiving to those who have not shown true loyalty, even though the loyalty is still a distorted version, a false version of loyalty – a loyalty stemming from selfishness, from selfish fear.

On the other hand, Harry Potter and his friends are forgiving of each other, and what binds them together is a love that is selfless and genuine. One instance that separates Harry from Voldemort is Harry’s reaction to Ron when he and Ron have their first fight after Harry is chosen to be a Hogwarts champion. After the first task, Ron goes up to Harry to apologize, “and suddenly [Harry] found he didn’t need to hear it” (358). Harry forgives Ron without question, without even a need for an apology. He is not vindictive towards Ron; he is forgiving and understanding, something Voldemort is not capable of. Voldemort is careless of Wormtail’s pain after Wormtail sacrificed his right hand to bring Voldemort back and treats Wormtail cruelly. He tells Wormtail, “You returned to me, not out of loyalty, but out of fear of your old friends. You deserve this pain, Wormtail” (649). While Harry can easily forgive and can show compassion, Voldemort seeks vengeance and does not forgive.

Rowling’s portrayal of the two different communities in Goblet of Fire–the community of Death Eaters and the community of Harry’s friends at Hogwarts–serves multiple functions. It shows the difference between a true community and a false version of community–true community is based in selfless motives, in genuine love and loyalty, while false community is the very opposite and stems from selfish motives, from selfish fear or lust of power. This contrast between communities also expands on some of the fundamental differences between Harry and Voldemort that were introduced in Sorcerer’s Stone–such as Harry’s willingness and ability to forgive and show compassion, and Harry’s selflessness and true loyalty. These two communities highlight a key difference between good and evil–good is permanent, transcendent, while evil depends on good. Evil cannot exist without good, as it is merely a privation of good. This demonstrates the superiority of good over evil, and the idea that good always triumphs over evil.

*All direct quotes taken from the Scholastic edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling.

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