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Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

The Occurrence of Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

Matej Luptak

University of New York in Prague

Professor Dodds

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

The Occurrence of Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

The story of Harry Potter, written by Joanna Rowling, includes many psychological

elements in its structure, namely the idea of the double, the hero’s journey and examples of many

different Jungian archetypes, which is a part of the reason why it is the most successful novel

series of all times. The characters of Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter create a classic example

of the double, which is a popular literary device as it creates the ultimate conflict, where two

complete opposites are connected on a fundamental level and must kill the other in order to

survive. The double bears psychological importance because it represents many theories of

Sigmund Freud, such as the conflict between the ID and the Ego, or the suppression of

unacceptable material into the unconscious. The model of the hero’s journey, which was first

observed and structured by Joseph Campbell, appears in most mythological stories and in many

contemporary works. The Harry Potter books fit the model perfectly, especially Harry Potter

and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling, 1997), which will be discussed in the paper. The model

of the hero’s journey is closely connected to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, which

greatly influenced Campbell. The collective unconscious, which everyone shares and which is an

extension from the personal unconscious, contains many mythological motifs that appear in the

form of archetypes throughout literature and film. Some of the very common archetypes can also

be seen in many of the characters in the Harry Potter series. The occurrence of these

psychologically potent ideas in Harry Potter is partly what made it so successful.

The idea of the double is a popular theme explored in many different literary works. It is

important from psychological perspective because of how it relates to different psychological

theories. The struggle between the protagonist and its double represents the struggle between the

ID and the ego. The protagonist’s unconscious, repressed material is rising up to haunt him in the

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

form of his externalized dark half - the double. The double as a physical manifestation of the

dissociated part of the protagonist acts as an unleashed monster, that cannot be controlled and

whose “murderous rampage can only be terminated in the final fatal confrontation” (Faurholt).

The theme of the double/doppelganger is explored throughout the Harry Potter series in

Harry’s relationship with Lord Voldemort. The importance of this relationship in Harry Potter

from a psychological point of view, is that Harry, was throughout the series not really fighting an

external evil entity, but overcoming his own shadow self in an externalized, disassociated form.

The fight between good and evil was a fight between the dark and the light side, between the

unconscious and conscious part of one human being. According to Robert Rogers (1970), the

antithetical, evil double, in this case Voldemort, “represent[s] [the] unconscious, instinctual

drives" of the id (p. 12). This can be seen in Voldemort’s aggressive impulses like killing and

torturing innocent people without any moral regards.

According to Otto Rank, the double is at first created as an insurance against the death of

the ego, because of the fear of death. This is true in Harry Potter as well, because the double

Voldemort creates in Harry represents his “denial of the power of death” (As cited in Freud,

1919, p. 9). Throughout the series, Voldemort expresses multiple times his greatest desire and his

attempt to overcome death, and it was precisely Voldemort’s fear of death that compelled him to

kill Harry Potter when he was still a baby. In the process of trying to kill Harry however, he split

his soul and a part of it entered Harry, which marked the beginning of Harry and Voldemort’s

doppelganger relationship.

Milica Živković (2000) writes in his article, that the “psychological power of the double

lies in its ambiguity, in the fact that it can stand for contrast or opposition but likeness as well”

(p. 122). This is true for the double relationship of Harry and Voldemort too, because even

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

though they are the polar opposites in the obvious respects, they also share a number of

similarities. The opposite characteristics include their values and goals, their behavior towards

other people and their purity of soul. Some of the similarities include that they both have a wand

made exactly the same way which is very rare in the wizarding world, they had very similar

childhoods and both found Hogwarts to be their true home, both look exactly like their deceased

fathers, and both are trying to kill one another. The presence of these very opposite and very

similar traits is what makes Harry and Voldemort doppelgangers and what gives their

relationship such an uncanny feeling.

The characters of Harry and Voldemort get so intermingled that in the fifth book, Harry

Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling, 2003), Harry often becomes Voldemort in his

dreams and sees through Voldemort’s point of view, what exactly he is doing at that moment

many miles away. Later on, Harry admits to feel contaminated and very uncanny about this. In

the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling, 1998), Voldemort points

out to Harry some of the similarities between them:

There are strange likenesses between us, Harry Potter. Even you must have noticed. Both

half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths (able to

speak to snakes) to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look

something alike. (p. 233)

This makes Harry feel extremely uncanny and uncomfortable, and he tries to deny that he

resembles Voldemort in so many respects, because he is unable to bear how similar he is to a

man who has all the traits which he stands against. He later tells professor Dumbledore "more

loudly than he'd intended, ’I don't think I'm like him!’” (Rowling, 1998, p. 284). Sigmund Freud

(1919) explores why encountering one’s double creates such uncanny feelings, saying it is

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

because the double is “a creation dating back to a very early mental stage, long since left behind”

(p. 10). This is true also for Harry, since the double relationship between him and Voldemort

started when he was only a baby, and he is now reminded of it many years later. However, the

major reason for Harry’s creepy feeling is his inability to see his own repressed parts belonging

to him and not to his enemy.

The only way to end the conflict between the protagonist and the double is often a final

confrontation where one kills the other. This is because they are so alike and so different from

each other at the same time that they cannot co-exist simultaneously for very long. This is

reflected in the prophecy about Harry and Voldemort which says that “neither can live while the

other survives” (Rowling, 2003, p. 844). This kind of situation can be seen in other literary

works, for example in Dostoyevsky’s The Double (1846), Mr Golyadkin tells his own double

that it is “Either you or I, but both together is out of the question!” (p. 97). The final

confrontation between Harry and Voldemort ends in a typical doppelganger resolution. When

Harry finds out that a part of Voldemort’s soul is inside of him, and that the only way to kill it is

to allow Voldemort to kill him, Harry accepts his faith and comes willingly to Voldemort. When

Voldemort puts the killing curse on Harry, nothing happens to Harry, only the part of Voldemort

inside himself dies. This ending is similar to the ending of the movie Fight Club, in which The

Narrator (Edward Norton) willingly kills himself in order to kill his evil double Taylor Durden

(Brad Pitt) (Bell, 1999).

The theme of the doppelganger was a very important aspect of the Harry Potter series. I

shell now look at two other very important themes in it, Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey as it

applies to Harry’s own journey, and Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of archetypes and how some of

them can be traced throughout the series. These two themes are interrelated, because they are

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

both based on Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious. Jung agreed with many of Sigmund

Freud’s theories of the unconscious, but he believed that beneath the personal unconscious, there

is a deeper layer still, which he called the collective unconscious. It is an unconscious part of the

mind which all of humanity shares and which is expressed in “mythological motifs and

primordial images” (Jung, 1969a). Joseph Campbell studied the ideas of Carl Jung and was

greatly influenced by them (Joesph Campbell – Biography, n.d.). While Jung found commonality

in mythology expressed in the concept of archetypes, meaning that the same archetypal

characters appear again and again in stories and myths, Campbell (1972) found that all myths are

in fact one and the same story, saying “mythology everywhere [is] the same, beneath its varieties

of costume” (p. 20).

Campbell (1972) traced a common structure of mythical stories and called it the hero’s

journey; he explores the hero’s journey in detail in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

The model is used in many different famous contemporary works, for example The Matrix, The

Lord of the Rings, or The Star Wars. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, in fact admitted to

have been greatly influenced by Joseph Campbell and to owe Campbell’s monomyth for the

success of his films (Joesph Campbell – Biography, n.d.) The reason why the model of the hero’s

journey is so prevalent and so successful, is because it is a psychologically valid portrayal of the

human mind and the psyche. The readers can identify with and learn from stories based on the

model of the hero’s journey, because they are metaphors for their own life experience.

There are many different adaptations of Campbell’s monomyth, but they all share the

same essential structure. One of these versions can be seen in all Harry Potter books. I will show

how the hero’s journey applies to the first one, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

(Rowling, 1997). The story begins with Harry Potter being introduced in his ordinary world,

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

living with the Dursleys, not knowing anything about the magical world. Then Harry starts

receiving mysterious letters and is even visited by a giant Hagrid, which marks his call to

adventure. Harry learns that he is a wizard and that he will start attending Hogwarts, the school

of witchcraft and wizardry. At first Harry thinks “there had been a horrible mistake. A wizard?

Him? How could he possibly be?” (Rowling, 1997, p. 47). This shows his initial refusal of the

call; although Harry hated his old life, he does not know what lies ahead. At this point Hagrid

acts as Harry’s mentor, he encourages him, gives him advice about the magical world, and goes

to diagone alley to buy magical supplies with him. Harry crosses the first threshold when he

passes through the magical wall into the platform 9¾, where he boards a train to take him to

Hogwarts, where his magical education and all other adventures are to begin. Harry immediately

starts making friends - Ron and Hermione, enemies - Malfoy and Snape, and passing through

tests and challenges such as facing the troll, learning his way around Hogwarts, or learning to fly

a broom. Harry approaches the innermost cave when he jumps through the falling door,

underground (which symbolizes entering the unconscious), which is a road to the philosopher’s

stone. The supreme ordeal for Harry is when he has to pass through the condensed number of

challenges to get to the philosopher’s stone, and climaxes when he eventually arrives there and

meets professor Quirrell whom he has to fight and overcome. Harry seizes the reward when he

defeats Quirrell and obtains possession of the philosopher’s stone. The road back is omitted for

Harry since he passes out soon after this and he wakes up safely in the hospital, which is his

“resurrection”. Harry returns back to his ordinary world with the treasure of knowing that he is

a wizard, that his true home is Hogwarts, that he has true friends in Ron, Hermione and others,

and that he has been able to defeat Voldemort and stop him from becoming powerful again.

As was already mentioned before, the hero’s journey is based on Jung’s ideas of the

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

collective unconscious, and is closely connected to his concept of archetypes. There are some

common recurring archetypes in Campbell’s monomyth, such as the hero, the wise old man and

the shadow. In his book, Psychology and Religion, Carl Jung (1938) says, "The archetype

concept derives from the often repeated observation that myths and universal literature stories

contain well defined themes which appear every time and everywhere.” Archetypes represent

aspect of ourselves and their exploration in literature is important, because it is a way to learn

about the collective unconscious part of the mind. Many different archetypes can be found also

in Harry Potter. Harry himself is a hero who “issues from something humble and forgotten . . .

from a wholly improbable source” (Jung, 1969b, p. 141). Voldemort is the shadow, which is very

similar to the idea of the double. Dumbledore is a kind and wise father figure with a mystical

aura around him, who often acts as Harry’s mentor which makes him a characteristic wise-old-

man archetype. The Weasley twins qualify as the trickster archetype. They are the ones who

know all the secret passage ways, who always tease and prank people and talk them into doing

things against the rules. At the same time they are extremely creativity and intelligent, showing

that they are not merely two fools. Finally Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are Harry’s

sidekicks, since they are his most loyal friends and trusted allies. They help Harry out in his tasks

and add humor to the story.

The doppelganger, the hero’s journey, and the archetypes are all psychologically potent

themes, which, when use correctly, have the power to give a story the necessary edge to become

successful. In Harry Potter, these themes were certainly used very well and they did help it to

become a massive success. The readers were able to identify with the struggle and the characters

of the story, knowingly or unknowingly, thanks to the ideas mentioned above. The double,

represented in the story in the relationship between Harry and Voldemort, comes from the

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

unconscious mind discussed by Sigmund Freud. The hero’s journey and the archetypes come

even from deeper within, the collective unconscious mind discussed by Carl Jung. Being aware

of normally unconscious things through a story is attractive for the readers; hence the story of

Harry Potter received such a fantastic response.

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

Work Cited

Bell R. G. & Fincher D. Fight Club [Motion picture on DVD]. (1999). 20th Century Fox Film


Campbell, J. (1972). The Hero With a Thousand Faces (2d ed). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton

University Press. Retrieved December 25, 2014, from


Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1846). The Double. Dover; Courier Dover Publications

Faurholt, G. (n.d.). Self as Other: The Doppelgänger. Retrieved December 24, 2014, from

Freud, S. (1919). The Uncanny. Trans. Alix Strachey. Retrieved December 25, 2014, from

Joseph Campbell - Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2014, from

Jung, C. G. (1969a). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton

University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1969b). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 2nd ed. New York:

Princeton University Press.

Matej Luptak: Psychological Themes in Harry Potter

Jung, C. G., 1938, Psychology and Religion, New Haven, C.T.: Yale University


Rogers, R. (1970). A psychoanalytic study of the double in literature. Detroit: Wayne State

University Press.

Rowling, J. (2003). Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Arthur A. Levine


Rowling, J. (1998). Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Arthur A. Levine


Rowling, J. (1997). Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine