Like in any boarding school teeming with youngsters, Hogwarts is overflowing with raging hormones. Our three main characters (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) go through not just the angst of trying to defeat He Who Must Not Be Named; they are also trying to reign in the power of their own attraction to each other. We can better understand their failures and successes by viewing each of these characters through the lens of attachment theory, one of the most popular perspectives on romantic relationships.
Attachment theory was first suggested by John Bowlby after World War II, and since then has been the subject of, literally, thousands of research studies. Bowlby noticed that if children are separated from their parents at an early age, their future romantic relationships were more likely to suffer. Bowlby, his students, and recent relationship scholars have now suggested three specific “attachment styles,” which are like personalities we exhibit within a relationship context. These “styles” come from our early, parental relationships and define our basic patterns of action (or inaction) for the rest of our lives. Luckily, the three main characters in “Harry Potter” exemplify these attachment styles in a very handy way.
Hermione Granger is a perfect example of the “secure” attachment style. Born of parents who are supportive without being suffocating, secure people are confident, feel free to express their emotions, and are happy to trust others. Although we don’t see Hermione’s parents much in the series of books (or movies), readers learn that they are trusting of her and are completely supportive, but show their concern when she’s in danger. Hermione thus projects this style onto her own teenage experiments in love. When Ron repeatedly shows that he’s too much of a chicken to ask her out, she promptly moves on to someone else (Viktor Krum). She’s jealous when Ron starts dating a fellow classmate (Lavender), but she waits patiently for him to realize that she’s a better choice. In short, her self-esteem and trust in both others and herself show that she’s secure, which is considered the healthiest attachment style.
Her object of affection, Ron Weasley, is certainly not Secure—he’s what we call “anxious/ambivalent.” The hallmark of parents who produce anxious/ambivalent kids is inconsistency. The Weasleys certainly love their children, but they are either screaming at them (for example, through the use of “howlers”) or simply distracted and thus, basically absent. This leads to children who are unsure of where they stand in relationships, always yearning for love, but never confident that they’ll actually get it. Ron shows this attachment style in his desire for Hermione, and his doubt that she’ll return the interest. Instead, he dates idiots like Lavender because they are safe. Ron’s relationship personality becomes one of jealousy, clinginess, and, above all, insecurity.
Finally, Harry displays what can be argued as the least healthy attachment style: fearful (or sometimes called “avoidant”). Harry’s birth parents were certainly loving, but he never really knew them. Instead, his adoptive parents were cruel, abusive, and clearly disgusted by him. This leads to Harry’s fearful style, which is that he pushes everyone else away, never believing relationships will bring him any comfort. Harry prefers to do everything by himself, something he proves each and every time he has to face a challenge. In relationships, he avoids admitting that he likes anyone, and when he can no longer deny it, his response is to do nothing. His monster crush on Cho Chang leaves him helpless, and it’s not until she puts the moves on him that they get anywhere. The same goes for Ginny; he simply watches her from afar until she kisses him after a successful Quidditch match.
What does the future hold for Harry? Most attachment theorists would argue that while change is possible, it’s difficult. So, without any spoilers to the end of the saga, the theory predicts that Harry will, unfortunately, live or die alone. Even if he can temporarily get a relationship going, his avoidance, lack of trust in others, and fear of letting himself love will ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s going to take more than magic to help Harry find love.
For more information about attachment theory, see this article or these resources:
Goodfriend, W. (2007). Attachment styles at Hogwarts: From infancy to adulthood. In N. Mulholland (Ed.), The psychology of Harry Potter (pp. 73-88). Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.
Dr. Wind Goodfriend – Articles | Website/CV
Dr. Goodfriend’s research focuses on cognitive bias within romantic relationships: how partners view each other in a subjective, instead of objective, way. These biases can sometimes be positive, but they can also perpetuate unhealthy or violent relationships.
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J. Tan says
I enjoyed this application of attachment theory.
It would be interesting to see a theoretical breakdown of the main characters' attachment hierarchies, I suspect Harry's attachment to Ron and Hermione to have risen to the top of his own attachment hierarchy and shuffled his parental attachment downwards.
Massive fan of Harry Potter and I love the Analysis of the psychology of the characters. I agree that these attachment behaviours are present but the characters grow and differences are seen as well.
I can relate to the secure attachment style and am highly interested in how the other attachment styles can affect relationships.
Nga Nguyen says
I'm looking for articles to assign my TOEFL students (in Vietnam), and went to Ben's syllabus website for inspiration. One article led to another, this one came to me and it is certainly the perfect one! I'm sure my kids will enjoy it.
Nga (BMC 13)
Omg amazing! So helpful and easy to understand.. love it!
Wind Goodfriend says
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