Kreacher’s Lament: S.P.E.W.
as a Parable on Discrimination,
Indifference, and Social Justice
STEVEN W. PATTERSON
There’s an awful lot of discrimination in the Harry Potter series of novels. Nearly all of the time, the discrimination comes out in the behavior of characters who are unequivocally evil. Whether it is Draco Malfoy’s classisi hatred of the Weasleys, Voldemort’s racist lust to destroy all “mudbloods,” Lucius Malfoy’s maltreatment of Dobby and other house-elves, or Dolores Umbridge’s xenophobic disdain for Hagrid, the message is clear: discrimination is something practiced by evil people. Nobody we would consider good discriminates. But is that so? The answer to this question, I think, turns on what we think discrimination is.
In this chapter we shall explore this question by taking a closer look at the moral impact of discrimination against houseelves, and the response to that discrimination launched by Hermione: the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, S.P.E.W. for short. In the picture it offers of how discrimination can survive “below the moral radar,” so to speak, of good people, the story of S.P.E.W. offers an invaluable lesson for pluralistic cultures such as our own, which yet bear the social burdens that are the legacy of discrimination. The main argument will have three parts. First, by way of general introduction, the concept of discrimination will be outlined. Having settled the question of what discrimination means, morally, we will investigate the moral basis for thinking that such discrimination is wrong. Next, we will consider the question of whether indifference to the plight of those who suffer discrimination is itself morally