Harry Potter Books as Indexes of American Culture

By Slawson, Jayetta | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2006 | Go to article overview

Harry Potter Books as Indexes of American Culture


Slawson, Jayetta, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Harry Potter Books as Indexes of American Culture

INTRO: The Harry Potter books, the most widely selling series in the world today and probably in history, are having a great impact on British and American culture, not only in subject matter but in driving reading habits. Understanding the drive is very important in revealing American (and British) culture.

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series moves across social and geographic boundaries to mimetically "read" contemporary culture, even as the masses read these all-time, best-selling books. Written by a British author, this contemporary literature speaks globally and transnationally and has become an ingrained staple of the literary imagination in much the same way that apple pie, baseball, and hot dogs have become ingrained staples of American popular culture. Rowling's stories have drawn millions of American readers into this fictional fantasy that mirrors contemporary cultures with storylines that are distinctly appealing, accessible, and pertinent to readers who can empathize with the many dilemmas with which the fictional Harry grapples. The Harry Potter books are pertinent to Americans precisely because they are metaphors of the contemporary (historical) moment.

In real life, children and adults alike read the suspense-driven plots of Harry's adventures meshed in sporting events, political and cultural ideology wars, religion, and issues of race and class. Some Christian leaders vociferously rebuke Rowling's comparative religion themes even as real-life bombers carry out suicide missions taking them through King's Cross Station, the very location where Harry boards the Hogwarts Express. King's Cross Station is indeed symbolic of the mimetic convergence of historical and invented worlds. The Harry Potter books speak to issues of hybridity and pluralism in global contexts, and to the conflicting ideologies between groups of people -groups which often despise each other, yet are forced to share the same geographic landscape. Such conflicts in Harry's world and in our own muggle world often lead to violence as a venue for underscoring the differing belief systems and points of view of the various groups. …

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