A Feminist Literary Criticism Approach to Representations of Women's Agency in Harry Potter
Mayes-Elma, Ruthann Elizabeth
Doctor of Philosophy, Miami University, Educational Leadership, 2003.
The purpose of this study was to deconstruct the representations of women’s agency in the text Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This study used critical theory, feminist literary criticism, and critical literacy, as theoretical foundations. A matrix for analyzing agency was created as an analytical tool; this consisted of a 2 X 2 matrix, with dimensions of agency (identity and attitude) and strategies used to achieve agency (attitude and voice). Using this matrix I first described each scene wherein a female character displayed agency. Using critical discourse analysis, I then interpreted and explained these constructions of agency, placing them in a broader social and historical context. My interpretation/explanation emphasized five themes: rule following/breaking, intelligence, validating/enabling, mothering, and “bounded” resistance. Embedded within these themes were binary oppositions, gender boundaries, and woman as the “other”. Traditional gender constructions of both men and women were found throughout the text. Ultimately, the adventure in the book is highlighted through active male characters, while passive/invisible female characters exist only as bodies in the background or enablers of male action. When the female characters do resist, their resistance is “bounded” by traditional gender conventions. Ironically, while the female characters resist evil, they never resist gender stereotypes. The study ends with implications for the development of school curricula that enable children to critically deconstruct texts.
critical theory; feminist literary criticism; critical literacy; Harry Potter; Agency
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