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Moral Ambiguities



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  #1  
Old August 2nd, 2007, 10:06 pm
fruitia pickleweed  Female.gif fruitia pickleweed is offline
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Moral Ambiguities

Some of this has been discussed in other threads, but I am interested in the whole picture.

Several moral or ethical messages that I thought Rowling was trying to convey through the first 6 books and part of DH seemed to fall apart by the end.

"For the greater good" is presented as a cover slogan for a totalitarian tyranny. Yet bythe end of DH, it seems to be Dumbledore's working motto.

Dumbledore seemed to show exemplary respect for others, even when he strongly disagreed with their choices. Courtesy was a matter of principle, even at the point of death. And then he turned out to be using the others as tools, even Harry -- not respectfully at all.

Killing is bad, unnatural, and highly dangerous because it rips the soul apart. Dumbledore tries to protect Draco from such a disaster. Yet, everyone goes at it happily in the Big Battle, with no apparent concern for their souls.

Harry took a principled stand against the incarceration of Stan Shunpike without due process. Yet in the end, it appears that Stan may have been a Death Eater -- at least the matter is left very unclear, so that people on this forum are arguing about it. Was this an unimportant matter to Rowling after all, or did she mean Harry was wrong?

Harry wouldn't cause Stan's death just because Stan was in the way. He stood up to Lupin about it. "That's Voldemort's job." At that point, I was thinking Harry has the strength of ten because his heart is pure. But later events make me doubt it.

Harry chose to lie to Griphook. (He had alternatives, at least he could have tried them. He could have made it a condition that Griphook would lend him back the sword for a specified period, for instance.) If Griphook had actually been faithful, Harry would have, essentially, cheated Griphook. Is Rowling condoning that too, "for the greater good"?

Harry uses the Unforgiveables. And he "means them." Maybe he had no choice at Gringotts, but after that? Is "meaning" an unforgiveable curse a good thing to Rowling? Are they so unforgiveable after all?

In Rowling's world, in short, do the means justify the ends after all? Were the principles I thought so meaningful for Harry's character just plot points or just qualmish scruples to be overcome?

Is Rowling giving us a Henry V, where these are the lessons of leadership?

Did anyone else wonder what is going on here?


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  #2  
Old August 2nd, 2007, 10:54 pm
Sectumsempra88  Male.gif Sectumsempra88 is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I find it amusing...there was just an entire thread about people becoming bored at Harry's journey of unwavering good in DH. Obviously not everyone feels that way-

JKR wrote books about in depth characters that fought for good. By the time DH rolls around there is a WAR. She proves many points and offers lessons learned from past generations using war as a context, very successfully i feel. One point being that morals become very distorted in combat, or in a life or death situation. (all is fair in love and war) JKR didn't write a book on how to develop good moral character- she herself said the series was about death.


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Old August 2nd, 2007, 11:01 pm
Nicky3610  Female.gif Nicky3610 is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by Sectumsempra88 View Post
I find it amusing...there was just an entire thread about people becoming bored at Harry's journey of unwavering good in DH. Obviously not everyone feels that way-

JKR wrote books about in depth characters that fought for good. By the time DH rolls around there is a WAR. She proves many points and offers lessons learned from past generations using war as a context, very successfully i feel. One point being that morals become very distorted in combat, or in a life or death situation. (all is fair in love and war) JKR didn't write a book on how to develop good moral character- she herself said the series was about death.

True, in a life or death situation I think all of our morals would change a little. Besides JK has stated that she never meant for Harry to be a saint, all of her characters are flawed.


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Old August 2nd, 2007, 11:09 pm
Leon_Lionheart  Male.gif Leon_Lionheart is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Shades of gray, friend, shades of gray...


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Old August 2nd, 2007, 11:13 pm
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Perhaps all of the moral/ethical messages in book 1-6 seemed to (in the OP's own words) "fall apart by the end" because DH represented Harry's extreme loss of innocence. You could argue that his loss of innocence occurred in GoF, but I don't really think it hit home until DH.

In DH we were forced to view many characters who we loved or hated in contrasting ways. We were forced to view a beloved character like Lupin as thoughtless, impulsive, and irresponsible, we were forced to view a beloved character like Dumbledore as cruel and manipulative,and we were forced to view a hated character like Snape in a sympathetic, tragic light.

Our previous conceptions of those characters were blown to pieces, so it stands to reason that the same would happen to the moral/ethical messages of the series as well.


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Old August 2nd, 2007, 11:15 pm
Tromos  Male.gif Tromos is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I guess my perspective on this was covered in the other thread:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tromos View Post
I think the key here is the blurry line of right and wrong. And the point that every hero, no matter how apparently pure, has a dark side. In fact, with the whole exposure of Dumbledore's past, I'd go so far as to claim that to be a significant minor theme to DH.

There's no such thing as "pure".

The saintly perception of Dumbledore was shattered. And even Harry, whom Dumbledore celebrates as a much more honorable wizard than himself, has his significant faults - arrogance and anger among them.

I think the Imperius curse is wrong because it was legislated to be wrong. It's Unforgivable, remember? And Harry uses it with no second thought and no guilt. Because there's at least a little good in every villain (Wormtail) and at least a little evil in every hero.


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Old August 2nd, 2007, 11:24 pm
pandabear18788  Female.gif pandabear18788 is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

As Tromos said in his post-within-a-post (), "The saintly perception of Dumbledore was shattered. And even Harry, whom Dumbledore celebrates as a much more honorable wizard than himself, has his significant faults - arrogance and anger among them." I think this brings up a great point in that there will always be shades of grey when dealing with very realistic characters. No one is perfect, and to have any character be the infallible embodiment of perfection would be absurd.

The morals aren't provided within one character, they're provided throughout the series. And JKR has said that she never set out to make Harry Potter a book of morals, they just kind of happened.


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Old August 2nd, 2007, 11:58 pm
Leon_Lionheart  Male.gif Leon_Lionheart is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I like that the books make morality so ambiguous. Because morality is ambiguous. Here we have a series of tales about Good vs. Evil, Hero vs. Villain, completely with a ridiculously idealistic Power of Love concept, and yet, the morality is portrayed with brutal realism.

I think an emoticon sums it up nicely:



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Old August 3rd, 2007, 12:01 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Quote:
Originally Posted by fruitia pickleweed View Post
Some of this has been discussed in other threads, but I am interested in the whole picture.

Several moral or ethical messages that I thought Rowling was trying to convey through the first 6 books and part of DH seemed to fall apart by the end.

"For the greater good" is presented as a cover slogan for a totalitarian tyranny. Yet bythe end of DH, it seems to be Dumbledore's working motto.

Dumbledore seemed to show exemplary respect for others, even when he strongly disagreed with their choices. Courtesy was a matter of principle, even at the point of death. And then he turned out to be using the others as tools, even Harry -- not respectfully at all.
I never saw that Dumbledore was using Harry. I figured Dumbledore knew Harry well enough that when Harry saw the memory, he would do as the memory instructed-face Voldemort without a fight and "die" because he was a horcrux. Because Harry did this, he had a chance to live. Dumbledore knew Harry wouldn't die, but he made to make it look like Harry would die.
Quote:
Killing is bad, unnatural, and highly dangerous because it rips the soul apart. Dumbledore tries to protect Draco from such a disaster. Yet, everyone goes at it happily in the Big Battle, with no apparent concern for their souls.
Yes killing is bad but if someone was inches away from killing my kid, I would do what Molly did.
Quote:
Harry took a principled stand against the incarceration of Stan Shunpike without due process. Yet in the end, it appears that Stan may have been a Death Eater -- at least the matter is left very unclear, so that people on this forum are arguing about it. Was this an unimportant matter to Rowling after all, or did she mean Harry was wrong?
I thought Stan was cursed. His face is "strangely blank" during the chase from Privet Dr.

Honestly, the characters aren't saintly. They are human and they are flawed, some more than others. Lupin was guilty because he felt he sentenced his wife and unborn child to being outcasts. I think that was a natural response for his situation.
Dumbledore made mistakes in the past. Dumbledore learned from those mistakes, that's why he never trusted himself with power.
There is moral ambiguities in HP but that's what makes it an interesting series. Not everything in the world is black or white: people change, make mistakes, do things for the wrong reasons and hurt the people they love.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 12:19 am
Leon_Lionheart  Male.gif Leon_Lionheart is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Ahem. Point worth mentioning: "murder" rips the soul apart, but it doesn't say anything about merely "killing." I think the damage to the soul depends upon one's intent when one strikes the ending blow. Killing in self-defense or defense of others would probably not be so bad... outright murder, though? Definitely bad. Bad to the tenth power.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 12:27 am
DoraDukes  Undisclosed.gif DoraDukes is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I don't think those fighting in the final battle were too concerned about the morality of what they were doing. They were fighting to survive. There is a difference in murdering someone and someone being killed on battle. If I am a solider in a war and I kill my enemy- who is trying to kill me- is that murder? Should I be concerned with my soul? My soul would be the last thing on my mind, my life and the life of those fighting with me would be the only thing I would think about.

All the characters, as mentioned above, are flawed. I think the progression of the books show the progression of Harry's innocence being lost.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 12:27 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Quote:
Originally Posted by snapegirl77 View Post
Honestly, the characters aren't saintly. They are human and they are flawed, some more than others. Lupin was guilty because he felt he sentenced his wife and unborn child to being outcasts. I think that was a natural response for his situation.
Dumbledore made mistakes in the past. Dumbledore learned from those mistakes, that's why he never trusted himself with power.
There is moral ambiguities in HP but that's what makes it an interesting series. Not everything in the world is black or white: people change, make mistakes, do things for the wrong reasons and hurt the people they love.
Yes, thank you. None of them were saints, and with the exception of Bella and Voldemort, they were all varying shapes of grey, even Wormtail. This was a large part of Harry's journey in DH: he had to learn that everyone is flawed and ambiguous and you may in the end have more in common with an enemy then with a trusted allie.
.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rhhgrt View Post
In DH we were forced to view many characters who we loved or hated in contrasting ways. We were forced to view a beloved character like Lupin as thoughtless, impulsive, and irresponsible, we were forced to view a beloved character like Dumbledore as cruel and manipulative,and we were forced to view a hated character like Snape in a sympathetic, tragic light.
I don’t see these characters in any of these lights. In DH, we and Harry had to face up to the fact that the world and its characters are ambiguous. I would say that Lupin showed himself to be a man with a temper and hugh insecurity about his right to a normal life (wife, children). He feared he was going to taint them. I thought that Dumbledore was a person who looked to the greater good and was willing to sacrifice and manipulate a few people for that (in fairness that was apparent form OOTP)and that he had made a massive error in his youth. I thought that Snape was a man conflicted and haunted, by a girl he once loved, and by his own actions and mistakes.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 12:44 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Quote:
Originally Posted by Leon_Lionheart View Post
Ahem. Point worth mentioning: "murder" rips the soul apart, but it doesn't say anything about merely "killing." I think the damage to the soul depends upon one's intent when one strikes the ending blow. Killing in self-defense or defense of others would probably not be so bad... outright murder, though? Definitely bad. Bad to the tenth power.
Absolutely. Dumbledore makes this point quite clear in The Prince's Tale...
Quote:
Originally Posted by DH, British Edition, page 548
'If you don't mind dying,' said Snape roughly, 'why not let Draco do it?'

'That boy's soul is not yet so damaged,' said Dumbledore. 'I would not have it ripped apart on my account.'

'And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?'

'You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,' said Dumbledore.
The death of Dumbledore, who was dying anyway, who was to be killed in the very manner Draco would have employed to kill him would mar the soul of Draco because it would be murder... However, Snape would do it with vastly different intent... It would be a far cry from murder, and thus not damaging to the soul.

Actually, I think this quote puts the whole question of moral ambiguity into a very clear light. 'You alone know...' You alone. It is not for anyone else to say. There is no clear, definitive, absolute answer. Is Dumbledore permitted to choose his manner of death? Will Snape choose to heed those wishes? It all comes down to choice.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 1:26 am
katchick  Female.gif katchick is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I don't think the word "flawed" actually covers what happened in this book. I really felt that the moral of the story went from "love conquers all" to "the end justifies the means". Thank you, Fruitia, for giving voice to what I also felt. I had several problems with the breakdown of morality in this book. First of all, Harry did not just mean the curses, he actually started to like them. Second, using people, for any reason, is wrong. Third, NOBODY returns from the dead. I cant count the times that Harry has been told that, yet, we get a resurection.

All that said, as an adult, I loved the book and understand that it is fiction. I know right from wrong and I pride myself on trying to have strong moral values. However, this book was written for kids. I have made the decision not to allow my nine year old to read this book. He is very impressionable and I do not feel that this book sends him the right moral lesson. I am dissapointed and was honestly shocked as I read.

I do not believe the the end always justifies the means, and the motto "for the greater good" just seems evil to me. I think I was a little "too" reminded of Hitler and WWII. Hiroshima was deemed "for the greater good" also. Hitler claimed that the extermination of the Jews were "for the greater good". I don't like that it turned out to also be the motto of a children's book hero.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 1:38 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

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Originally Posted by katchick View Post
I cant count the times that Harry has been told that, yet, we get a resurection.
We didn't really, Harry never died. What actually happened is left for the reader to determine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by katchick View Post
I do not believe the the end always justifies the means, and the motto "for the greater good" just seems evil to me. I think I was a little "too" reminded of Hitler and WWII. Hiroshima was deemed "for the greater good" also. Hitler claimed that the extermination of the Jews were "for the greater good". I don't like that it turned out to also be the motto of a children's book hero.
Well Churchill acted 'for the greater good' as well and popular allied history views him as a demi - god. He sent armies of people to their deaths on D - day, he actively encouraged the RAF, in 1941, when he knew that most would die.

Shrug, the book was very true to life. Sometimes good people have to do inherently wrong things to achieve the greater end and sometimes you have to violate your own morals to achieve an end. I knew the book was going to be like that from the moment Lupin was yelling at Harry about how their battle wasn't child's play.

Having said that I think the moral ambiguity in this book, and the adult theme of the acceptance and understanding of death, would probably be a bit too confusing for a nine year old.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 3:25 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

sweets7 posted:
Quote:
I don’t see these characters in any of these lights. In DH, we and Harry had to face up to the fact that the world and its characters are ambiguous.
Yup, that's pretty much what my post said. The fact that we analyzed certain actions differently doesn't change that.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 3:26 am
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elder Granger View Post
The death of Dumbledore, who was dying anyway, who was to be killed in the very manner Draco would have employed to kill him would mar the soul of Draco because it would be murder... However, Snape would do it with vastly different intent... It would be a far cry from murder, and thus not damaging to the soul.

Actually, I think this quote puts the whole question of moral ambiguity into a very clear light. 'You alone know...' You alone. It is not for anyone else to say. There is no clear, definitive, absolute answer. Is Dumbledore permitted to choose his manner of death? Will Snape choose to heed those wishes? It all comes down to choice.
There's that last word, again. Isn't it the mantra, a Dumbledore, JKR's meditation point for us all...


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 3:58 am
Phil_Stone  Undisclosed.gif Phil_Stone is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I would agree that Harry's almost casual use of crucio is problematic. But the other issues seemed quite coherent to me.

First of all the issues is that of choice. Dumbledore insisted to Harry repeatedly that the prophacy did not control him, that it was up to him to choose to act. He stressed that it was our choices that define us, not our abilities. In the end it is clearly Harry's choice to follow Dumbledore's plan. It is his choice to sacrifice himself to save the others. And he spent half the book complaining that Dumbledore had told him what needed to be done, but not how to do it. He wanted his guidance.

Dumbledore knew Harry. He knew what Harry would say about pursuing Voldemort if he was ignorant of the prophacy. He knew that Harry would complete the quest. But there was much Harry still needed to learn, and Dumbledore was not there to teach it himself. His Socratic teaching technique needed adaptation to function beyond his death. So Dumbledore had to arrange things so that Harry would learn what Harry needed to learn through the quest. Dumbledore felt Harry needed to be wiser than he was when his sister died. In a way, Dumbledore wanted Harry to have the benefit of his own experiance, for Harry's sake.

Dumbledore felt responsibility for HArry, but also for the whole world. And so he needed to make sure that Harry would acquire the wisdom he would need. He treated Harry pretty much as he always had, leaving him to try to figure things out himself, while doing what he could to protect him.

He set Harry upon the horcrux quest knowing it would kill him, but that Harry would know it was coming, and would choose to die. But he also set him upon the quest of the Hallows, with the hope it would help him to survive the first quest. Snape questions Dumbledore's use of Harry, as merely a means to Voldemort's fall. That is the criticism which seems to be directed at Dumbledore. But Snape doesn't know about the Hallows. Implicitly, JKR is telling us that sort of criticism misses much of what happened. In the fullness of the story, Dumbledore trys as hard to help Harry to survive as to vanquish Voldemort. He does not merely use Harry as a means to their common end, but also as an end in himself.

Stan Shunpike is clearly depicted and discussed as under the Imperious. He is not a Deatheater, so the earlier issues of the denial of Due Process are moot. Harry refuses to punish Stan for choices not his own. Lupin is warning that Harry may not always have a choice of how to react. In those cases, where there is no choice, perhaps there is no culpability. But Harry will always look for that choice, while others may not. This seems consistant with Dumbledore/Harry's standard, even if Lupin shows that the Order are not entirely of one mind ethically. In the end Lupin backs down to the idea that if Harry's spells can be predicted, he is at a tactical disadvantage, in a sense the same as Snape's last "lesson" in HBP. In a sense, he has declined to challange Harry's ethical argument. JKR seems to be saying that Harry is right, and so the position remains consistent, despite Lupin's challenge.

Dumbledore's conversation with Snape makes it clear that he sees the issue as more complex than simply "Killing=Tear in Soul". We have never had a real discussion of this concept in the text, only the tip of the iceberg. And he seems to recognize the right of individuals to make their own ethical judgements. So perhaps the defenders of Hogwarts are making there own choices, as to whether their soul would be scared for their choices in battle. Or perhaps they demonstrate part of what Dumbledore was about atop the tower with Draco. He wanted Draco to be calm, knowing that with the flush of battle he might do something he would not do if he had a chance to consider it. And perhaps this is Harry's problem as well.

The defenders of Hogwarts also differ from the Deatheaters in that the latter use the AK, because they want to kill, where as the defenders are in theory using what is necessary to defend themselves and others from death. I think the point is, that each acts on their own, as JKR expects they will, but doesn't mean them all to stand for her moral voice. Only that she will not criticize them, because it is their lives, and their choices, and tehy will have to live with them.

"For the Greater Good" is an interesting slogan as it has so may meanings. In this context I immediately was reminded of Spock in The Wrath of Khan. There he asserts that the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few, or the one. In his case, and in Harry's it is an argument for self sacrifice. It is a maxim which in this case they each find appropriate, and choose to accept it as wisdom. For Grindelwald, it was a justification for coercion, no free choice required. For Churchill, the Battle of Britain meant the survival of the nation, and the pilots were mostly volunteers who died to protect their families. For Truman at Hiroshima, the calculus was more complcated still.

While I think JKR has suggested people have to find their own way on the ethical front, I don't think that by offering competing notions of morality she is being inconsistant, but rather realistic. Just as people have argued on these board as to what sorts of killings would harm the soul, JKR knew that not mentioning popular competing notions would weaken the story. Mentioning them, and then challenging them is simply more persuasive, and makes for a better story.

Finally, it is worth remembering that Hermione tells us that the key to healing a wounded soul, even if torn as Voldemort did, is remorse. If those defenders of Hogwarts come to wish there had been another way, to wish their spell had not killed, they can regain their humanity. But to the extent they do not regret, have no remorse, then their souls will suffer, as we know traumatized soldiers do. In offering Voldemort this option, JKR is again being consistant by having Harry give Voldemort a choice, just as she does in having Harry use Expeliramus.

Ultimately, people are not perfect. An so it is fortunate that one need not be perfect to be heroic. If Harry were perfect, the message would be that people need such a perfect hero to save them. Instead the message is that anyone can be heroic, if they are willing too make the right choices. Neville in the first book, and consistantly Neville in the last.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 4:05 am
fang25 fang25 is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

I noticed this too...particularly the Unforgivables.

Imperius I could deal with because it CAN have good intentions. Harry used it to make sure he was able to get the horcrux, not to make people commit horrible crimes against others or even themselves.

I didn't think Harry would have to use Avada Kedavra but when McGonagle said "we duel to kill" i was pretty shocked. I know that its the art of war to kill and attack so perhaps that can be justified as well. After all, It's self defense against the DEs. Harry and the gang are just young and naive to some extent despite what they have seen...........


The biggest problem for me was the Cruciatus Curse. Harry could have stunned Carrows but he instead causes horrible pain? That does not sound like the same boy that couldn't even cause pain on the woman who killed his godfather. that was the biggest thing that bothered me.


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Old August 3rd, 2007, 4:17 am
Peloric  Male.gif Peloric is offline
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Re: Moral Ambiguities

Just in terms of Stan Shunpike...I thought there are two options:

1. He was Imperiused/Confunded/etc. and didn't know what he was doing. He was freed along with the Mass Breakout that was hushed up, Imperiused, and set to work for the Death Eaters. Harry acted justly, if rashly in terms of the situation.
2. He became a Death Eater. No, I am not kidding. "What?" you say, "didn't he have the blank face of the Imperius charm? Wasn't he the poster child of Harry and DD's rejection of the Ministry's methods? How can Harry have acted wrong in doing Expelliarmus?"
Face it, Stan Shunpike was not the rosiest apple on the tree. He was stupid. His blank face could have been just that - a characteristic of his personality. Yes, he was imprisoned wrongly, for not being a Death Eater...originally. But that is just the point. How do you think he felt being imprisoned, framed by the very government he had trusted? Do you think he felt warm and friendly? Or, do you think that since he was freed due to Voldemort's interference he...switched sides? He very possibly saw protection from the Death Eaters and only more misery from the Ministry. Stan Shunpike turned - and that is one of the poignant tragedies of the novel.

Number one may still be right, but I prefer the second option.


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