Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Themes

J. K. Rowling


(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

Search for Knowledge

The largest mystery in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix surrounds Harry's search for knowledge of himself and his place in the wizardry world. The novel opens with Harry's constant attention to newspapers and news programs as he looks for any evidence of Voldemort's return. When he finds nothing in his searches, he looks to letters from Ron and Hermione for information. At Dumbledore's request, those letters similarly contain little helpful news. Once at the Order of the Phoenix, Harry's quest for answers becomes partially satisfied as he learns that Voldemort still lies in wait, spending his energies gathering supporters and looking for a new kind of "weapon." But the larger questions about Voldemort's long-term strategies and the Order's plans to defend the wizardry community evade Harry. Members of the Order, led by Dumbledore, contend that Harry should only be told what "he needs to know" and little else.

Harry's initial curiosity about Voldemort seems to be unfounded adolescent energy. Many adult readers might agree at the beginning of the novel that, although he did play a key role in the community-altering events of the previous year, Harry indeed should be protected from further involvement because of his youth. In fact, Dumbledore clearly expresses this view in the final scenes of the novel: "I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth…." But Harry's instincts serve him well; his search for knowledge of Voldemort proved not to be mere teenage arrogance but rather a longing for self-knowledge. Dumbledore explains a great deal to Harry about himself in the end, and gives him many keys to unlock his past and his future. Although some of this knowledge, especially Harry's destiny to kill or be killed by Voldemort, weighs heavily on the fifteen-year-old. Dumbledore tells him, "I know you have long been ready for the knowledge I have kept from you for so long, because you have proved that I should have placed the burden upon you before this."

Good and Evil

The forces of good and evil battle fiercely in each "Harry Potter" book, as Harry and Voldemort square off by the end of each adventure. But as Harry matures, so does his understanding of good and evil forces in the world. As Sirius Black explains "with a wry smile," there are many ambiguities in the adult world, and that world "isn't split into good people and Death Eaters."

Delores Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic provide the most compelling examples of the complex moral world in which Harry now finds himself. The Ministry's mission, led by Minister Cornelius Fudge, should be to use the governmental structures to protect and benefit the lives of witches and wizards. Although the actions of Fudge and Umbridge illustrate character flaws that range from incompetence to cruelty, neither character should be read as wholly evil. Both characters believe they seek the good of the community. Fudge's attempt to discredit Dumbledore's story of Voldemort's return stems from his insecurity and fear of losing power. Yet this discrediting falls far short of Death Eater—type evil. Even Umbridge's mean-spirited manipulation of Hogwarts students illustrates her own struggles with control rather than indicating...

(The entire section is 1347 words.)