Poor Little Rich Boy: Draco Malfoy

August 4, 2010

I came across this really delightful blog about all things Potter and paging through some recent entries, I stumbled on this post about Draco Malfoy and was so drawn into thinking about his character that I started to add a comment, something I rarely do.  But my comment went on and on and I ultimately decided it would be better adapted to a post of my own.  The result is below.

I’m inclined to be open minded about Draco Malfoy.  [I should note here that I also spent the two years between Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows repeating over and over to myself and everyone else that Snape MUST have had a hidden motive for killing Dumbledore.  Its not that I like bad guys; its just that I believe that J.K. Rowling writes more nuanced characters than that!] He is certainly a snob, a bully and an outspoken muggle-hater but I also think that a lot of this anti-social behavior is at least partly a cover for his own insecurity.

Raised by Wolves … or at least Death Eaters

Look at his background: he was raised by two people who have thoroughly entrenched themselves in a world of privilege and bigotry and its unclear where he would ever have gotten any other perspectives.  Sure, we can all see his parent’s behavior as despicable but he is their beloved child.  The combination of his mother’s doting and his father’s disdainful borderline abusive rain of disapproval  leaves him always seeking their approval.  He’s been brought up to believe that his position and native abilities should guarantee him success and prestige but actually finds that other students with less exalted backgrounds are surpassing him all the time.  This has got to both frustrate him and cause him to wonder if it might be personal inadequacy that is derailing his success.

The comparison with Dudley Dursley is an important one, set up early by Rowling in the scene where Harry and Draco meet in the robe shop.  Harry is “strongly reminded of Dudley” when Draco starts talking to him about the fancy brooms he wants to get from his parents.  I think this comparison gives the key to her thoughts on him.  Dudley is set on the path of bullying and small mindedness by his parents and continues that way through his early school years, insulating himself from the results with a gang of similarly mean friends.  But Rowling hints toward the end that Dudley is, in fact, capable of developing his own perspective.  In the 7th book he tries to reconcile with Harry (albeit in a rather understated and unhelpful way) as demonstrated by his cups of cold tea and his confusion when Harry is separated from the rest of the family.

Similarly, I think Draco spent his early years not questioning that muggle-borns were lesser beings and that his ancestry merited his privilege – why shouldn’t he – he’d likely never met a muggle and had been surrounded only by former death eaters and their toadies. I don’t think the simple act of enrolling at Hogwarts would have turned him around on the issue either.   Rather Harry’s experience of stepping into a world of new found magic and escaping a soul crushing home life, Draco would be away from his doting mother and convenient servant(s), not to mention being thrown into a heap of other students and expected to succeed on his own merits for the first time.  Is it any wonder that he clings to the friends he knows (Crabbe and Goyle may be stupid but they are clearly childhood friends and probably influence and insulate him as much as he bosses and directs them) and their perspectives.

When You’re a Jet

He’s not given much chance to change his mind.  The atmosphere at Hogwarts is almost immediately charged by outside events – the return of the Heir of Slytherin, increasing tensions within the ministry and the soon the actual return of Voldemort.  Its not a time to be changing allegiances or even waffling.  And if Draco did ever feel inclined to switch sides, or even to step towards a middle ground, who among the Gryffindors, the DA or the Order would have given any credence to it.  This goes back to my musings yesterday about the dangers of House sorting.  He’s pretty much stuck on the team he started with.  Sirius Black shows the price to be paid in that environment for not sticking with family allegiance – being totally cut off from his family and previous relationships – and Draco didn’t have any friends to turn to on the other side.  He actually seems none too sure of his Slytherin friends as the plot progresses; he doesn’t confide in Crabbe and Goyle when it comes to his Voldemort assigned task of assassinating the headmaster.  Instead, he spends a lot of time working alone in the Room of Requirement, but I am inclined to agree with Dumbledore’s assessment that if Draco had really been trying he could have come up with much more successful schemes than a cursed necklace and a poisoned bottle of mead during the course of a year.

His Own Worst Enemy

Many of his unlikable acts are provoked by jealousy or internal doubts and fears.  He calls Hermione a mudblood after she sneers that he bought his way onto the Quiddich team.   Sure its a horrible insult, but it seems to me more like a come back something along the lines of “Oh yeah? Well … your face!”  [By the way, without descending into the realm of relationship fanfic, I think its well within the realm of possibility that Draco’s constant and very specific animosity for Hermione covers some degree of romantic interest in her.] A lot of the rest of his nastiness is just sour grapes: he regularly taunts and tattles on Harry (to teachers as well as the Daily Prophet) and he throws a lot of jinxes … but on the other hand Harry returns them pretty regularly.  At the end of Order of the Phoenix, members of the DA hex Draco, Crabbe and Goyle into puddles of mush and then step on them as they leave the Hogwarts Express.  The animosity clearly swings both ways.

All Talk and No Action

Yet as much as Harry and Draco hate each other, neither wishes the other one dead.  I would claim that Draco’s refusal to identify Harry to fellow Death Eaters at Malfoy Manor is an understated but clear act of bravery.  Harry is warned against the easy identifiably of his signature spell (Expelliarmus) and I would point out that while Draco does, in a moment of extreme vulnerability, aim an Unforgivable curse at Harry, he never utters the words Avada Kedavra, despite the fact that fellow Slytherins (and those not-yet-Death Eaters, at that) do.

Would the Bad Guy Hide in the Girl’s Bathroom and Cry?

For me, the image of him crying alone in Myrtle’s bathroom is so filled with pathos.  The poor kid.  He’s still only 15 or 16 at that point.  The wizarding world he loves is collapsing into discord and danger around him.  He’s been inducted into a very dangerous gang and given a suicide mission he’s got no reason to believe he can carry out successfully.  But what are his options.  Harry experiences many similar (and greater dangers) but always with the support of loving friends and adopted family and secure in the knowledge that he’s trying to do the right thing.  I think as the years go by Draco feels more and more alone, dissed by his friends, un-protected by his parents and probably riddled by doubts as to his own moral code.  I think that the defeat of Voldemort serves Draco as much as it does anyone else in the wizarding world.  His life in a Dark world would have been miserable and, in all likelihood, short.

Ultimately Redeemable

So Draco is a snob and a bully, agreed.  The same was true of teenaged James Potter, with no excuse of a horrible Death Eater family to justify it, but he managed to redeem himself.  I’m reluctant to believe that Draco has no redeeming qualities and in the end I really feel for him.  I’m going to keep believing that he’s not as bad as he might seem.

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5 Responses to “Poor Little Rich Boy: Draco Malfoy”

  1. denisedthornton Says:

    Wow! You have completely turned me around on this one.

    • Kali Says:

      Okay, I have to say that I have loved Draco since he met Harry in the robe shop in the first book. And maybe it is his bad boy appeal and the fact that he is totally hot that makes me say that but I’m glad someone finally agrees with me. Everyone is always telling me “oh he’s evil I can’t believe you like him blah blah blah.”But as you point out he saves Harry’s life as does Cissy Malfoy and he’s always felt second best to Harry and that’s why he tries so hard to be mean to him. Who wouldn’t feel second best to Harry he gets everything but loses what really matters.But I disagree on him liking Hermione (he would never be caught dead with a mudblood).On an end note I have to say I LOVE YOU DRACO!

      • dihansmann Says:

        Welcome to Lost! Thanks so much for commenting!
        I couldn’t say I loved Draco from the first moment but I do find him very interesting. Based on the descriptions of his behavior in the books he’s a very unlikable person BUT its important to remember that the narrative tells us only what Harry sees, knows and thinks. His perspective on Draco is clearly a little biased. Since we can’t know what Draco is thinking its particularly fun to speculate about what is motivating his actions. Glad to know there’s someone else willing to look for the good in him!

    • dihansmann Says:

      I’m surprised – I hadn’t put you down in the Anti-Draco column to begin with. But its always fun to consider a character from a new angle, isn’t it.

  2. jess Says:

    I am glad someone else thinks like this. Draco is one of my favourite characters, Flaws and all and i agree with all your points… (except for the one about Hermione. He hates mudbloods and thats never going to change. At least not completely.) But everything else about him i completely agree with…

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