The Sorting Hat
How does one define his or her identity? Does one just don a hat? Its almost a facetious question isnt it? Yet at age 11, this is what Harry does. He puts on a hat and it thinks for him. It tells him who he will be.
This chapter seems to be of utmost importance to the overarching theme of Harry Potter. The existential question shouts, Who am I? How do I come to define myself.
Hats as symbolism are often manifestations of authority, nobility, and reverence. Hats are what protect heads and keep thoughts in. That it is a hat which decides the fate of children seems all too fitting.
It is not hard to think back to Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot. Hats become important to the characters. All four of the main players have them. There is a scene in which Estragon and Vladimir exchange their hats for Lucky’s hat. In a mad swapping fit, the two rotate out the three hats, finally retuening to the comfort of their own.
And so the sorting hat. A raggedy old talking hat which tries to tell you who you are and who you will become. It is almost like society, that nagging voice that says, “do something to make money, be a dignified human being, never show weakness,” turns around and instead shouts Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff.
Harry’s hat stall, that is, the hat’s inability to decide where to put him, is interesting. Aren’t all people like Harry, torn between the practical and fantasy, between being self fulfilled and controlled by the whispers of society? It is a great source of hope that Harry is able to choose. Perhaps it is that self determination which gives him that Gryffindor courage.
J.K Rowling mentions that Hermione Granger was almost a true hat stall (read more about it on pottermore) but the book never gives that impression. Hermione Granger’s fate seems sealed almost as soon as she the hat on her head. But it seems to ask the most basic question.
How can one be placed into a group based on basic character traits? How does the complexity of a himan being fit into categories and what happens when they are forced into them?
At this point in the series, it is hard to fully understand where it goes, but as a reader it is one to watch. How do people evolve? Can they even be defined? Is Peter Pettigrew defined by his Gryffindor status and is Draco Malfoy determined by his Slytherin allegiance. Harry seems to believe that the latter is at least.