Date of Thesis

Spring 5-2012

Thesis Type

Masters Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Virginia Zimmerman

Abstract

This thesis investigates the boundaries between body and object in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, seven children’s literature novels published between 1997 and 2007. Lord Voldemort, Rowling’s villain, creates Horcruxes—objects that contain fragments of his soul—in order to ensure his immortality. As vessels for human soul, these objects rupture the boundaries between body and object and become “things.” Using contemporary thing theorists including John Plotz and materialists Jean Baudrillard and Walter Benjamin, I look at Voldemort’s Horcruxes as transgressive, liminal, unclassifiable entities in the first chapter.

If objects can occupy the juncture between body and object, then bodies can as well. Dementors and Inferi, dark creatures that Rowling introduces throughout the series, live devoid of soul. Voldemort, too, becomes a thing as he splits his soul and creates Horcruxes. These soulless bodies are uncanny entities, provoking fear, revulsion, nausea, and the loss of language. In the second chapter, I use Sigmund Freud’s theorization of the uncanny as well as literary critic Kelly Hurley to investigate how Dementors, Inferi, and Voldemort exist as body-turned-object things at the juncture between life and death. As Voldemort increasingly invests his immaterial soul into material objects, he physically and spiritually degenerates, transforming from the young, handsome Tom Marvolo Riddle into the snake-like villain that murdered Harry’s parents and countless others.

During his quest to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes, Harry encounters a different type of object, the Deathly Hallows. Although similarly accessing boundaries between body/object, life/death, and materiality/immateriality, the three Deathly Hallows do not transgress these boundaries. Through the Deathly Hallows, Rowling provides an alternative to thingification: objects that enable boundaries to fluctuate, but not breakdown. In the third chapter, I return to thing theorists, Baudrillard, and Benjamin to study how the Deathly Hallows resist thingification by not transgressing the boundaries between body and object.

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