Literary musings: Nature vs Nurture in HP

August 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

So, last night/early this morning, I got my mind stuck pondering whether or not Voldemort could have been saved/circumvented through Attachment-style Parenting.

By the time we meet 11 year old Tom Riddle in book six, it is obvious that he is already a sociopath/psychopath. He is already wielding power over the weaker children, is an abusive bully, and has started down the road of cruelty, sneakiness, and even killing (small animals, but it always starts there, doesn’t it?) We see the makings of the mass murderer he will become.

Admittedly, my understanding of child and criminal psychology is scant, but I think where we find him (and Rowling’s intent was to show) it is already too late for young Tom. His personality is set by now, and even if Albus Dumbledore were to adopt him right then and there and raise him with the best of methods and intentions and love, he will still grow to be a monster.

The signs and symptoms little Tom displays are of (among other things) a severe attachment disorder. He cannot empathize with others, and has no desire to make connections with the people around him. In short, he has never learned to love (which Rowling pounds home over and over again through seven books) and the question is this: is his inability to make attachments with other human beings inherent in his nature (his natural lineage is not the most caring of folks) or is it due to being raised in an institution that had neither the time nor resources to give him what he needed as an infant? Or is it a combo of both?

I look at it this way; if Voldemort had been snatched up at birth from his pathetic dying mother, and placed into the hands of a loving and nurturing couple, a lot may have gone differently. With his difficult birth, and the fact that his mother obviously did not take care of herself throughout her pregnancy, and assuming his temperament was set from birth, I am betting that little Tom Riddle would have been what has been termed “high needs.”

In other words, he would have required a higher level of care and attention in order to help him learn to make connections and attach to his guardians. It would have been a struggle, I am sure, but not impossible. If he had experienced parents who loved him enough to meet all of his needs, and to take the time to draw him out, and to teach him to love and be loved, he may have grown into an entirely different human being.

By contrast (because of course, Rowling pounded home this contrast through all seven books) Harry had fifteen months of being loved, doted on, and having all his needs met in a timely and caring fashion before being thrust into an abusive and neglectful situation. In short, even though the rest of his childhood sucked, he had already developed the capacity to empathize and connect to others.

Audience Participation: What do you think? Would parenting have made a difference? And what other literary figures do you think could have benefited from a different set of parents?

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