Feb 19, 2021 | LIFE | By Mariel Zech | Illustration by Jubilee Rivera-Hernandez
As the pandemic days continue to blur together, I decided to spice things up this past winter break by re-reading all seven “Harry Potter” books and re-watching the movies, and let me tell you, it was a magical experience.
I first read the series when I was 11, so it had been a while, and at the time I was probably more focused on chocolate frogs and flying broomsticks than on the complexities of character backgrounds. This time around, however, I was interested in the parallels between Draco Malfoy and Dudley Dursley, and I want to dive into those two characters.
As Draco Malfoy grew up, his parents indoctrinated him with their Death Eater beliefs about the superiority of pureblood wizards, and they equated the rise of Voldemort with happiness and prestige for their family. Time and time again, Draco witnessed his father Lucius base his treatment of others on their blood status.
In Draco’s mind, the affection he shares with his parents is inextricably tied to these misguided beliefs, and he feels that he must honor these beliefs in order to earn his father’s respect. Draco is sent off to school with a lot of prejudiced views and is quite cruel and unlikeable throughout the series.
As Dudley Dursley grew up, he was incredibly spoiled, which naturally made him entitled and materialistic. He also watched his parents treat his cousin Harry terribly, while praising him for his supposed superiority and attending to his every need.
The Dursleys — whose lawn never had a blade of grass out of place — were obsessed with their conception of normalcy. They taught Dudley that anyone who didn’t fit into that mold (such as a wizard like Harry) deserved to be treated with contempt. This dynamic paved the way for Dudley to bully Harry and other kids in the neighborhood.
The two parenting styles led both Draco and Dudley to have an inflated sense of their own importance, and to take after their parents’ example by treating others cruelly. This demeanor only attracts likeminded people, and the boys’ friendships are certainly not enviable.
Both are described as the leaders of groups who taunt people in their free time, and Draco and Dudley’s respective friends are described as simply following along with whatever the boys say or do. That’s pretty sad, especially when compared to the rich friendships Harry was able to form with Ron and Hermione.
The Weasleys stand in sharp contrast to these parenting styles. Molly and Arthur Weasley hold their kids accountable for their actions, have them help around the house, and are loving toward their children as well as accepting of others.
In the later books, we see moments in which both Draco and Dudley question their parents’ beliefs. For example, Draco cannot bring himself to kill Dumbledore or to aid in Harry’s capture at Malfoy Manor. Additionally, Dudley ultimately offers Harry his hand in the last book and wishes him well; this is in sharp contrast to his mother avoiding eye contact with Harry altogether as they say goodbye for the last time. (Though Dudley was clearly uncomfortable during this exchange and was struggling to form words, the fact that he put his discomfort aside in order to do the right thing gives me hope for his future.) Parenting style doesn’t make or break who a kid will end up being, but it certainly can be influential.
In any good story, you can fill in the gaps with your imagination, and I like to think that as Draco and Dudley entered adulthood, they took to treating people with more kindness than their parents ever did.
It would have taken time to unlearn the biases and beliefs that they learned from their parents, but I think that the glimmers of goodness we see in both of them in their later teen years indicate that Draco and Dudley will eventually take full responsibility for the way that they treat others. In the words of Harry’s godfather Sirius Black, “We’ve all got light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on … that’s who we really are.”