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In both Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling, we find many characters making choices about how they will handle the circumstances facing them. Rowling actively portrays the role of fate versus free will in the decisions a person makes as a theme throughout the Harry Potter novels. Harry is marked by Voldemort from a very young age, and during his youth he is told repeatedly that he is special or different as the “boy who lived.” He is orphaned and introduced into the wizarding world much later than most, trying to gain footing and learn about his past. A prophecy tells him what he is destined to do, and he chooses to embrace the cause. In great contrast, Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go is completely compliant, refusing to work to change her fate. Both authors’ messages speak clearly: regardless of what daunting task lies in front, how you approach the situation speaks for the choices you make.
The debate between free will and fate is a very common theme in literature because it is so potent in our everyday lives. There is no scientific proof that a higher power does or does not exist: we question religion our whole lives, unsure of what to practice and if what we are practicing is valid. We wonder if the decisions we make were actually our choice, or if our life has already been decided by fate. Because this is such a “human” thing to consider, we see it pop up in literature over and over, from Harry Potter to Hamlet.
Harry feels that he has no control over the relationships in his life. He is so concerned about Voldemort hurting Ginny that, as much as he loves her, he refuses to be with her. She was targeted before just for being a sister of a friend, and Harry knows that Voldemort would run wild if he knew that Harry had a girlfriend. Instead, Harry sacrifices his feelings and love for her, putting their relationship on hold while he fulfills his responsibilities. This is especially bitter after the death of Harry’s godfather, who was used to bait Harry and then murdered by Deatheater Bellatrix Lestrange. Harry felt that he had no choice but try to save Sirius, just as he feels he has no control over leaving Ginny. Harry cannot control that he loves Ginny, but chooses to push her away in order to protect her from danger.
Draco also struggles with free will after being chosen by Voldemort to kill Dumbledore. “‘I haven’t got any options!’ said Malfoy, and he was suddenly white as Dumbledore. ‘I’ve got to do it! He’ll kill me! He’ll kill my whole family!’” (591). The fear of the evil, dark wizard makes him hysterical and he fails to see options before him. Dumbledore replies, “‘I appreciate the difficulty of your position … Why else do you think I have not confronted you before now? Because I knew that you would have been murdered if Lord Voldemort realized that I suspected you… come over to the right side, Draco… It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now,”” (591-592). Dumbledore tries to reason with Draco, telling him he does have options and that he will protect Draco. He explains that his mercy is most important; Draco is only spawn for Voldemort, but for Dumbledore, who has cared about Draco and watched him grow up, this act is unforgivable and damning. Dumbledore tells Draco, fearful or not, he is making a conscious decision in the eyes of the headmaster.
Harry plays a vital role in the prophecy. When his parents were murdered, he was left with part of Voldemort – his soul. Harry becoming a Horcrux meant that for Voldemort to die, he would have to find all the Horcruxes and destroy them – including himself. Harry never argued this fact, prepping for this moment throughout all seven novels.
“Got to?” said Dumbledore, “Of course you’ve got to! But not because of the prophecy! Because you, yourself, will never rest until you’ve tried! We both know! Imagine, please, just for a moment, that you had never heard that prophecy! How would you feel about Voldemort now? Think!” …
“I’d want him finished,” said Harry quietly, “And I’d want to do it.”
“Of course you would!” cried Dumbledore. “You see, the prophecy does not mean you have to do anything! But the prophecy caused Lord Voldemort to mark you as his equal … In other words, you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy! But Voldemort continue to set store by the prophecy.” (512).
Harry may have been destined to kill Voldemort, but the emotional damage Voldemort has inflicted on Harry is irreplaceable. This fury drives Harry with more passion and strength than a glass ball saying he was destined to destroy Voldemort ever could. Harry has lost countless loved ones and spent his youth worrying about Voldemort—the prophecy has no impact on the pain he has been caused. Harry has the mental determination and reasoning to kill Voldemort, and that is free will.
Harry’s attitude shifts from disbelief to acceptance as he realizes nobody is better destined to kill Voldemort than him. “It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry …” Although he is handed a terrifying and terrible task, he lives his life for his friends and hopes to do right in their book. He wants to avenge the death of his loved ones and prevent any more pain. This is the spirit of a martyr, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for something he believes in.
Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go is the opposite of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. She is used to harvest organs – a clone of a more important human. Although she knows she is destined to die so another can live, she puts up no fight or has no thoughts about how this is wrong. “‘I was like you, Tommy. I was pretty much ready when I became a donor. It felt right. After all, it’s what we’re supposed to be doing, isn’t it?’” (6). She feels that since that was her purpose, it was what was meant to be. “‘One big idea behind finding your model was that when you did, you’d glimpse your future. Now I don’t mean anyone really thought that if your model turned out to be, say, a guy working at a railway station, that’s what you’d end up doing too. We all realised it wasn’t that simple.’” Kathy is made to live her life through a window. She has no future besides donor or carer, so she thinks about her clone’s life instead. We do see a sense of free will in Kathy H. as her narrative comes to a close; although her humanity is questioned, being made for no purpose but to provide organs for other humans, she aspires to live a fulfilling life.
Miss Lucy wants to tell the students about how they are treated with a lack of humanity:
“She said we weren’t being taught enough, something like that.”
“Taught enough? You mean she thinks we should be studying even harder than we are?”
“No, I don’t think she meant that. What she was talking about was, you know, about us. What’s going to happen to us one day. Donations and all that.”
“But we have been taught about all that,” I said. “I wonder what she meant. Does she think there are things we haven’t been told yet?”
The way the students so nonchalantly talk about their purpose is disturbing; they speak of “all that” as if at some point they will need to eat breakfast and not have their internal organs harvested.
The following quote best summarizes how Rowling exemplifies that free will triumphs fate:
His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but in spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Voldemort he knew must come, whether in a month, in a year, or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace to enjoy with Ron and Hermione. (652)
Harry knows what is to come, but still chooses to ensure that any time spent with his best friends and in which they are happy, safe, and healthy is not to be wasted. This is Harry choosing to make the best of his life. In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, many characters are forced to make difficult choices when facing their circumstances. Rowling challenges the idea of a set destiny by using the decisions characters make about their fate to show that free will always prevails.
In both Never Let Me Go and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, many characters must make choices about how they will handle the circumstance in front of them. While Kathy H. is compliant, Harry refuses to be anything but complacent; he knows he is the best man for the job. Both Rowling and Ishiguro explore the line between free will and fate to show that regardless of what daunting task may lie ahead, an individual can be defined by how he or she chooses to approach the situation.
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