Erikson’s Stages of Development Applied to Harry Potter



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Erikson’s Stages of Development Applied to Harry Potter

HSP 315; Human Development




Christina Meskil

11/17/2013






Introduction

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry battles to develop his identity in the midst of ever changing and traumatic circumstances; many of Harry’s friends, family, and Harry himself are put in danger and some murdered by the character Voldemort. Harry struggles not only to cope with this trauma, but also with the fact that he finds many commonalities between himself and his oppressor Voldemort. Erik Erikson’s stages of development theory provide a good framework for understanding and predicting identity development. In particular his identity vs. role diffusion stage explains the identity formation of young adults ages 12-18. This paper will apply Erikson’s theory to Harry’s adolescent years with a particular emphasis on how trauma and maladaptation in childhood affect identity development in an adolescent.



Erikson’s Theory

A good place to begin with Erikson’s theory is the concept of the id, the ego, and the super ego. Erikson draws on Freud’s work in this regard, and illustrates the concept with the image of a see-saw. On one side of the see-saw is the id, which manifests when our mind steps out of the confines of what is achievable; this includes fantasies of what could have been, how things could be, were oneself in omnipotent control. The other extreme of the see-saw is the super ego, which is seen when the mind is consumed by excessive thoughts of “ought to”- what one should do, what one should have done, what should be done to undo what has been done. The equilibrium of this see-saw is the ego, the frame of mind which does not look beyond what can and would do and instead mediates between the id and the super ego. Within the ego there is no wishing one could be different than they are, nor feeling that one ‘ought’ to do anything. Erikson identifies the ego as the frame of mind in which one is least self-conscious and most one’s self (Erikson, 1950).

As the ego develops within an individual as they mature to adulthood, Anna Freud says, it begins to develop safeguards such as deferred satisfaction and adequate substitutions which allow the ego to create a balance between the id and the super ego. When the ego is successful in creating and maintaining these safe guards anxiety can be minimized while still securing some gratification. Erikson draws on Freud heavily to explain how the success of the ego means there is harmony between the id, super ego, as well as with the outside world (Freud, 1937). Failure to successfully establish these safeguards, as we will see, can create problems for the individual, as well as aggravate attempts to establish other safeguards (Erikson, 1950).

Erikson theorized that an individual going through life encounters a series of crises concerning their ego identity. In each crisis (or stage) there is a fundamental trait the individual is expected to develop (or, one could say, a safeguard they need to develop). If the individual fails to resolve the crisis and set up the safeguard for a given stage, negative traits can develop which can inhibit development in following stages. The crises (stages) are as follows: trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and self-doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role diffusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and finally ego integrity vs. despair (Erikson 1950). These crises, rather than denoting the negativity that goes with our modern perception of crisis, simply represent turning points in the lives of individuals. If one crisis is not resolved, it does not mean that the individual cannot move on, only that the following stages are compounded and aggravated (Erikson, 1968). The individual can still go back and resolve other stages at any time, and often will need to in order to be successful in following stages (Atalay, 2007).

The question Erikson asked and tried to answer was: how does a person compose a life centered on the self? And how does one define themselves as an individual in a social context (Sorell & Montgomery, 2001)? To answer this question this question, Erikson developed a theory that is systematic (Ford & Lerner, 1992), and which takes in to account family, friends, intimate partners, and other social ties. These people influence the individual by imparting to them certain societal and cultural messages (Sorell & Montgomery, 2001).




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