Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Memory and the Past

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Memory and the Past

In the words of the great American novelist William Faulkner, "The past is not dead. It isn't even past." In other words, the past lives on in the present. It shapes every minute of our lives. And this continuation is utterly apparent in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Professor Snape and Sirius are so unable to let go of their school rivalries that they can scarcely stand to look at each other, let alone work together. Sirius hates to be reminded of his childhood so much that he takes out his frustration on the house elf Kreacher, with disastrous results. On the more positive side, Harry's parents died many years before, but the protection of Harry's mother's blood endures to this day. The sacrifice of her life was so powerfully driven by love that it is still affecting Harry fourteen years later. Lily Potter may have died, but in some sense she is still part of Harry's present existence. If the past has a constant effect on the everyday lived experiences of the characters, how can we even call it "past"?

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. What purpose does the Pensieve serve in the narrative of Book 5? What does J.K. Rowling use the Pensieve to achieve in the plot of the novel? How does the Pensieve blur this line between past and present? And how does the Pensieve allow the characters to reflect on their pasts?
  2. How do the less central characters, like Neville and Luna Lovegood, cope with their own experiences of loss? How have their pasts influenced their current character development? Do you perceive these characters differently now that you have more back-story for them?
  3. How do the moving photographs and portraits of the wizarding world conjure up the past? What effect does Moody's introduction of the Order of the Phoenix picture have on Harry? Why does Rowling include this detail? What effect does it have on you as a reader?
  4. How does Nearly Headless Nick describe a ghost? How are ghosts different from portraits? How is it useful to the plot of the Harry Potter series that these different figures present the past in the present?

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