Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Themes

By J.K. Rowling

  • Sacrifice

    We all know what it's like to give up something – but hopefully none of us really know the kind of pain that Harry goes through in this book when he's got to give up his life to save the world. This is the trade-off that we all knew was coming all along… but now that it's here, it's a real bummer, to say the least! Sacrifice is the ultimate lynch pin here, upon which this whole saga swings: Lily's sacrifice of herself for Harry, followed by Harry's sacrifice for, um, everyone else. It's all tied up in the question of love – which, as we see in this book, really does hurt sometimes.

    Questions About Sacrifice

    1. What are the various kinds of sacrifices we see throughout this book?
    2. How much do you think Dumbledore's notion of "for the greater good" has to do with sacrifice? Is the exchange that's necessary – Harry for the rest of the world – fair?
    3. What comment do you think Rowling is ultimately making about the significance of the act of sacrifice?

  • Choices

    For the first time ever, Harry is totally at loose ends in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – he's lost the guiding lights he had in earlier books (Dumbledore, Sirius). And with no one around to tell him what to do, he's got to make his own decisions. However, he isn't just any normal seventeen-year-old boy deciding ordinary things like which college to go to or which car to save up for. No, instead, Harry's decisions basically determine the fate of the world. And trust us, we're glad we're not in his shoes… the pressure to do the right thing is incredible! Harry's an adult for the first time here, and he's learned that he's fully responsible for all the choices he makes – and that these decisions will effect everyone else… in the world.

    Of course, though, all of the characters – not just Harry – are absolutely defined by their choices throughout the series. And all of them are given a chance at redemption through these decisions – yes, even those who we may write off as evil. (Just think of Snape, Regulus Black, and even Draco Malfoy.) Even Voldemort, at the end, is given a chance at redemption, but which he refuses. The theme of Choice was conscious on Rowling's part. Here's what she has to say on the matter:

    And it's about choice. And you are shown that Voldemort. I mean, it – I suppose we're going to call him a psychopath. But he's so, in many ways, he is what he is and he's beyond redemption. Although this being Harry Potter and because I can take liberties because I have magic in my world, it is shown at the very end of the book that he did have a chance for redemption because he had taken into his body this drop of hope or love [Harry's blood] […] So that meant that if he could have mastered the courage to repent, he would have been okay. But, of course, he wouldn't. And that's his choice. But the people around him, that's what's more interesting in a way. The people who were drawn to him for protection, for power, sadism. But people who do have a choice, did make a choice, like the Malfoys of this world. And I think that's always worth examining why people choose to make those decisions. (source)

    Questions About Choices

    1. Choices here often lead to conflict, especially when it comes to Harry's leadership – how is this ultimately resolved?
    2. What are some of the major choices Harry faces? Does this whole book really boil down to an internal struggle between Harry and… Harry?
    3. What are some of the ways in which personal choices affect others here? What comment might this be making about the role of the individual in a community?

  • Good versus Evil

    It's the oldest story ever told – the forces of good against evil! Light vs. darkness! The heroes vs. villains! Goodies vs. baddies! Friends against foes! Yes, it's a story we've heard a billion trillion times, yet somehow it never gets old – though Harry's saga rehashes some ancient themes, it's still fresh and new anyway. The reason? Well, we don't want to get all philosophical on you guys, but it's basically kind of human nature, right? We all feel the conflict between wrong and right, good and bad, every day. In Deathly Hallows, it's the Order of the Phoenix against the Death Eaters, with Death Eaters promoting intolerance and cruelty toward Muggles and wizards with Muggle blood. According to Rowling, "The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry" (source). But good and evil in Deathly Hallows isn't always clear-cut (as demonstrated by characters like Snape and Dumbledore). Rowling shows us that those sides, which sometimes seem so black and white, are actually in an eternal game of tug-of-war, with many shades of grey between them.

    Questions About Good versus Evil

    1. The fight between Harry and Voldemort is clear – only one of them, as the prophecy tells us, can survive. However, how clear or unclear are the boundaries of good and evil for the rest of the wizarding world?
    2. What do you make of Dumbledore and Grindelwald's conflict? Is that another clear-cut case of good vs. evil, or is it more complicated than that?
    3. Think back to Book 1, in which the Sorting Hat gives Harry a choice between Gryffindor and Slytherin – what comment does that make about the potential each character has for good or evil?

  • Mortality

    Well, seeing that the word "deathly" features prominently in our title, you can kind of figure out that death and mortality would play a pretty big role in this book. Basically, Harry is forced to finally confront the specter that's been haunting him all these years – death – face-to-face. While death has always shadowed his life since the murder of his parents, now it's right up close and (all too) personal. From the deaths of many beloved friends to the requirement that Harry himself shuffle off this mortal coil, he (and we, his readers) are constantly forced to try and understand what death is, what is means, and how to deal with it.

    Death has always played an important role in the Harry Potter books, a fact that Rowling attributes, in part, to her mother's death while she was working on her first book:

    Definitely Mom dying had a profound influence on the books because […] in the first draft, [Harry's] parents were disposed really in quite […] in the most cavalier fashion. I didn't really dwell on it. Six months in my mother died and I simply [couldn't kill off the fictional] mother. That callously. Not – it wasn't callous, but it's – it wasn't what it became [...] And I really think from that moment on, death became a central, if not the central, theme of the seven books. […] The theme of how we react to death, how much we fear it. Of course, I think which is a key part of the book because Voldemort is someone who will do anything not to die. He's terrified of death. And in many ways, all of my characters are defined by their attitude to death and the possibility of death. (source)

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Were you surprised by Harry's ultimate "destiny" – to die? Why or why not?
    2. How has the meaning of mortality changed or developed over the course of the seven Harry Potter books?
    3. What's up with the ending? Do you think that the whole "Harry died, but… he didn't!" thing makes sense?

  • Love

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know… every single Harry Potter book is, in some way, actually about love. But hold on – this one really is (we swear). Deathly Hallows brings this whole question of love into the clearest focus yet: love here isn't just about needing someone or missing someone or feeling butterflies in your stomach when you see someone (though it's fun that all that stuff happens). Instead, it's kind of a broader, more abstract concept; it's about being willing to give your whole self up to save the people you love. That's just what Harry's asked to do here, and, because of his great capacity to love, he's able to do it.

    Questions About Love

    1. Do you think love is portrayed differently in this book than that earlier Potter books? Why or why not?
    2. What different kinds of love do you see in this book?
    3. Are the Beatles right (as they usually are) – is it true that "All you need is love"?

  • Identity

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know… every single Harry Potter book is, in some way, actually about love. But hold on – this one really is (we swear). Deathly Hallows brings this whole question of love into the clearest focus yet: love here isn't just about needing someone or missing someone or feeling butterflies in your stomach when you see someone (though it's fun that all that stuff happens). Instead, it's kind of a broader, more abstract concept; it's about being willing to give your whole self up to save the people you love. That's just what Harry's asked to do here, and, because of his great capacity to love, he's able to do it.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Harry's identity struggle is tied to the main conflict between him and Voldemort. Do you see Voldemort undergoing a similar struggle?
    2. We see a lot of characters get over the hump between childhood and adulthood here – what are some notable examples of this coming-of-age, in your eyes?
    3. How does the question of Dumbledore's true identity inform the main conflict of the book?

  • Perseverance

    The real action of this book all happens in its last few chapters – up until then, it's a looooong slog for Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they try and figure out how to destroy Voldemort. However, they're not the only ones who've got to stay focused in the name of a long-term goal. Basically, all of the intertwining stories that emerge here are about keeping the faith and staying true to a mission, whether it's Snape's undying determination to stay true to Lily's memory, or Dumbledore's eternal quest for the Deathly Hallows. Perseverance is the name of the game, and all of our characters play it.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Perseverance is one of the most honorable character traits we see here (for example, when Ron doggedly finds his way back by using the Deluminator). What are some others?
    2. Does the whole Harry-Voldemort thing really boil down to a question of who's simply more determined to find a creative way to win?
    3. Many characters besides Harry persevere through tough situations in this book – what are some other examples of admirable perseverance that you observed?

  • Power

    Ah, power. We may dream of it and long for it, but it doesn't exactly seem all too appealing after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which shows us that people will do some of the dirtiest things for power, and the quest for it can bring out the worst in all of us. The prime example of this, of course, is Voldemort, whose unquenchable thirst for power (in the form of the unbeatable, super-powerful Elder Wand) takes him on a torturing and murdering spree. The moral of the story is, power isn't all it's cracked up to be – and we should all hope that we would have the same strength of character that Harry does when he's offered ultimate power, and turns it down.

    Questions About Power

    1. What statement does Harry make about power when he decides to give up the undefeated Elder Wand?
    2. How do Harry and Voldemort each view power? How can we see this difference in their final battle?
    3. Why is it that Harry's allowed to wield the power of the three Deathly Hallows? What enables him to become the "Master of Death" (bet he never expected to have that title, by the way)?

  • Betrayal

    Is betrayal really betrayal when it's in order to save the world? Huh. We're not exactly sure… maybe there's a nicer way of saying it? Either way, betrayal is a key factor here; we spend a lot of time wondering who's betrayed whom, or who might have betrayed whom, or who might betray whom in the future. Basically, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seems to teach us that the old saying is true – all is fair in love and war, and when those two things combust, anything might happen.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Do you see Dumbledore's strategic use of Harry as a betrayal? Why or why not?
    2. Betrayal turns out to be one of the strongest forces here – and it turns those betrayed into betrayers themselves (think about Snape and Regulus Black, who turn against Voldemort when he betrays them). What commentary do you think this is trying to make about the nature of betrayal?
    3. Is betrayal depicted clearly as a good or evil thing here?

  • The Home

    Home, sweet… wait, what home? One of Harry Potter's greatest struggles through all the years we've known him is his sense of not belonging – he's had many places that are kind of substitute homes, but never a place to really call his own. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we get a whirlwind revisitation of all the places Harry might call home, and finally end up at the only real place that's ever been a real home to him, Hogwarts. In this final volume, author J.K. Rowling asks us to consider what makes a home so homey, and why the idea of home deserves to be defended at all costs.

    Questions About The Home

    1. Harry comments that Hogwarts is the only home that both he and Voldemort ever knew. Why do you think Rowling chose to place the final battle at this "home"?
    2. What do people's homes (such as the Burrow, or the Lovegood's goofy tower) say about the families that live there?
    3. Harry experiences a bittersweet homecoming when he and Hermione visit Godric's Hollow. What do you think he gains from seeing the site of the life he might have led and the home he might have had?