S.P.E.W.

In Goblet of Fire, when Hermione finds out about the “plight” of House-Elves, she starts the Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare (or S.P.E.W for short – NOT spew!) but she gets very little backup from other witches and wizards.  Most of the people Hermione speaks to – especially the pure-blood witches and wizards – hold the view that the elves ENJOY their position in the wizarding world, and that any attempt to change that would make them miserable.  Hermione is undaunted and continues to campaign on their behalf.

This begs the question – how much of the elves desire to serve and to help is actually innate – as it’s repeatedly insisted – and how much of it is cultural conditioning?  Are the elves truly born with the desire to serve, or are they simply conditioned from birth to think that’s what they  want?  Hermione often points to Dobby as proof that their desire to serve is taught, not ingrained, because he wants freedom and pay.  But Dobby is the most abused elf we see (Winky & Kreacher, while not treated WELL by their owners, never seem to be abused to the extent the Malfoys abused Dobby, and the Hogwarts elves are downright happy), and even he is nervous about too much pay and freedom – he talks Dumbledore DOWN from what Dumbledore is originally offering him.  So his desire for freedom may simply have been a reaction to the abuse he suffered.

 

I was going to say that depending on the answer to this question, Hermione can be looked at as either a savior or a sort of magical colonizer, but I guess either way she’s the second.  On one hand, if it is innate (and Dobby broke under the abuse) she’s basically saying their species is stupid and needs to be changed.  And if it is cultural, she’s saying their species is stupid and needs to change.  Sure, improving the working conditions of house elves is probably a noble goal (laws preventing wizards from abusing their elves would probably not be amiss) but by trying to force her version of freedom (getting paid, sick leave, vacation time, etc) on them, Hermione is really becoming the worst kind of activist – the kind who doesn’t listen to the people she is trying to “help”.

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