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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 decisions about how they will cope with the situations confronting them. Rowling vividly illustrates the function of destiny versus free will in an individual’s decisions as a theme throughout the Harry Potter series. Marked by Voldemort at a tender age, Harry is repeatedly told that he is special or different as the “boy who lived.” He is orphaned and introduced to the wizarding world much later than most, striving to gain a footing and learn about his past. A prophecy informs him of his destined role, and he chooses to embrace the cause. In stark contrast, Kathy H. in “Never Let Me Go” is entirely compliant, refusing to take any action to alter her fate. Both authors’ messages resonate clearly: regardless of the formidable task confronting us, the way we attend to the situation epitomizes the choices we make.
The conflict between free will and destiny is a frequent theme in literature, as it is so intense in our daily lives. There’s no scientific evidence that a higher power does or does not exist. Therefore, we question religion our whole lives, unsure of what to follow and whether our beliefs are valid. We ponder if the choices we make are truly ours, or if our life has already been predetermined by destiny. As this is such a relatable concern, it reappears in literature time and time again, from “Harry Potter” to “The Hunger Games.”
How it works
Harry feels that he has no control over the relationships in his life. He is so apprehensive about Voldemort hurting Ginny that, despite his deep love for her, he decides not to be with her. Ginny was targeted earlier merely for being the sister of a friend, and Harry grasps that Voldemort would be ruthless if he knew Harry had a girlfriend. Consequently, Harry suppresses his feelings and love for her, suspending their relationship while he attends to his obligations. This becomes especially distressing after the death of Harry’s godfather, Sirius, who was used as bait to lure Harry and then murdered by Death Eater, Bellatrix Lestrange. Harry felt he had no other option but to try and save Sirius, just as he felt he had no control over leaving Ginny. Although Harry can’t control his feelings for Ginny, he chooses to distance himself to protect her from harm.
Draco also grapples with freewill after being chosen by Voldemort to assassinate Dumbledore. “I haven’t got any alternatives!” claimed Malfoy, visibly pale as Dumbledore. “I’ve got to do it! He’ll kill me! He’ll kill my whole family!” (591). The fear of the malevolent, dark wizard makes him hysterical and he fails to see alternatives before him. Dumbledore responds, “I appreciate the difficulty of your position. Why else do you think I haven’t confronted you before this? I knew you would have been murdered if Lord Voldemort knew that I suspected you. Come to the right side, Draco. It is my mercy, not yours, that matters now,” (591-592). Dumbledore tries to reason with Draco, telling him he does have choices and he will protect Draco. He clarifies that his forgiveness is key; Draco is mere fodder for Voldemort, but for Dumbledore, who has watched Draco grow up, this act is unforgivable and damning. Dumbledore tells Draco, afraid or not, he is making a conscious decision in the eyes of the headmaster.
Harry serves a crucial role in the prophecy. When his parents were murdered, he was left with a part of Voldemort – his soul. Harry becoming a Horcrux meant that for Voldemort to die, he would have to locate all the Horcruxes and destroy them – including himself. Harry never denied this truth, bracing for this moment throughout all seven novels.
“Must?” said Dumbledore. “Of course, you must! But not because of the prophecy! Because you, yourself, will never rest until you’ve tried! We both know! Imagine, for a moment, pretend you’d never heard the prophecy! How would you feel about Voldemort now? Think!”…
“I’d want him finished,” stated Harry quietly. “And I would be willing to do it.”
“Of course you would!” exclaimed Dumbledore. “You see, the prophecy doesn’t mean you have to do anything! But the prophecy led Lord Voldemort to mark you as his equal. In other words, you are free to choose your path and even free to ignore the prophecy! But Voldemort continues to place value in the prophecy.” (512).
Harry may have been destined to kill Voldemort, but the emotional havoc Voldemort wreaked on Harry is irreplaceable. This fury drives Harry with a passion and vigor greater than a crystal ball decreeing he was destined to destroy Voldemort ever could. Harry has lost countless family and friends and spent his childhood living in fear of Voldemort; the prophecy has no bearing on the suffering he’s endured. Harry possesses the emotional resilience and resolve needed to kill Voldemort, which represents freewill.
Harry’s perspective changes from shock to approval as he understands no one is better predestined to eliminate Voldemort than him. “It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a fight 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 awful task, he lives his life for his friends and hopes to do right by them. He wants to avenge the deaths of his loved ones and prevent any more pain. This is the spirit of a martyr, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for something he believes in.
Kathy H. in ‘Never Let Me Go’ provides a stark contrast to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. She, a clone, is literally bred to harvest organs for others’ use. Despite knowing her fate, she neither protests nor contemplates the morality of her existence. “I was like you, Tommy. I was almost ready when I became a donor. It felt right. After all, that’s what we’re expected to do, isn’t it?” (6). To her, this purpose, however unfair it may seem, is simply her destiny. “The idea behind identifying your model was that when you did, you’d glimpse your future. Not that anyone actually believed that if your model turned out to be, say, someone working at a railway station, that’s what your life would mirror. We all knew life wasn’t that simple.” She experiences life through a metaphorical window; the only futures she envisions are as a donor or carer. Nonetheless, we discern a hint of free will in Kathy H. As her journey comes to an end, her desire to lead a fulfilled life resonates, despite her existence being intended solely for organ donation.
Miss Lucy is desperate to inform the students about their dehumanising future:
“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 already are?”
“No, I don’t think she intended that. She was referring to our circumstances, our fate…donations and all.”
“But we have already learnt about all that,” I protested. “I wonder what she means. Does she think there are things we haven’t been told yet?”
The nonchalant manner in which the trainees discuss their purpose is disturbing. They mention “all that” as if, at some point, they’ll need to eat breakfast and not have their internal organs harvested. The following quote perfectly represents how Rowling illustrates the triumph of free will over fate: “His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but despite the dark and twisted path he saw ahead of him, despite the final meeting with Voldemort he knew was inevitable, whether in a month, a year, or in ten, he found hope at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace to enjoy with Ron and Hermione.” (652)
Harry knows what’s coming yet chooses to treasure every single moment spent with his best friends when they are happy, safe, and healthy. 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 challenging decisions when confronted with their situations. Rowling challenges the concept of a predetermined fate by showing that the choices characters make regarding their destiny prove that human free will prevails.
In both ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,’ numerous characters must decide how to tackle the situation ahead. While Kathy H. complies, Harry refuses to be anything but determined, knowing he is the most suitable person for the task. Both Rowling and Ishiguro walk the line between free will and destiny, demonstrating that, regardless of the daunting task that may lie ahead, an individual is defined by how they choose to approach the situation.
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