Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection: Molly
The Potterverse Essays

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

In my own defense, however, I must point out that I was forced to have to grow up in a variation of her household. That was not a particularly enjoyable experience, either. My own mother was very much in the same style as Madam Weasley, and Molly’s behavior dredges up some rather nasty memories. This is bound to color any interpretation I may put on Molly Weasley’s behavior or her motivations. Other people’s mileage may, of course, vary.

In Ma’s case, at least some of the difficulties had to do with the proscribed and rather stifling “women’s role” of the middle of the last century. That was a social contract which carried heavy hidden costs, even if it didn’t bring society as a whole to a screeching halt. But for anyone other than the confirmed doormats of the world, the fallout from the “nuclear family” tended to be just as toxic as any other kind.

Not that you could directly blame it entirely on a “male-dominated society”, either. It was all far more complex than that. And whatever the underlying dynamics were, if you were a kid, particularly one who had been buried alive in the suburbs, your perception was that it was the women who actively policed it. Women like Molly. And Ma.

And you could never quite say for certain that things really were the way they were because that was the way the unidentified Powers That Be wanted them, or if it was just the way the Enforcers wanted them. Because keeping things as they were and keeping everyone under their thumbs made it easier for the Enforcers to keep order, so they got to be the ones throwing their weight around. After all, everything runs much smoother when people accept “Because I say so!” as an actual reason.

And, to be fair, it wasn’t like the Enforcers weren’t also enforcing themselves, as well..

I watched the same sort of voluntary self-suffocation re-enacted in the ’70s by a number of my own contemporaries of similarly dynamic and aggressive temperament who had bought a particularly pernicious package which was circulating in my circles regarding “the female archetype”, which one of them had discovered in a uni-level textbook somewhere and seemed to believe that they all ought to be using as a model for behavior!

Leaving aside the totally bas-ackward reading of what an archetype actually represents (i.e., the lowest common denominator applied to a specific group; a “stereotype” taken to the Nth degree), an archetype is an artificial construction, a flattened-out “mythic” generalization and the antithesis of any hint of individuality or character. Trust me, you would not want to be one.

In my own social circle, there was one girl in particular who was exceedingly like Ma (and Molly Weasley), and watching her trying to put herself through those hoops was like observing someone try to go about her daily business in shoes that were about two sizes too small. And of course she couldn’t help but feel that someone ought really to be taking notice of the compromises and sacrifices she was making in order to conform to the pattern and give her some public credit for her efforts.

Which of course was a vain hope, since the mission statement was that she was a woman and should naturally fall into these patterns. The actual fallout, of course, was periodic outbursts of towering rage over what were really rather petty issues that had simply constituted one too many at any given moment. As a result she tended to come across as a rather unstable and essentially petty person, when she really wasn’t. Just a misguided and wrong-headed youngster doggedly attempting to conform to a false premise.

Which has a fair possibility of being the problem with Molly as well.

But you would think that to be less likely to be the case in the wizarding world. If anyone ever actually thought about what probably constitutes a wizarding “world”. The Harry filter doesn’t allow us the clearest picture of the proper “witch’s role” (if any) in the modern wizarding world, but what we can see of it by squinting around the edges of that filter has shown women taking a very active part in all levels of their society.

Mind you, if Molly really is anything like Ma — and she sure sounds like she was drawn from a very similar template — she would have done brilliantly in almost any field that dealt with children. Ma was everybody in the family’s favorite aunt. Hell, she would have been my favorite aunt!


Only if the kids involved were not her own.

If she didn’t have someone else to answer to as to what she was doing with those kids she lost all sense of proportion and you were a symbol, not a person. Dolores Umbridge went around much the same kind of bend once she got the bit between her teeth. Only much worse.

Unlike Umbridge, Ma wasn’t an inherently nasty person — although she was a somewhat difficult one — but she just plain wasn’t suited to actually be a 24/7 parent. Or at least not once the kid was past the age of 2 or 3. I think the only thing that kept me from being swallowed up, the way Ginny appeared to have been for so long, is that Ma put a Project on her agenda and went back to work from the time I was 3 until I was about 7 to finance it, leaving me with Grandma until dinner time.

Gran made any number of mistakes in a long career of baby-taming (she’d already raised six of her own), but at least she treated children as if they were people. Ma didn’t. Neither does Molly. Molly treats children like colonies. With all of the tact and empathy of George III.

The situation at the Burrow is all the more intense in that Molly also home-schooled her brood, and, apparently, kept them from even mixing with the other wizarding kids in their own district. And there were others. We know of something like at least three other wizarding families in the vicinity of the Burrow.

Ron, to all appearances, seems to have had no idea who Luna Lovegood even was until they were all thrown together on the train at the start of Year 5 — even though she and her widowed father also live in the Ottery St Catchpole region (as do the Diggorys and the Fawcetts, all four families within walking distance of Stoat’s Head Hill). Nor do the Twins show any sign of having ever been pre-Hogwarts playmates with Cedric Diggory, or the Fawcett’s daughter, who must also be around the same age as the twins, having got the same idea to age herself up a little to enter her name in the TriWizard Tournament. To much the same result as their attempt.

With this in mind, perhaps the rather... uneven levels of socialization that we see in some of Molly’s kids is not all that surprising.

Which also says something distinctly uncomplimentary about Molly’s sudden and enthusiastic adoption of famous Harry Potter.

There was none of that overflowing warmth and welcome extended to poor little Luna Lovegood who lost her mother under extremely traumatic circumstances at the age of nine. Nor does there seem to have been any apparent aid and assistance offered to the girl’s widowed father, either. Despite the fact that Molly had a daughter exactly the same age who might have welcomed some age-appropriate female company. And the twins were already in their 2nd year at Hogwarts when Ginny and Luna were nine. Molly only still had Ron and Ginny at home by then.

• • • •

It must be admitted that Molly was initially rather good for Harry Potter. She was exactly what he needed at that point in time. But Harry’s experience of Molly Weasley does not really stack up all that closely to the experience of her that is shared by her own brood. Harry is not one of Molly’s colonies. He is visiting royalty, yet even Harry was going off her style of the proper treatment of children a bit by Year 5.

And just what are the results of her own kids’ experience?

Percy spent most of his young life trying to live up to her expectations for him. Her three youngest boys were still all climbing, hand-over-hand, up the more-macho-than-thou flagpole in self defense. Ginny was developing a fine talent for the devious and the underhanded in order to avoid showing up on Molly’s radar any more than she could avoid, despite having what after the fact appears to be very much the same sort of aggressive, and domineering personality.

Frankly, by HBP Ginny was turning out to be a perfectly beastly girl with nothing even remotely nice to say, either to, or about, anybody other than Harry. Your stereotypical “mean girl” socialite, in short. I suspect that Bellatrix Black must have been in much the same style a couple of decades earlier, with, it must be admitted, much the same capacity for conspicuous and utterly devoted hero worship.

Ron was overlooked, consistently given short shrift and openly disrespected by his mother for years. Charlie and Bill both signed up for jobs in foreign parts about ten minutes after they left Hogwarts, and for most of the first 5 years that we’ve known the family they only showed up at home for a flying visit once in a blue moon.

And the way Molly purred at Harry and then turned around to snarl at her own kids was just plain nasty.

And, up to the point that Ron was awarded his Prefect badge, just how often had we ever heard Molly address any day-to-day comment to any of her own children (apart from, perhaps, Ginny, or her deputy, Percy) that wasn’t either an order or a rebuke?

Maybe once or twice in the first two books. And that’s about it.

And never to Ron.

By OotP it is also abundantly clear that it is Molly who wears the pants in that family. That public demand that Arthur back her up in a quarrel with a man who was at least technically her host was as ugly as anything she has ever said to any of her kids, not to mention being an amazing display of sheer ill-breeding.

As was her even more cringingly embarrassing display of publicly berating her husband in an open ward at St Mungo’s in front of strangers; or her monumentally churlish behavior toward a prospective daughter-in-law who was actually a guest in her house. The woman doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea of how to behave in public. It is little wonder that most of her kids are an unmannerly lot of boors and barbarians.

Yes, I would say that there is clearly more than one “class” of wizarding pureblood. Molly’s everyday conduct is every bit as overbearing, and much more underbred, than Severus Snape’s.

But then Snape has pretty thoroughly reinvented himself. Molly clearly does not think such efforts necessary.

• • • •

Molly might be on the side of the Light (which I have never questioned), and her heart may be in the right place (for which there is also ample evidence) but she is a blatantly vulgar woman. And a lack of family funds has nothing to do with that.

While her husband somehow is not.

Or certainly not on the same scale.

Just where is Arthur Weasley in all of this? Up through OotP Molly clearly treated him like another one of the kids in any number of respects, and she runs the Burrow to suit herself. And he stepped back and let her do it, without apparent protest. But has he actually been crowded out of his own household? Ma was quite successful in crowding my father out. Completely. But, then, I was an only child.

Is Arthur even still a genuine presence in his own home, despite the Ministry job and any Order duties that hypothetically keep him away from home for such a large percentage of the time? He has clearly never been the classic “ogre Daddy” who punishes children as a second career once he walks through the door of an evening. And he clearly likes his kids. Or at least he likes his oldest two kids. But does he really have that much influence on any of them? We can see traces that he once at least had some. But none of his four younger sons have ever been seen to gravitate to his company or make a point of asking his advice. Indeed, the longer you stare at Arthur and Molly Weasley, the more they begin to look like Mr and Mrs Bennett. (And Percy could stand in for Mary Bennett any day of the week.)

In any household which Molly rules, Arthur and his Muggle gadgets are exiled to the garden shed, (you will take note that Harry has never particularly noticed any recognizable Muggle gizmo inside the Weasley house). None of the kids seem to have been given the leeway to respect their father’s fascination with Muggle tech, or even the job that supported them all, let alone share that fascination. I really do not think that Molly is anywhere near as friendly toward Muggles as her husband is. (One recalls that upon our first glimpse of Molly Weasley she was complaining aloud about the number of Muggles to be found in one of the main Muggle train stations of London.) Although she probably does agree with her husband and the Ministry that Muggles should not be subjected to nasty wizarding tricks, I’d say that Molly’s preferences regarding Muggles is to leave them strictly alone. In fact to avoid them.

Arthur is a broader-minded, more tolerant and laid-back person than Molly — who is clearly a pepper-pot. And his kids do seem to at least listen to him and sometimes to remember a bit of what he has to say. We’ve had at least a couple of “my father says” moments from Ron and the twins over the years. But all of those statements were made some time ago. We’ve heard few of those lately. The only young person who now seems to ask Arthur’s advice is Harry.

The twins consider Arthur’s fascination with Muggle tech, and his Dream Job, spectacularly dull and I don’t get the feeling that any of his kids seek out his company when he gets home — except, possibly Ginny, who is probably the apple of his eye, and even that is not made obvious.

At least Charlie and Bill do seem to be genuinely fond of him, and both spend more time with him than with their mother, when they are actually around. And there is some residual respect for him from Ron on a personal level. But Arthur doesn’t seem to have instilled all that many of his more “liberal” attitudes into his younger sons. Or his daughter.

Perhaps most tellingly; while I could readily imagine a teenaged Arthur Weasley cheerfully taking the piss out of Percy at his most pompous, I cannot envision even a very young Arthur Weasley spouting the sort of blatantly male-chauvinistic venom that we hear out of Ron and the twins on a virtually daily basis, and we get no indication of what Arthur thinks of such remarks when he hears them spouting it.

By this I’m referring to the sort of pond scum the Weasley boys spew in every direction as a casual matter of course. If you aren’t sensitized to that sort of thing it may fly right past you. But I lived through the ’70s and I am sensitized to it.

What I mean, specifically, are the unprovoked slurs leveled at any and all females (simply for being females) that the twins gratuitously throw into whatever commentary is in progress without compunction — and with some presumed degree of hostility, or they wouldn’t find it so necessary to do so.

All three of Molly’s youngest sons seem to display the assumption that they have the right to make such comments and that any female within earshot has to just sit there and take it. These comments universally invoke the “brainless/useless female” stereotype and are the kind of comments that people have been calling men to account for since about 1972. And this simply isn’t the kind of talk that seems to be widespread throughout the rest of the wizarding world, either. I’ve never noted it coming from anyone who wasn’t a Weasley male (or a Gaunt, or Tom Riddle himself). Not even from one of “those nasty Slytherins.” For example: Malfoy is perfectly vile to Hermione Granger regarding her Muggle parentage. But he has never had a single word to say against her for being a girl.

Or for being a swot, if it comes to that.

The demonstration that comes most readily to mind regarding the twins is the CoS “Must be a witch” quip thrown in by one of the twins when they first see that the new DADA teacher’s required texts for the upcoming school year are, essentially, the complete works of Gilderoy Lockhart.

Which automatically floats the assumption that only a female teacher would assign nothing but books by an author who trades all too openly upon his charming smile. Despite the fact that at this point in the story they cannot be aware that the books are all lies, and that their author is a fraud who has not actually performed any of the exploits that he takes credit for in them.

As a matter of fact, that gibe turned out to be based upon false reasoning on all points and it was rapidly shown to be such. But the Twins still made a point of saying it, never retracted it, and I think they did it primarily to get Molly’s goat. If called on such a statement they will whine at you that the comment was “just a joke”. Of course it was. It was a mean-spirited and hostile joke. One of a series of many.

It is mildly interesting to note that they do sometimes seem to do their very worst in this regard in Molly’s hearing. But, by almost every indication, even when Molly isn’t around, those boys simply do not respect females, and they seem to openly resent Molly throughout books 2-5.

And Molly must take the lion’s share of the responsibility for that. They did not learn that kind of conduct from Arthur. Although, like Mr Bennett, he does nothing to check them.

It is interesting to note that in book 6, once Percy, their chief rival for Molly’s attention, is safely out of their path they suddenly seem determined to purchase her affections and, perhaps, to obliterate his memory, by making a parade of their success and showering her with expensive gifts. And the project seemed to be succeeding. Which was not in the least to Molly’s credit. Or theirs.

On Molly’s part, from Book 2-5 she did not act or speak to the twins as if she respected them, either. In fact, she already does not do so from very first time we met the family in Book 1. That Bill, by contrast, seems to be able to good-naturedly shrug off Molly’s attempts to bully him with little effort suggests to me that when the kids didn’t yet outnumber the adults in the household, Arthur may have had a greater degree of input.

Of course I also take the PoV that Molly and the twins all three simply have bullying natures (Ron, Arthur, and Bill, otoh, do not One can’t really tell about Charlie), it’s just the way they all are, and there is clearly a battle for dominance in progress. This is not a popular reading, but there’s been nothing in the series that would call it into question. Percy is another one who likes to throw his weight around, and he didn’t get that from his father, either.

And, once Harry noticed her, we started getting loud and clear indication that this determination to dominate is also shared by Ginny. Stand by for catfights ahead. We haz them.

For several years I had a lowering suspicion that the Weasleys may ultimately have been intended to serve as a demonstration to Harry of one or other of life’s nastier lessons. With a conclusion that would probably be due entirely to their own actions. And I thought we were all going to have to be witnesses to the train wreck.

But no, the Weasleys merely ended up offering us yet another example of the fact that death (at least in Rowling’s hands) is arbitrary, random, and unfair, and serves no purpose whatsoever.

Arthur and Molly do serve as a rather ominous cautionary example of how very poorly Dumbledore’s supporters seemed to be prepared for another round with Voldemort, and the kind of tactics he was likely to employ.

Arthur’s long indulgence in his own interests in all its good-hearted venality have not served his family well, and for all his intelligence, humanity and apparent understanding of principles he does not always seem to be able to keep his focus on the task at hand, or even to recognize when obliging a friend or accepting reciprocal favors may be stepping rather far over the line of any kind of professional ethics.

Molly has bullied her children unmercifully in the service of common wisdom but she has not truly prepared any of them for a coming conflict of the style in which they are likely to actually become engaged, and far too many of the conventional “wisdoms” she has bludgeoned them over the heads with for years are appallingly shallow. Or outright false. And they recognize this fact, and dismiss her accordingly.

Inside the structure of the series I always thought we were going to have to watch Harry come to the conclusion that he can’t skate through his own unique situation by trying to be “like” anyone that he has ever met or admired. Which means that even if the consequences of their actions are not fatal, he was going to have to see the consequences of the different methods that all the people he looks to for guidance use for coping with the world, and realize that these methods would not work for him.

(Instead, he sat around on his hands, waiting for divine inspiration and honing his “hero’s” facility for falling bas-ackward into the correct solution without explanation.)

But I really did think I had reason for my original conclusion. He had already seen that Sirius was hopelessly impulsive and that his temper got him into situations that were avoidable. But I’m not convinced he’s learned the accompanying lesson even yet.

He had already been given a brutal lesson from Umbridge that Molly’s exhortation to follow the rules doesn’t have all the answers, and that there are people who can and will manipulate the rules to their own advantage and to others’ cost.

I thought that he would probably also see that Arthur’s good intentions and self-indulgence are no protection in a shooting war.

But it did certainly look to me as though for all that Molly’s first career as a baby tamer started out very well, it’s ending in a bit of a shambles. She needed a new job, and the one she was opting for seems to be that of designated mother-surrogate to Harry Potter.

It’s not a bad call. Harry, not being one of her own kids, gets all the benefits and few of the disadvantages. Although by the age of 15 even Harry was less enthusiastic about the idea than he had been only a few years earlier. And there is more than one way to set oneself up as the mother-in-law from Hell.

But, I admit it. It’s personal. I do not think highly of Molly Weasley.