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House-elves

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Taure, Jun 26, 2018.

  1. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    I've been considering house-elf slavery recently. In particular, two facts stand out to me:

    Firstly, in CoS, Dobby is able to visit Harry. He knows this is a betrayal of his master, but he is able to do it anyway. Crucially, he is not magically prevented from doing so, but he will punish himself for it afterwards.

    Secondly, in GoF, Winky is able to leave Barty Crouch Sr's tent, which is contrary to his explicit orders:

    Now, it is common in the fandom to represent house-elves as being magically enslaved, and magically bound to follow their master's commands. But these two examples, and especially the Winky example, directly contradict that.

    The inescapable conclusion, it seems to me, is that there is no magic binding house-elves to their wizarding masters. Rather, it is simply that House Elves have such a strong culture of obedience that house-elves self-enforce their own slavery. This culture is so strong that even house-elves who hate their masters, such as Dobby and Kreacher, will keep themselves in slavery and obedience, using loopholes to disobey rather than being directly disobedient. Winky's words in the stadium take on new light when you consider this:

    This wording further indicates that Winky has a choice whether to obey or not, and that it is her desire to be a "good house-elf" which results in her obeying, not any kind of magical coersion. This jives well with Dobby's punishing himself in CoS: house-elves can disobey and act contrary to their master's will, but they consider themselves bad house-elves for doing so.

    Once you have this idea in mind, a few other things begin to make sense.

    For example, Hermione in GoF initially focuses her SPEW efforts on the house-elves themselves. If the house-elves were magically bound into service, then trying to convince them of the value of their freedom would be pointless. It would be the wizarding masters you would have to convince. But if the slavery of the house-elves is self-enforced, then of course convincing the house-elves themselves would be the most direct route to their freedom. They could just walk away from their masters.

    Another example is that it solves the "laundry dilemma". The laundry dilemma is this: handing house-elves clothes frees them. But then how do house-elves do the laundry? One potential solution was that it has to be the intentional handing of clothes to the house-elf, but this contradicts Lucius' accidental freeing of Dobby. But with the knowledge that house-elf slavery is self-enforced, we can see how flexibility enters the system. Dobby is free because he is exploiting a loophole to excuse that which he desired to do anyway. Regular house-elves are not freed by doing the laundry because they do not consider themselves as having been freed. Essentially it's down to the personal interpretation of the house-elf in question.

    There are a couple of counter-quotes that could be used to argue against this position and support the view that house-elves are magically enslaved. The two biggest are (a) Kreacher's obedience being used to test Harry's inheritance of Grimmauld Place, and (b) Kreacher not being able to bertray the Order's secrets even though he dearly wanted to.

    But I don't think these examples are sufficiently persuasive of the "magical binding" view. Both situations are adequately explained by house-elves being so heavily devoted to the culture of servitude that they consider themselves bound, despite the lack of external constraints.

    One important implication of house-elves not being magically bound is that it changes the nature of wizards' moral obligations from the anti-slavery perspective. The debate on house-elves is essentially around the question "is it morally required to free a slave who wishes to remain enslaved?". That is, should wizards force freedom on the house-elves, even though they don't want it and in fact find the very idea highly distressing?

    But wizards cannot actually force house-elves to be free, because it's actually the house-elves enslaving themselves. Wizards can offer house-elves freedom, but they cannot force a house-elf to consider itself free, nor prevent it from re-enslaving itself when given clothes. So the moral obligation on wizards, for those who believe that opposing slavery of non-human intelligent beings is a moral imperative, is not to free the house-elves but rather to help create the conditions in which house-elves will free themselves.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2018
  2. Oz

    Oz For Zombie. Moderator DLP Supporter

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  3. arkkitehti

    arkkitehti Groundskeeper

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    I'd say it similar to imperius: it's magical mind control, but you can break it if you have strong enough will.
     
  4. deyas

    deyas Seventh Year

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    That's a vastly more interesting interpretation than the commonly used magical binding trope. I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced it's what Rowling intended, but, it does solve many of the commonly bemoaned issues with how house elf slavery works in canon, so maybe it was.

    I do think the magical binding trope still has some unique potential on the fandom side of things, but the idea of a culture of slavery being the issue could make for an interesting one shot regarding creature's rights.
     
  5. Rehio

    Rehio Squib ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Where do you see magic entered into the equation?
     
  6. Nemrut

    Nemrut The Black Mage ~ Prestige ~

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    I quite like this interpretation on the house elves issue, however I also think that the instances in canon where house elves seemingly disobeyed could still be made to fit into the magical contract side of things.

    For example, the Dobby visiting Harry issue, I doubt that Dobby was explicitly forbidden from warning Harry. Like, no one in the Malfoy family even considered giving that order because why would they? So, while Dobby certainly did betray the Malfoy's on some level, I think it's likely that this was once again a "well, technically" thing. It was against the spirit of his duty, which is why he was punishing himself but he was still able to get away with it, simply because there was no "don't warn Harry Potter" order.

    As to the Winky thing, this is just wild speculation, of course, but if there was such a magic that compelled and bound house elves to families, well, I would guess that there are orders that supersede others. Winky may have to obey orders but if such a thing as magical bound duty existed, I would assume she would also have to act in protection of the family members and obey orders from all family members. In this case, while Crouch forbid Winky from leaving the tent, since Winky was acting in what she saw as helping someone from the Crouch family she could. That's why Crouch fired her, because she would intervene on behalf of his son and he couldn't afford that.

    But I do like your take on this more, Taure. If the problem is magic, then the solution becomes magic and thus kinda cheap and easily done, whereas a more ingrained and multi-faceted problem requires much more effort and brings more conflict, making for a more interesting story.
     
  7. wordhammer

    wordhammer Supreme Mugwump DLP Supporter

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    I was under the impression that Crouch Sr. was lying when he said she was stay in the tent, since she was sent up to the very high seats in order to supervise Crouch Jr. under an Invisibility Cloak. It was only by his orders that Winky would even try to climb so high.

    That said, I think that House Elves operate on a combination of enforcement and cultural indoctrination. So many of Kreacher's actions were done by working outside of his instructions or in complying with the letter of the orders. Whether he does so out of a lifelong ingrained sense of elf honour or because Magic(tm) could be open for interpretation. We do know that he already acknowledges Harry as owner at teh beginning of book 6, and therefore is subject to Harry's will. It seemed like Kreacher was trying very hard to avoid being in Harry's presence so that he wouldn't be compelled (or feel obligated) to hear and obey his orders.

    One other thought; house elves serve the house, and the family that resides within it. Aside from the owner, they seem to have some leeway about who among the family/residents they'll obey more readily than others (Sirius vs. Regulus, for instance), and might make opportunities for the family they like to give them orders in contradiction of their previous instruction.
     
  8. Dicra

    Dicra Groundskeeper

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    But he is actually prevented from telling Harry the truth about what exactly will happen and who's responsible for it, which he wishes to but can't. And I think that exactly this is what Malfoy told him not to speak about. Malfoy couldn't have known Dobby'd specifically go to Harry, therefore that wasn't explicitly prevented by him, but Malfoy could prevent Dobby from speaking about the details of his plan.

    "Dobby cannot say."
     
  9. Arthellion

    Arthellion Lord of the Banned ~ Prestige ~

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    I’d honestly say combine the two theories.

    The ingrained culture plays a huge factor, but it’s the House elves magic that forces them to act in certain ways.

    Elf Magic heightens the cultural indoctrination so much so that acting against your owner becomes the equivalent of breaking an oath.
     
  10. Republic

    Republic The Snow Queen ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Tbh that was my interpretation as well. Crouch Sr got soft on his son and broke his own rule by letting him out to watch Quidditch under the cloak. Winky was there to watch over him.
     
  11. vlad

    vlad Banned ~ Prestige ~

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    Eh, I don't have any problem with your thread but I think you're overthinking this 'loophole'.

    It's magic.

    House-elves are freed when master hands them clothes. Malfoy handed Dobby clothes. He might have been tricked. He might have not intended to do so. But an article of clothing physically left Mr. Malfoy's hand, and was caught by Dobby. He is now free. Because magic states that if a master hands clothes to an elf, he is free.

    Conversely, nobody at Hogwarts hands laundry to house elves. The act of handing over clothing never takes place. The clothes are in hampers or on the floor or under the bed. There is nothing intrinsically magical about linen or cotton or wool when house elves touch it and wash it.

    Furthermore, Mr. Malfoy is Dobby's master, and therefore can free him. Hermione Granger, Lisa Turpin, Cho Chang, Harry Potter, Marcus Flint etc. etc... are NOT the masters of any of the house-elves at Hogwarts, and so even if they were to personally hand over every stitch of clothing in the school, nothing would happen.
     
  12. Jeram

    Jeram Elder of Zion DLP Supporter

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    Yeah, I dunno dude.
     
  13. Joe's Nemesis

    Joe's Nemesis High Score: 2,058 ~ Prestige ~

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    There's a third issue to throw in here, and that's the House Elf's loyalties. Even though Sirius was Kreacher's master, Kreacher's loyalty was more to his mother and his brother. Winky is more open to interpretation, but I kind of think she was more loyal to the son. Either way, Dobby shows much more loyalty to Harry than to the Malfoys even though he never met him.

    Another issue is how to define "slave." I don't know about British culture, but in US culture, we usually think of chains, whips, picking cotton, and the absolute remove of self-determination in almost all elements of life, and we do this because of our history. Yet, that is not the only type of slavery. I think the slavery we're talking about here relates more to an economic slave that is forced to work for a master, but still have complete freedom of will outside of the tasks and chores the master commands for the slave. By that I mean, they can't choose their destiny, but they can choose what they want for dinner, or where they want to go for the evening when the work is done.

    Putting those two together, and realizing they use the word "master" in a very distinct way, it would seem to me the wizard is truly their master, and they must obey their master to the letter. However, because their will is not bound (my example of economic slavery vs. slave in the antebellum south of the US), they can go where and do whatever when their tasks and commands are completed for the day.

    Moreover, as stated earlier, "Wash the clothes" does not equal "Here is my sock." Also, the giving of clothes seems not to be the physical exchange, but the meaning. A slave can't own something. It is the master's property. SO, when a master gives clothes to an elf, he is literally saying, "Here, take ownership of this." And, that means, the elf is no longer a slave. That, then, plays in with Hermione leaving clothes out. She is doing it expressly for the elves to take ownership of the clothes and renounce their slavery.

    I also think there is a way to have this idea exist alongside the slave being free to go wherever and do whatever. In fact, they work hand-in-hand.
     
  14. Sesc

    Sesc Slytherin at Heart Moderator

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    I think we should first have a debate about what "slavery" means. My love for fundamental discussions aside, it's actually relevant in @Taure's above context.

    If you go with wikipedia (which references the appropriate scholars), slavery is a system "in which an individual is [dejure or] de facto forced to work against their own will". Starting with the less obvious issue, is a "House-Elf" an "individual"? It's not too different from the debates described in Magical Beasts, on trying to find a definition for "beast" vs. "being". It's easy for us, because there are humans, and the rest of life on earth are plants and animals, but it's as complicated as described in the book when you have Trolls, and Centaurs, and Hags, and, well -- House-Elves. You can't enslave a beast. The crucial factor would, I presume, be the intelligence displayed or ascribed to it -- in the most pithy terms, if something is too stupid to realise its enslaved, you can't enslave it. Pet dogs aren't slaves, they are pet dogs.

    What they settled with was "any creature that has sufficient intelligence to understand the laws of the magical community and to bear part of the responsibility in shaping those laws" as definition for "being". You wouldn't be able to enslave Trolls. You would be able to enslave Centaurs (even if they for personal reasons declined that category in an official sense). Does anyone have a good answer for where on the scale House-Elves fall, one that is immediately obvious and beyond doubt and discussion?

    But let's assume House-Elves can be "individuals" in the above, "being" sense. That still leaves the second part, "against their own will". That, right there, means there is no such thing as "self-enforce their own slavery". Slavery must be enforced externally, or it's no slavery, not in this definition.


    Now you can, of course, try to change the definition. Perhaps along Hermione's "they're brainwashed" line, which would, presumably, lead to a definition of something like "in which an individual is [dejure or] de facto forced to work against their own will or would be forced to if they had an own will.

    That is not pretty. How would anyone know what a hypothetical own will would be someone, by the proponent's own admission, currently lacks? It's blind sentimentality, "they look like poor, poor slaves so there".

    And do note that this argument does not hold for slavery throughout our history. All justifying nonsense aside, Blacks or POWs in Ancient Rome were humans as was everyone else. You could look at yourself, ask if you would like to be a slave, and have the answer as to whether they would. This is manifestly not the case for House-Elves.

    So all in all, if the "self-enslavement" above holds merit, it means for me there is no enslavement. That would resolve the question quite decisively.


    I'm not sure, however, how far along I like to go there. Yes, there is the Winky quote. There is, however, also this:
    So if we interpret Dumbledore as author-insert, then there does exist some magical component literally stopping a House-Elf from going against an order. It stands to reason, then, that Mr. Crouch was careless in his wording -- or Rowling changed her mind halfway through.
     
  15. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Yeah, this is pretty conclusive. I think it's the latter situation, however, not a matter of bad wording on Crouch's part, because it's clear Winky makes a pretty decisive choice to leave the tent contrary to orders because she was scared, rather than exploiting some loophole:

    So we have an example of an order being disobeyed, as well as Dumbledore saying orders are magically enforced. Oh well - there aren't many areas of canon which are so openly inconsistent, but it's not unknown.

    Re: slavery, I feel like your argument is mostly semantic. Whether you call the house-elves' situation slavery, servitude, or something else, the material facts of that situation remain the same. And its the material facts of their situation, rather than what term is used to refer to it, which determines what attitude wizards should have towards it.

    EDIT:

    The wording in Dumbledore's quote is interesting - "the enchantments of his kind" i.e. house-elf enchantments, not wizarding ones. It sounds as if the magic binding house-elves to obey their masters is not of wizarding origin, but rather is performed by the house-elves.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2018
  16. Sesc

    Sesc Slytherin at Heart Moderator

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    Well. You could fudge this in a number of ways. Maybe Crouch was lying, because he was trying to cover his own ass, re: his son. So maybe he never did order Winky explicitly to stay in the tent. (Though, with Mr. Diggory there, you'd think he'd realise the impossibility of a House-Elf disobeying a direct order, if this was impossible).

    Another way would be to question what happens when there are two directly conflicting orders. Maybe he also ordered Winky to make sure his son isn't discovered, and that left Winky free to leave the tent to hide him, when she had to make the choice.

    But I agree, it's not fitting together all too well.

    Yes, but words have meaning :p

    In particular, I'm opposed to slavery (also in the de-facto sense, re: domestic help in the UK and elsewhere at the turn of the 20th century, for instance), but not to (self-chosen) servitude. The "material facts" are, in my view, that House-Elves sometimes/often (sample size?) are treated badly by their owners. But until it's shown that they actually are enslaved, in the first definition, what's needed is not Hermione's House-Elf Liberation Front, but more kindness and appreciation for their work. (In much the same way as you ought to cuddle your puppy, not kick it.) Funnily enough, her own name -- "Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare" -- actually fits perfectly here, though it doesn't at all describe what she tries to do.
     
  17. Methos

    Methos Professor DLP Supporter

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    Taure, Sesc and others who took part of this debate, i bow my head, the thread is enlightening.

    I think a very important issue is missing, why are house elves bound to Wizards, Wizard families or even Wizards locations (Hogwarts).

    If they wanted to clean, and take care they could be the historical brownies myth and help unaware mundane.

    In addition we see that House elves loyalty pass through inheritance, Kreacher who didn't want to serve Sirius nor Harry passed to Harry.

    A repeated fanon idea: House elves and Wizards have some what symbiotic relation.
    Maybe that is what goes beyond their kind magic that force them to serve wizards ?
    Maybe they feed on Wizards ?

    Edit: through Kreacher passage to Harry ownership, we have evidences being designate someone heir might have magical implications. (the bond between Harry and Kreacher should be magical in origin)
    Which raise another question: How you make someone your heir to have magical influence, does it involve a ritual? just simple declaration ? spell? writing it somewhere ?
     
  18. Drachna

    Drachna First Year

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    I think that house elves are inherented by the owner of the house. If Harry was to sell Grimauld Place, Kreacher might go with it, unless he belongs wherever the leader of the Black family makes their residence.
     
  19. ThatGreekLady

    ThatGreekLady Fourth Year

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    I sometimes wonder if house elves are kind of a homunculus race that were created by wizards specifically to be servants, I think I have read some fics that entertain the idea.

    However, the moral of the story was probably like the OP said that the house elves should liberate themselves when they are ready. Hermione's intentions were honorable, but she shouldn't have tried to force liberation on them when it would be so distressing to them. That could have harmed them psychologically. (think about Winky's depression and alcoholism for example)

    It's just like you cannot suddenly go to a different country and try to force them to change their ways from one day to the next. Changes like that could take decades if not centuries.

    Then again, there is also the possibility that it is in the nature of the house elves to serve and Dobby was simply an exception of some kind. Like I said, maybe they were created by some wizard as a "slave race", no matter how abhorrent that sounds.
     
  20. Silirt

    Silirt Auror DLP Supporter

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    Consider a dog that can talk, but is otherwise still very much a dog in the sense that thousands of years of evolution gave it a pack mentality and the belief that the pack must have a leader, an alpha, which it would really rather not be. The talking dog would still desire a master, a pack leader it obeys out of respect. Dogs can be mistreated and be expected not to run away, dogs can misbehave, they can even pretend not to understand when they would rather not follow an order, and none of this would logically change if dogs could suddenly talk, they would just be much better at obeying orders and people like Hermione would probably personify them too much.
    If this is too theoretical, it is possible and has been possible to communicate with apes for decades. They are intelligent creatures and can understand sign language, and I saw a fluff piece where someone had learned to growl at them the way they growl at each other, but none of this really matters. They're wild animals with their own society and their own way of doing things. I don't put much stock into slight IQ differences, but even those who do can't pretend that their relatively high IQ means apes would be happy or successful in human society. There is a distinct way that they want to live, and that is how they employ their intelligence.
     
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