lmao literally HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE, ANON
The house system is one of those things in the hp books that I thought was really cool when I was a kid (let’s be real i thought the whole concept of boarding school was AWESOME i wanted to go so bad), but that really started to bother me as I got older and reread. I think the concept is really interesting and there was a big opportunity to explore things like societal expectations and stereotypes through the houses, but jkr just doesn’t do that? IT’S VERY FRUSTRATING IT’S BEEN YEARS I’M STILL FRUSTRATED
We see the wizarding through Harry’s eyes, always through the lens of his understanding and comprehension, and this is really important to the way the story plays out because it is, in essence, a bildungsroman that charts his journey from childhood to maturity. So to an eleven year old Harry, who is eager to make friends and wary of bullies from his primary school years, you can understand why his perception of Slytherin is soured by Draco and his view of Gryffindor is glorified by Ron. It’s this more than anything that affects his decision to choose Gryffindor - he’s been told that Slytherin is the bad house, and the first real friend he’s ever made is a sure bet for Gryffindor. These are the things first year Harry values and they inform his decision of a house - more than anything he’s heard in the Sorting Hat song about bravery or ambition.
And here is the crux of the sorting’s flaw - it rests on the assumption that an ENCHANTED HAT can look into an eleven year old’s mind and determine what kind of person they are, and put them in a house that will, in turn, shape the person they turn out to be. You can understand how this system started - lifespans were way shorter back in the Founders’ era, they were trying to find a way to replicate their already standing system to last past their own deaths - but like, it’s been a thousand years. Let it go, man. ESPECIALLY when it’s a system that is forming a crux of the entire wizarding British society (!!!).
By joining a house, Hogwarts students are put into natural friendship/influence circles that last, from what we’ve seen, all throughout school and often into adulthood. Not only that, but as soon as they’re put in a house and given their colours, students automatically have to shoulder the stereotypes and assumptions that come with belonging to a house. This is worst for Slytherins (‘there’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin’ - can you BELIEVE this sentence was actually written like), but you can imagine the blowback for all the Houses - ‘what, you’re in Ravenclaw but you don’t like to study??? Why aren’t you SMART??? What, the Gryffindor won’t do something dumb and reckless? I thought you were meant to be BRAVE’ - and how really just by being in a house they’re socially isolated from the rest of their peer group.
And this is something that happens in schools, workplaces, social groups all across the world. Stereotypes and assumptions based on choice of friends or being a member of a group are universal problems that have affected almost everyone at one point or another. And if you’re going to create a social stratification system in your society and write SEVEN BOOKS about a teenager attempting to navigate through them, you’d think you could take the time to deconstruct this phenomenon, or detail how it affects the hero or any of the characters, or at least even mention how messed up it is, right?
But jkr does not do this. Bar Dumbledore’s pondering on ‘perhaps we sort too early’ (which he says, by the by, to twist the knife into Snape a little deeper and thus make him easier to manipulate, so), the negative connotations and medieval nature of house sorting is rarely ever touched upon. There are no main, non villanous Slytherin characters. There are no main Hufflepuff characters. There are no main Ravenclaw characters - bar Luna, who becomes a part of Harry’s friend group because she is ostracised from her own house and peer group. There are seven Weasley children and every single one is sorted into Gryffindor - is this realistic? Are they choosing Gryffindor because they don’t want to feel isolated from their own families? Ron and Draco both grew up in the wizarding world and their concepts of the houses are already very much formed before they even get to Hogwarts. It’s a self-fufilling prophecy and it’s been happening in this society for A THOUSAND YEARS.
And to be fair, the idea of mis-sorting is addressed now and again in the series. Dumbledore comments on it in passing (at the very end of the series. To manipulate someone.), and there is one character arc that incorporate this idea - Wormtail. We’re told, essentially, that Wormtail wants so badly to be like the other Marauders that he chooses Gryffindor - that this desperate, cowardly nature is a cornerstone of his personality from childhood. Notice how the one arguable “wrong sorting” in the series is not a “good” Slytherin but rather a “bad” Gryffindor - Sirius is congratulated by the story for choosing not to be in Slytherin to spite his family, Snape is revealed to have been helping Harry all along but his character is still coded in villany and he forms, in many ways, the visual perception of Slytherin and all its negativity in Harry’s eyes - unfairly docking points from other houses, not being “honorable”, playing blantant favourites with his own students.
As Harry gets older and his life gets more complex - or rather, he begins to see the world in its true shades of grey, rather than with the black and white certainty of childhood - he begins to see that people cannot be simplified down to a few personality traits. This is the purpose of the Malfoys in the story - Draco, who is Harry’s petty preteen enemy and synonymous with the Death Eaters in Harry’s eyes, is shown to be a flawed and overwhelmed boy who, much like Harry, is manipulated and twisted by powers far greater than himself. The love the Malfoys have for each other far outweighs their loyalty to Voldemort, their ideals, their ambition - and it’s this love that saves Harry’s life, and he knows it. This is why he is able to acknowledge Draco on the platform in the epilogue - they’ll never be friends, but there is an understanding between them, an acknowledgement of their similarities. The Malfoys are their arc are arguably the most human in the entire series - but it’s never explicitly linked to Slytherin, or how it dismantles the stereotypes of the houses. In fact, the role of Slytherin in the seventh book is to run and save themselves when Hogwarts is attacked - we’re told point blank that not one Slytherin stays to help Harry (let’s not even talk about the movie okay OKAY). Are we meant to think these 16 and 17-year olds are cowards for wanting to live? Are we meant to assume that all of them - every single one - has friends and family fighting on Voldemort’s side and they don’t want to be caught in the crossfire? The book basically implies that belonging to Slytherin is synonymous to supporting Voldemort and blood purity - even though we know the house is not made entirely of pureblood/aristocratic wizards. Instead of trying to break down the negativity of house perceptions in the books, jkr just reinforces it and, honestly, I think the quality of the story is damaged because of it.
So in summary: the sorting forces eleven year old to either know definitively who they are (and who knows that at eleven? Who knows that at eighteen? Some people don’t EVER know that), or to shoulder the potentially negative stereotypes of whatever house they’re put into, and become intrinsic and cliquey because of that. For some people - especially, as we’ve seen, Slytherins - the sorting and its ripple effects can continute to effect and even shape their later lives. And the Sorting Hat - which divides them in the first place, which encourages isolation and often toxicity - is preaching about putting aside house differences? Not bloody likely.
They call him the Winter Soldier. He reminds me more of fire, though.