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Breaking All The Rules: the Literary Significance of Ginny's Love Life

by Red Monster

Post date: March 26, 2005

 

"Well, I always thought he was a bit of an idiot," he said, prodding his queen forward toward Harry's quivering castle. "Good for you. Just choose someone--better--next time."

He cast Harry an oddly furtive look as he said it.

"Well, I've chosen Dean Thomas, would you say he's better?" asked Ginny vaguely.

"WHAT?" shouted Ron, upending the chessboard.

--Ron and Ginny in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, pg. 866, US edition.

The following editorial is focused not on the characters' reasons for acting the way they do, but on JKR's reasons for handling them the way she does. It is also not intended to be a comprehensive case for Harry/Ginny, as a much longer piece would be required for the job of exploring the evidence of Harry's feelings for Ginny and hers for him. Instead, the purpose of this article is to analyze the author's handling of Ginny Weasley's love life compared to other romantic elements in the series. J.K. Rowling has established certain rules for the development of her characters' love lives, and Ginny Weasley breaks all the rules, but this is not an anomaly. There is a reason why the youngest Weasley stands out in this arena.

In order to understand the significance of the progression of Ginny's romantic storyline, one must first examine the environment in which it exists. The romantic world of Harry Potter operates within the following parameters:

  1. These are not real people. They are fictional characters under the control of a lone author, and so they play by her rules.
  2. The Harry Potter series is not focused on romance.
  3. As such, it is exceedingly rare for any character to have more than one relationship. Harry is the exception. As the story is about him, his love life warrants a higher level of complication, drama and development than the others. All other characters' love lives range from nonexistent to inconsequential to uncomplicated, or they meet at least one of the following criteria:
    1. It contributes something to the progression or enjoyment of the story.
    2. It is an issue of relevance to Harry's personal life.

Ginny has chosen Dean Thomas, she tells her brother. After years of being openly smitten with Harry Potter, and then a year of dating Michael Corner, she has apparently moved on to Dean Thomas, and so Ron's poorly disguised attempt to fix her up with his best friend Harry is in vain. Just what do we make of Ginny's statement of having chosen Dean? Does this mean she is going to date him, or was that merely her way of telling Ron to mind his own business? Could it be both? What does this mean for her and Harry?

The catch is that this is not a matter of one or the other. She may be entering a relationship with Dean, but whether he will be her final partner is another matter. The issue here is that JKR is developing Ginny's love life in a way that points her in a different direction.

If Ginny comes across as a "slut" in OotP, as her detractors have been calling her since the book came out, it is not because she is the least bit promiscuous. She had one boyfriend for one year, which is a remarkably stable and responsible track record for a fourteen-year-old. The reason why Ginny appears a slut to some readers, aside from their own predisposition to dislike her, is that her love life is getting more attention than a minor character normally gets in the Harry Potter series.

The problem with a Dean/Ginny relationship is not with Dean himself. The problem is with Michael Corner. Based on the usual rules for handling romance in the Potterverse, something is very wrong with Ginny's picture. If she is going to fall for Dean Thomas and stay with him to the end, what was the author's reason to put her through a relationship with Michael Corner first?

Most characters' love lives are nonexistent or inconsequential. For example, Seamus went to the Yule Ball with Lavender, Fred went with Angelina, and Draco with Pansy, but none of these relationships have been explored or recognized since then. Percy had a very close relationship with Penelope Clearwater but it has not been mentioned since PoA. Bill Weasley appears to be dating Fleur Delacour, but aside from a couple of silly lines from the twins, that relationship is not an entity in the story and it does not pose a problem for anyone.

Those relationships that warrant more page time have something to offer the story, yet are still less complicated than Ginny's romantic storyline. Arthur and Molly have been married for many years and have been together since their Hogwarts days, and their relationship is relevant to Harry because he stays with them during the holidays and their children include some of his closest friends. Petunia and Vernon's marriage is also a relevant issue to Harry because they provided the environment for his (tremendously unhappy) childhood and he still has to live with them for part of each summer. For better or for worse, their relationship has a place in the story. Remus and Sirius may or may not have been lovers, but if they were, then their love justified its existence in that both men have been important figures in Harry's life. Hagrid and Madame Maxime's budding romance contributes to the plot in that they went into the mountains together to find the giants. All these couples have in common the fact that none of them show any sign of ever having been with anyone else. These are all uniformly monogamous characters, as opposed to the serial monogamy shown in Ginny's behavior if her reference to Dean is to be taken seriously.

Ron and Hermione's developing relationship offers entertainment to the story. The formation of their romantic attachment creates a humorous but interesting side story which offsets the darkness and angst permeating Harry's struggle against evil. Furthermore, their romantic storyline is relevant to Harry's personal life in that these are his two very best friends and he has to put up with them. Additionally, they are, at this point in canon, more important characters than Ginny, which would provide an airtight reason to make their romantic storyline more complicated and difficult than hers, yet that does not appear to be the case. If they are indeed headed for a long-term romance together, they are not being set up for relationships with any other characters beforehand. To answer the question fully would take two separate and fairly involved examinations of their romantic behavior, but to stay within the scope of this article, I do not think that Hermione was ever more than friends with Viktor Krum, and I do not think either she or Ron is going to try dating anyone else before their relationship begins in earnest. If I have miscalculated, and they do go out with other people first, that will still make sense in that Harry has to live with their drama and it will be very interesting to watch. However, based on currently available evidence, these two have eyes for no one but each other. When Ginny's romantic storyline is more complicated than that of the principal sidekicks, it leaves one to wonder what is in store for her.

To examine Ginny's exemption from the usual parameters is not to say that she is unique in her apparent behavior of serial monogamy. As the rules above state, exceptions can be made if they create relevant issues to Harry's personal life. Cho Chang was Cedric Diggory's girlfriend up until his death, and this was a personal issue to Harry because first, he was unspeakably jealous of Cedric and second, because Cho kept bringing him up while Harry was trying to date her. Roger Davies asked Cho on a date before he found his nice blonde snog-buddy and this became relevant to Harry when Cho brought it up on their Valentine's Day attempt in the coffee shop. Cho's tangled love life had a place in the story because she was Harry's love interest. Therefore, one must ask why JKR is putting Ginny through her paces.

While the adult couples create contrasting family environments for our hero or contribute to the plot of the story, and the younger couples bring entertainment and levity to the book or create issues in Harry's emotional life, Ginny's first relationship after "giving up on" Harry was completely pointless. What exactly did Michael/Ginny have to offer the story in OotP? It was not necessary for the plot; if JKR really needed to have that many Ravenclaws in the DA, she could have found another way to bring them in. In fact, the presence of Michael and friends in the Hog's Head presented the opportunity for Hermione to announce the Michael/Ginny relationship. The plot supported the couple rather than the other way around. So, what was their place in the story? It had no entertainment value except for Ron's reaction, which quite vehemently demonstrated his preference for Harry/Ginny. It effected no character growth except for helping Ginny to become more confident around Harry, a change that he noticed and a connection he made even when he was supposedly busy thinking about Cho. This relationship offered little enjoyment to Ginny; even Cedric/Cho had more to offer on its own in that Cho seems to have truly loved Cedric. Ginny, by contrast, calls Michael "the fool" and spends remarkably little time with him throughout the course of the book, never being shown doing anything enjoyable or romantic with him. It is no surprise that Harry is not jealous of them, as there is nothing there to provoke jealousy in him. This pairing had shockingly little reason to exist at all. However, Michael/Ginny redeemed itself in the end in an act of self-sacrifice when Ginny's ex ran off with Harry's ex, a phenomenon I would like to call "canonical convenience shipping." So, all it accomplished was to show that Ron wants Ginny to be with Harry, allow Ginny to become a more interesting and engaging presence in Harry's life, and provide a convenient new partner for Cho Chang after her attempt at dating Harry failed. All of the literary value present in Michael/Ginny points Ginny toward Harry.

Where does all this leave Dean? Ginny could be dating him next book, but she is not going to marry him. He would have made a perfectly suitable partner for her if she were handled in a way that set her up to be with him, but if Ginny is to end up with Dean, there was no reason for her to go through Michael Corner first. Ginny is not a real girl, or a character in a soap opera, or the heroine of the story, or even a primary sidekick like Ron and Hermione. If Dean were to be her ultimate pairing, then instead of meeting Michael between episodes of letting Neville step on her toes, she could have gotten better acquainted with Dean at the Yule Ball and stayed with him. It would have been fairly easy, as he's in the same House as she and didn't appear to have a date at the ball.

Between her being "very taken" with Harry for the better part of three years, having a completely pointless relationship with Michael Corner for the following year, and now allegedly choosing Dean Thomas, Ginny's romantic storyline stands out among the usually much simpler love lives of other Harry Potter characters. What is most significant of all is that the character whose romantic storyline is most comparable to Ginny's is not Cho, but Harry. Both he and Ginny went to the Yule Ball with "last resort" dates who treated them to tedious, substandard dancing. Harry asked Parvati because "the time had come for drastic action" and she steered him around the Great Hall like a show dog. Meanwhile, Ginny agreed to be Neville's second choice because she couldn't go to the ball otherwise, and he frequently trod on her feet. Harry and Ginny spent the following year dating slightly older Ravenclaws who left them disappointed and then very considerately ran off with each other.

If Ginny is not merely yanking her brother's chain, and really does go out with Dean Thomas in HBP, then their relationship is going to be a personal issue to Harry as he becomes closer to Ginny. What JKR is doing with Ginny is not the handling of a principal sidekick's little sister who is destined to end up with a minor character. It is the handling of the hero's love interest.

Dean is not the only boy aside from Harry who is used by the fandom as a partner for Ginny. A more popular choice for her is fellow Sextet member Neville Longbottom. While this could be a workable relationship if JKR were setting it up, it is, in fact, even less plausible than Dean/Ginny. Aside from the fact that their behavior towards each other portrays a close friendship and nothing else, the development of Ginny's love life is not leading her toward Neville. The reasons why Dean/Ginny is not a viable option for long-term canon apply doubly to Neville/Ginny because not only would that put yet another chapter on Ginny's already curiously complicated love life, but because their relationship could have taken an easier opening than the one she had with Michael, but they declined.

Neville and Ginny went to the Yule Ball together, which could have been a romantic occasion if they had made it one, but not only was she his second choice after Hermione, she met her future boyfriend at that occasion. If she were destined for romance with Neville, first, he would be talking to his grandmother about Ginny rather than Hermione, and second, she would not have had any reason to go out with Michael or Dean first. If Ginny's comment is a red herring and she's not headed for a romantic attempt with Dean, then there was still no need for Michael/Ginny to take place if she is being set up as Neville's love interest. Ginny and Neville could have used their date at the ball as a springboard to a further relationship and stayed together from there. If not that, then JKR could have skipped over Michael/Ginny and shown her and Neville enjoying themselves together at the ball and had them start dating later on, but in the books, neither of those things happened. Rather than mirror the happy development of Cedric/Cho (only without the tragedy as Neville was not a Triwizard Champion), they paralleled the unenthusiastic, poorly matched convenience of Harry and Parvati. The sidekick's little sister is not going to spend three years dealing with a paralyzing crush on the hero and then date one or two other boys before ending up with a secondary sidekick in a series where most characters are lucky to get so much as one date. The scenario becomes even more unlikely when she met the first of those one or two other boys during an awkward and unwanted date with that very same secondary sidekick. However, that same little sister could have a paralyzing crush on the hero for three years, give up on him ever loving her in return, and date one or two other boys, only to find that her affection for the hero isn't so unrequited after all. That would bring Ginny's romantic storyline full circle and resolve her early crush on Harry in a way that a long-term romance with Dean or Neville could never hope to do. This is not real life. This is a fictional story, and loose threads wait to be woven together.

Ginny's storyline with Harry did not begin in Book 2 when she squealed at the sight of him in her family's kitchen. It began in Book 1, when Harry watched her run after the train until she was no longer visible to him. That storyline is not going to end with Dean Thomas, or Neville Longbottom, or any other secondary or lesser character. Her story has taken a twist with her giving up on Harry, but it has not been resolved. At the end of the day, Ginny's love life does not break the rules of J.K. Rowling's handling of romance after all. The reason why Ginny stands out is that she is headed for romance with Harry Potter.

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