Nature vs. Nurture in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Spoilers)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As I was reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (yes, I just got to it in April), I was struck by how several of the characters believed that if Voldemort ever had a child that the child would inevitably be bad.  They have such a revulsion to Voldemort (understandable) that they assume his child would inherit his villainy—basically that evil is inherent and determined by one’s parentage.  I don’t think this is Rowling’s or any of the co-writers’ opinion (well, it could be, but I have no way of knowing), but I find it interesting that in a series where characters are often not what they seem and villains are sometimes redeemed that there seems to be no room for the thought that a child of Voldemort’s might be anything other than a new Dark Lord (or Dark Lady).

Case One: Scorpius Malfoy

The book opens with the rumor that Scorpius Malfoy might the son of Voldemort.  When Rose Granger-Weasley and Albus Potter meet him on the Hogwarts Express, Rose is distant and suspicious from the start.  When Scorpius introduces himself, she is noticeably “cold” and blurts, “Your mum and dad are Death Eaters!” (16).  However, this is not the sticking point for her, and she finally has to spell out her discomfort to Albus:  “The rumor is that he’s Voldemort’s son, Albus” (17).  With this point clear, she turns on her heel and denies friendship with both Scorpius and Albus, if he’s going to associate with such a person.

Though Harry, Hermione, and Ron deny that they believe this rumor, there’s evidence they do.  Harry admits near the end of Act Three to Albus that he was against the friendship between the two boys because of it: “Well, I was wrong too—to think Scorpius was Voldemort’s son.  He wasn’t a black cloud” (203).  All these characters would presumably have enough reason to be suspicious of Scorpius for being Draco’s son—but Draco is semi-reformed since the end of HP 7, and the boy clearly wasn’t raised as a Death Eater.  They are all suspicious that he might be Voldemort’s son, and that this would make him a terrible person even though his mother was a decent person, even though he was raised in a normal household because simply being related to Voldemort would make him bad.  For them, nurture trumps nature.  Albus makes this clear when he tries to comfort Scorpius’s own doubts about his parentage: “I don’t think Voldemort is capable of having a kind son—and you’re kind, Scorpius.  To the depths. Of your belly, to the tips of your fingers.  I truly believe Voldemort—Voldemort couldn’t have a child like you” (143).

Admittedly, however, there is some argument for the important of nurture; Scorpius states explicitly that his friendship with Albus has made him a better person.  When Scorpius has to make some tough choices in the alternate universe where Voldemort succeeded, Snape reminds him: “Think about Albus.  You’re giving up your kingdom for Albus, right?  One person.  All it takes is one person” (193).  I don’t think the point is that friendship with Albus has made Scorpius a more virtuous person, however.  When the audience first meet him, he’s an eager kid trying to make friends with sweets and talking about his lovely mother; there’s no evidence he was ever tempted to the path of evil.  Friendship with Albus simply makes him more outgoing, more confident, more courageous.

Case Two: Delphini Diggory

Delphini is a somewhat less complicated case, in part because readers don’t see much of her after the “big reveal” of her true identity.  There are a couple things that we know, however.  The first is that she was raised by Death Eaters.  As she’s toying with Scorpius and Albus in revealing her true intentions for using the Time Turner, she casually drops this line about the woman who raised her: “She didn’t like me much.  Euphemia Rowle…she only took me in for the gold” (219).  Scorpius is concerned and slowly observes, “The Rowles were pretty extreme Death Eaters” (219).  It is this revelation that makes him most suspicious of Delphini, and—without knowing she’s Voldemort’s child—he realizes she’s probably up to no good.  Nurture is the issue here, as someone raised by practicing Death Eaters was probably raised to value Dark magic.  However, Delphini’s childhood never comes up again.  From this point forward, the driving point is that she’s Voldemort’s daughter.

And it is her parentage that alarms everyone.  When Harry and company raid Delphini’s room and discover (through an absurdly convenient message) that she’s Voldemort’s child, they panic.  When Hermione shares the news with the rest of the wizarding community, their reaction is “A child! Anything but that!”  They seem to subscribe to the view that Albus expresses earlier, that a child of Voldemort would undoubtedly be evil.  No one thinks for a moment that she could be otherwise.  They assume, without proof, that she’s up to no good with Albus and Scorpius as hostages.

The audience gets little explanation for Delphini’s personality and values beyond this, except in the scene at Godric’s hollow.  Here we learn that Delphini wants nothing more than her father’s approval.  She repeats “Farther!” frequently when speaking to Harry-disguised-as-Voldemort and then tells Harry, “I’ve studied to be worthy of him!” (290).  Is the desire to follow in her father’s footsteps nature or nurture, though?  Is this an idea she got from being raised by Death Eaters?  From having heard a prophecy that she could be a powerful Dark witch?  Or is it simply that a daughter of Voldemort must be like Voldemort?

There’s some nuance in the play, but the characters appear to strongly believe that nature trumps nurture and that a child of Voldemort’s must be evil, no questions asked.  What do you think?



21 thoughts on “Nature vs. Nurture in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Spoilers)

  1. KliScruggs says:

    This is SUCH an amazing and fascinating take on this story. I would have never thought about it this way! I am inclined to think nature trumps nurture in this story. I wasn’t a fan of the book for the story (also the characters seemed VERY out of character). It seemed very klunky and not Harry Potterish at all. I feel like most of the character end up being quite hypocritical, particularly Harry and Hermione, in this book; clearly adulting has taken it’s toll on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      I have trouble with stories in general when authors show their children all grown up because the trend seems to be making the adults cynical or generally emphasizing their flaws. I get that no one is perfect, but it’s very rare that I don’t find these types of stories depressing and disappointing because the author seems actively trying to make me dislike the characters once they’re no longer kids.

      I also find it odd that there does seem to be a strong argument for nature trumping nurture here, considering that Rowling sometimes has some thoughtful things to say about good and evil. Not so much here, I think.


  2. The Hermit Librarian says:

    Setting aside the fact that I greatly disliked this book for the horrible contribution I felt it made to the Harry Potter world, I think you’ve made some excellent points here. For as much as Rowling wrote about the possibility of redemption in her books, such as Snape’s case for example, this book was firmly in the nature over nurture category.

    I feel that there may be some nature aspects that will always pop up, or that at least have the greater likelihood to come to the forefront, but nurture will win out in the end and can have a great deal to do with combating the difficulties presented by nature.


    • Briana says:

      I’m not sure what was up with some parts of the script! The Trolley Witch totally confused me; it seemed out of character and as though it added little to the plot. The grown-up versions of some of the characters were not always what I imagined either.

      Yes! I think the authors mildly tried to skirt the issues by throwing in the aside that Delphini was raised by Death Eaters, but nobody in the play seemed to think that that was really a contributing factor; it was all “Well, she’s Voldemort’s kid.” I wonder what would have happened if she’d been raised by different people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Hermit Librarian says:

        That also brings up an interesting thought. If she had been raised by different people, they’d have had two choices: tell her who her parents were or hide her parentage from her. What would she have done with the knowledge in either case? In the latter, it probably would’ve ended up backfiring when she discovered how evil her birth parents were. If the former, maybe it would’ve given her the strength to fight against whatever nature was within her.


  3. Paula Vince says:

    Such great points you’ve made here. The implicit assumption that any child of Voldemort’s would have to bad is all through the plot. Since we know this sort of inheritance doesn’t necessarily play out in real life, why should the Potterverse be any different? And sure enough, just as they all expected, Delphini lives up to their low expectations. (I guess they thought she got a double dose of badness with Bellatrix’s blood added to the mix.) It would have made for an interesting twist if Delphi had turned out to be good and kind.

    Nature sure does trump nurture in the play. I found Harry’s whole assumption after talking to Bane a bit disturbing. Forbidding Albus to hang out with Scorpius on such scanty evidence, and asking Draco, ‘Are you sure he’s yours?’ But on the whole, I did enjoy the play and wish I could fly to London to see it.


    • Briana says:

      Yes! I understand that it’s the characters who think a child of Voldemort must be evil, so it’s not something the authors themselves believe, but I think very little in the plot undermines this assumption, and I would have liked to see it be more nuanced.

      The play is coming to Broadway in 2018 if that’s any closer to you than London!


  4. Ellen @ Quest Reviews says:

    This is a such a thoughtful post. I think we do children of bad people such a disservice if we assume they’ve inherited wickedness. When offspring DO follow in a terrible parent’s footsteps, I think it has so much more to do with nurture than nature.


    • Briana says:

      Yes! I can see how there would be a correlation between bad parents and bad children. If you’re raised by Death Eaters, for example, it’s reasonable you would think supporting Voldemort is a good idea. But I think Rowling takes it too far sometimes. Like, Harry seems to be a good person because his parents would good people, despite being raised by nasty, petty people. And of course the Dursleys were horrible to Harry, but I think it would be reasonable if he’d grown up cynical or angry or extremely timid or…something other than the way he did.


  5. ashley says:

    This is such an interesting discussion and very well thought out. And I definitely agree that in this play that nature trumps nurture. There were a lot of things that bothered me about the play after reading it a second time, many of which you pointed out in your post.


      • ashley says:

        It really does. One thing that I have to remind myself is that Rowling didn’t write it, it is her story just not her words. Which, I feel like if Rowling did write it, we would have seen some more complexities.


  6. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Ooh what an interesting subject! I’ve not read Cursed Child (and don’t intend to). I find your opening interesting- the theory about Voldemort’s child- cos that was one thing that bothered me in HP- Voldemort is *always* evil, even as a child. Now I get that this is textbook psychopath in-training- but personally I always felt like the original books chose nature over nurture- or even blended the two (because even when it went back in time and we saw Voldemort’s upbringing, which was as miserable as Harry’s, Voldemort was a pretty twisted child in contrast to Harry- whether this is because of how he wasn’t a child of love, or because he was descended from slytherin, it indicates he was just born to be evil, whereas Harry was born to be good) Anyway, love this discussion!!


  7. fairydancer221 says:

    I think J.K. Rowling plays with the idea of nature vs. nurture throughout the entire Harry Potter series. One of the driving conflicts in the later books is that Harry, Snape, and Voldy grew up in similar situations, yet they turned out differently. We also see it with Lupin because werewolves are considered dangerous for being werewolves, yet Lupin overturns that idea.

    To answer your question about the characters in Cursed Child, it does seem that the characters believe that nature would be the greatest factor in a child of the late Dark Lord being evil. I thought Albus was more a believer in nurture, but I don’t have the book to reference right now to accurately refute it. He didn’t seem to care that Scorpius might be Voldy’s son.

    (Quick Note: You wrote that “nurture trumps nature” for all but Albus because they believe the simple relation to Voldy would make him evil. I think you meant that the other way around.)


    • Briana says:

      Part of what I noticed about Albus is that he specifically tells Scorpius that he doesn’t believe he can be Voldemort’s son because he doesn’t believe anyone related to Voldemort could be as nice as Scorpius is. Though he does seem to not really care about the rumor one way or the other the first time he meets Scorpius.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. readinginthewings says:

    One of my favorite moments in Harry Potter is in “Snape’s Worst Memory” when we find out that Harry’s dad wasn’t actually the hero he has been made out to be. I think it was a brilliant move on Rowling’s part to give that complication both for the actual character of James Potter, and also to have Harry deal with the discovery of it. It makes him question his own nature, knowing that his dad wasn’t perfect, despite the fact that he never really knew his dad.

    I totally agree about Cursed Child. I honestly think a huge part of the problem was the medium. The plot was so ambitious for a play, and I felt like it focused so much on the action, that we didn’t really get any character development. I liked the story, but it felt too jumbled together, and almost juvenile, because everything had to happen so fast. I’m thinking that if it was in a book, we would have gotten a better insight into the characters thoughts and actions, and your question of nature vs. nurture would have been a little less concrete.


  9. Mariag says:

    I understand that it’s the characters who think a child of Voldemort must be evil, so it’s not something the authors themselves believe, but I think very little in the plot undermines this assumption, and I would have liked to see it be more nuanced. One of my favorite moments in Harry Potter is in “Snape’s Worst Memory” when we find out that Harry’s dad wasn’t actually the hero he has been made out to be.


    • Briana says:

      Agreed! It does seem to be the overall message of the play, regardless of what the authors actually think of that!

      Yes! It’s always interesting to see that no one is perfect and other people have different memories of James Potter than most of his friends do.


  10. DevBlog says:

    I understand that it’s the characters who think a child of Voldemort must be evil, so it’s not something the authors themselves believe, but I think very little in the plot undermines this assumption, and I would have liked to see it be more nuanced.
    I totally agree about Cursed Child.


  11. arsenios says:

    I totally agree about Cursed Child.
    (Quick Note: You wrote that “nurture trumps nature” for all but Albus because they believe the simple relation to Voldy would make him evil.


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