Consider the Dementor: Discipline, Punishment, and Magical Citizenship in Harry Potter

Tracy Bealer
Borough of Manhattan Community College
New York, New York, USA


In his 2004 essay “Consider the Lobster”, David Foster Wallace investigated the ethics of boiling alive an aesthetically unappealing, yet sentient and perceiving, creature to augment the pleasure of a human consumer. In the Potterverse, dementors are described by our human heroes as “terrible things” with “rotting” bodies, “unseen” mouths, and characterized as “among the foulest creatures that walk this earth” . Their occupation as guards of Azkaban Prison does little to improve their reputation among wizard-kind. However, how much of the dementors’ evil is ontological? Is it possible that these beings have been actively constructed as villains by wizarding institutions in order to provide a non-human bogeyman for disciplinary purposes? 

Lurking beneath and at the edges of the books’ representation of dementors are clues about their chosen habitats and habits that suggest wizards have manipulated their existence in order to weaponize them. Dementors operate in the wizarding world not only to literally confine certain bodies in prison, but also to serve as a hated and feared “other” against which wizards can define themselves. Dementors are enlisted as prison guards and assigned the task of punishing wizard lawbreakers because their physical and emotional effects on these magical humans literalize the social punishment of lawbreaking in the wizarding world: social expulsion and death.

Via a close reading the reviled dementor, this analysis hopes to open up a wider discussion on wizarding disciplinary techniques, and explore how other hierarchies in the Potterverse are established and maintained.

Keywords: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter series, treatment of dementors, justice system in Harry Potter, rationality in Harry Potter 

Author Bio

Tracy L. Bealer is an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She specializes in twentieth- and twenty-first-century American pop culture and genre fiction. Her areas of scholarly interest include the intersection of gender and politics in film, television, and comics, and she has published and lectured frequently on the Harry Potter series. Bealer co-edited Neil Gaiman and Philosophy for Open Court’s Pop Culture and Philosophy series and is co-director of the Page 23 Literary Conference at Denver Pop Culture Con. She tweets more than she should about true crime and pop culture from @TracyBealer.

Suggested Citation


Bealer, Tracy. “Consider the Dementor: Discipline, Punishment, and Magical Citizenship in Harry Potter.Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 2019, vol. 6, no 3.


Bealer, T. (2019). Consider the Dementor: Discipline, punishment, and magical citizenship in Harry Potter. 6(3). Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy.


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