Saturday, May 23, 2015

(Don't Call Me) Nymphadora Tonks: A Character Analysis

 I wrote this essay for my Harry Potter class at Columbia College Chicago. I am very proud of this essay, so I'm posting it here. As I'm sure you can guess, the GIFs were not part of the original essay.

“I was never a prefect myself. My head of house said I lacked certain qualities… like the ability to behave myself.” (The Order of the Phoenix) 
                  There is really no other character like Tonks: a half-blood witch, born a Metamorphagus, sorted into Hufflepuff house, and one of the youngest Aurors the Ministry of Magic has ever had, let alone was trained to be an Auror by Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. The daughter of Andromeda Black and Edward Tonks, she’s an exile within her own family (like Sirius), but that doesn’t stop her from working undercover for the Order of the Phoenix, marrying a werewolf, giving birth during the second wizard war, and just being a generally awesome character. She doesn’t appear until The Order of Phoenix, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough to analyze the character and see the story through her consistently changing eyes. 

               One of the best ways to identify a character is through their name. Let’s start with the first half of her first name: Nymph. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, there are three definitions for the word “nymph”: 1. “any of the minor divinities of nature in classical mythology represented as beautiful maidens dwelling in the mountains, forests, trees, and waters”, 2. “girl”, and 3. “any of various immature insects; especially :  a larva of an insect (as a grasshopper, true bug, or mayfly) with incomplete metamorphosis that differs from the imago especially in size and in its incompletely developed wings and genitalia.” In summation, nymph means either “beautiful young maiden who lives in a natural setting and attends to a superior godlike being” or “an insect that has not yet turned into an adult.” In Tonks, we see both: she clearly is a beautiful young woman and can “metamorph” her appearance at will and she serves Dumbledore, whom one wouldn’t venture to say is superior to anyone else in the series, but he fits the godlike being requirement. Tonks is also still fairly young: she graduated from Hogwarts in 1991, became an Auror in 1994, joined the Order of the Phoenix in 1995, and passed away in 1998 alongside her husband, Remus Lupin, at the Battle of Hogwarts. She was 25 years old at her time of death. Like the insect, Tonks never really becomes a full adult. Some could argue that Tonks grew up when she married and gave birth to Teddy, but at her soonest convenience; she left Teddy with her mother to go and fight with Remus and the others. Ultimately, it was the right decision for Tonks, but then the question becomes this: if one is an adult with a child and a partner on the battlefield, is the “adult” thing to do to stay behind or go and fight? I’d argue that Tonks is still, essentially, a young, childlike person, despite having made some very “adult” decisions.

                    The second part of her first name is “Dora.”, a website that offers exactly what the URL says, reports that Dora is “of Greek origin, and the meaning of Dora is ‘gift’. Short form of Dorothy or names like Theodora.” Her husband and parents call her Dora, and that makes complete sense. They see her as a gift to them, and it’s just a charming nickname. The same website also mentioned Dora from David Copperfield, but did not elaborate. The best source that sums up Dora’s character is Wikipedia, surprisingly. According to the not-really-academic source, Dora Spenlow is David Copperfield’s first wife. “She’s portrayed as beautiful, but childish… She proves unable to cope with the responsibilities of married life, and is more interested in playing with her dog… than in acting as David's housekeeper… a year into their marriage she suffers a miscarriage, and her health steadily declines until she eventually dies.” (Wikipedia) This is very similar to the idea of Tonks not making the transition to adulthood. She, like Dora in David Copperfield, doesn’t adjust well to married life: Dora refuses to be a housekeeper and spends all her time with her dog, and Tonks doesn’t stay behind with her son, following her motherly role, she goes after Remus. Tonks and Dora also both have an interest in older men: David, about 10 years her senior, essentially ended up being Dora’s caretaker, and Remus is 12 years Tonks’ senior (he was 38 when they died). Also worth noting, both Tonks and Dora die young, Tonks because she was killed by Bellatrix, but Dora dies from her health declining due to a miscarriage. This further confirms the argument that Tonks never really became an “adult.”

                 Finally, her last and preferred name: Tonks. TheFreeDictionary gives two definitions for the word “tonk”: 1. “to strike with a heavy blow” and 2. “an effete or effeminate man.” While Tonks is feminine at various points throughout the series, she isn’t a man, so this definition doesn’t really work. The first one, however, works really well. Tonks is an absolute klutz, for one thing. “Nearly failed on Stealth and Tracking. I'm dead clumsy, did you hear me break that plate when we arrived downstairs?(Order of the Phoenix) Along with that quote, there are quite a few times when she knocks things over and makes a mess of things. Molly Weasley is even hesitant to have her help out with the housework because she’s terrified Tonks will screw something up. Tonks basically “strikes a heavy blow” on anything that comes in her way. This includes Remus: in The Half-Blood Prince, she screams at Remus for continually rejecting her after Bill Weasley is attacked by Greyback. “You see!" said a strained voice. Tonks was glaring at Lupin. "She still wants to marry him, even though he's been bitten! She doesn't care!” (The Half-Blood Prince) This is the moment in the book when every character, except for Molly Weasley and Remus Lupin, understand what has been going on with Tonks and it is definitely a heavy blow for Remus because he doubts his capabilities as a lover and husband due to his age and lycanthropy. Along with the heavy blow metaphor, it makes sense why she would want to be called “Tonks.” She’s an Auror, and her first name implies that she’s beautiful, but childlike and weak; unable to do what needs to be done. However, as an Auror, one needs to strike some heavy blows against enemies, so she picked the name that literally meant “strike heavy blows” as a way to toughen up her image. It’s also probably the name she identifies with the most. My full name is Kathryn, but I prefer going by Katie because I feel like that fits in with my personality and the type of person I am more than my full name does. Tonks probably feels the same way; she knows she’s not some delicate, ridiculously beautiful maiden and she knows she isn’t a weakling, so the name Tonks probably resonates with her more than her first name does. 

                    Another key thing about Tonks is that she is a Metamorphmagus, a rare gift that allows the witch or wizard to change their appearance at will. I got top marks in Concealment and Disguise during Auror training without any study at all, it was great.(Order of the Phoenix). To fully comprehend what this word means, let’s break it down into parts, similar with her name (though this entry probably won’t take up three long paragraphs), and analyze how it applies to our young Auror. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “meta-“, as a prefix, means “change”, “more than”, or “beyond.” The same online dictionary defines “morph” as “one having (such) a form” and “magus” is the plural form of “magi” which means “magician or sorcerer.” Literally, Metamorphmagus means “magician able to change their form.” This is what Tonks is able to do and she uses it to her advantage.  The word is also very similar to Metamorphosis, which has essentially the same definition of Metamorphmagus, except it’s about insects: “a major change in the form or structure of some animals or insects that happens as the animal or insect becomes an adult.” This fits back with the first part of Tonks’ first name, “nymph”, which is an insect with an incomplete metamorphosis. This fits back to my assumption that Tonks has not yet become an adult, and that’s she’s still a childlike woman who tries to behave like an adult.

                      It’s also worth noting that if Tonks is in an extreme emotional state, her Metamorphmagus powers won’t work at all. After Sirius dies and Remus rejects her feelings, Tonks falls into a pretty deep depression and she loses her ability to change her appearance. Her hair had become a mousy brown and lank (rumored to be her actual hair color and texture), and she was much skinner. “…she looked drawn, even ill, and there was something forced in her smile.” (The Half-Blood Prince) Her patronus charm had also changed its shape into a wolf, which Harry and the gang thought was Sirius, but it was for Remus. Due to Tonks’ childlike nature, even though she is an Auror, she’s still fragile when it comes to her emotions and it’s very hard for her to hide them. Not that being emotional or lacking control of one’s emotions means they aren’t an adult, but it is something that our society tends to associate with young children. Remus even comments on how he’s too old for her and keeps saying she deserves someone who is her own age. He’s reminding Tonks of her own childlike nature; that she has not metamorphed into an adult, and this, along with having her feelings rejected, hurts her even more.

                  Having explored her name and abilities, it’s time to see where her loyalties lie. Tonks was sorted into Hufflepuff house. Hufflepuff house is all about hard work, loyalty, and fair play. One can see the evidence in her hardwork, even though she failed the stealth part of her Auror exam, she managed to pass and was the youngest to do so. That’s says a lot about her skills and abilities. She also works very hard for the Order, risking her Auror career at the Ministry. She’s at the battle of the Astronomy Tower and on pretty much every one of Harry’s transport sessions. She’s also super loyal to not only the Order, but to Remus. When Remus returns to her after leaving her by herself, she takes him back. She then goes after to fight with him and for him at the Battle of Hogwarts. She’s also a big advocator of fair play: born to Andromeda (Black) Tonks, exiled sister of Narcissa (Black) Malfoy and Bellatrix (Black) Lestrange, and Ted Tonks, a Muggle-born wizard, she’s a half blood, like Harry, and she disagrees with her two Aunt’s alliances, like her mother. It’s why she signed up to work for the Order and Dumbledore: so people like her father can be seen as equals. Bellatrix dueled with Tonks three times: the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, the Battle of the Seven Potters, and the Battle of Hogwarts. The first two Battles, Tonks got out of alive: she was knocked out after the first one and during the second, while Bellatrix was determined to kill her this time, Tonks managed to escape and get Ron Weasley out alive. In the final battle, Bellatrix killed her. Tonks’ body was placed next to the body of Remus in the Great Hall, as a testament to their love and Tonks’ loyalty to him.

              Tonks never got the chance to become an adult. While she had left school and was legally considered one, she still had a every childlike nature and wasn’t very coordinated. While she had passed her Auror exam and became a wife and mother, she was still very much a child at heart; she could change her appearance, but she could not “metamorph” into an adult because her chance to do so was robbed from her. So here’s to Tonks: the young woman with so much potential who never got the chance to fully mature and embrace it.

“Nymphadora Tonks” Harry Potter Wikia 14. April. 2014 <> 
“Merriam-Webster” Merriam-Webster: An Encyclopedia Britannica Company 2014. 14 April 2014 <>
“The Free Dictionary” TheFreeDictionary by Farlex 2014. 14 April 2014 <>
“Baby Names” Think Baby Names 2014. 14 April 2014 <>

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