“The Rites of Beauty offer to sell women back an imitation of the light that is ours already, the central grace that we are forbidden to say that we see.”
Naomi Wolf “The Beauty Myth”
The women of Harry Potter have long been talked about as strong characters and good role models for the younger girls reading the books. The biggest part that appeals to me is that they all seem to own their power and intelligence. They are aware of their strengths and are confidant in their decisions and actions. Even Molly Weasley, was always self-assured and intimidating, even when she seemed relegated to the kitchen. If you had asked me to pick out the weakest female character it would have undoubtedly been Professor Trelawney.
Sybil Trelawney is the Divination teacher and is supposed to use her ability as a ”seer” to help the students learn to predict the future. However, it is established early on in the third book that she is nothing more than a fake or a fraud. It is made clear that both Hermione and Prof. McGonagall (both intelligent, well respected women) find her nothing more than a fake and over-emotional. Combine that with her obvious flair for the dramatic and her tendency to put her focus on Harry and his impending death and she is not very likeable and relatively flakey. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil flock to her, and, seeing as how they are often portrayed, it does nothing for her reputation in the reader’s eyes. Then, near the end of the third book, Trelawney has a real vision that warns of the danger of the Dark Lord and the events that will transpire later that day. Harry believes her but she has no recollection of the vision and dismisses it as impossible
It is not until the fifth book that we realize that not only does Prof. Trelawney have real power; she is in fact the catalyst for the entire story behind the Potter Series. Her prophecy, overheard by Snape, causes the chain of events for Harry to become the person he is and for Voldemort to finally reach his downfall. The main difference between Trelawney and the other women is not their ability or power it is that SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT POWER SHE HAS. Sybil has the true gift of the seer but is unaware of this. Instead of owning what power is hers, she attempts to recreate a power and feels that it is necessary to put on the show that she does for her co-workers and in her Divination class. Her lack of confidence is exposed in the fifth book when she goes up against Dolores Umbridge.
When faced with her facade disintegrating around her Trelawney falls apart and panics. When she is fired she has a breakdown and develops a drinking problem that continues throughout the rest of the series. She is replaced as a teacher and her two favorite students soon prefer him over her and she is consistently hit over the head with how useless she is, and how so many people can see right through her.
Prof. Trelawney is a tragic figure because she is denied what so many other females in the series take for granted: the ability to know and own their power and role in the story. Prof. Trelawney is “protected” from the information about her prophecy but although this may keep her safe from Voldemort it does nothing to keep her safe from society and what is expected of her as a witch. Her persona is a fake and she is aware of it, she presents a certain way, but when confronted by a woman who owns and knows how to wield her power she crumbles to pieces. She could easily throw the smack down and be like “Hey, it’s my info that helped Lord V. get slapped down by a one year old, so step the fuck off” but instead she drinks to take away the pain, ends up wandering the hallways whispering to herself and being bitter about her lack of student respect.
Prof. Trelawney is one of the most important characters in the series in terms of plot development but she has no agency in her role. She belittles the first prophecy we hear from her. Her lack of self-esteem and desire to build what she views as a powerful image also prevents her from recognizing her skills when they are brought to her attention. Her most important prophecy is never heard directly from her lips and is instead related to Harry through Dumbledore and to Lord Voldemort through Snape. Her words are never truly hers and the damage this does to her psyche is immense.