Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Merope Gaunt
|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character
|Morfin Gaunt, Marvolo Gaunt, Tom Marvolo Riddle
Merope Gaunt is the mother of Tom Marvolo Riddle, the sister of Morfin Gaunt, and the daughter of Marvolo Gaunt. She is not a pretty woman at all: 'Her hair was lank and dull and she had a plain, pale, rather heavy face. Her eyes stared in opposite directions.' She wears ragged clothing and is always abused by her father, because of the relative weakness of her magical powers.
Role in the Books edit
We see Merope only through the recorded memories of various wizards, and the ensuing discussions with Professor Dumbledore. When we first see her, she is eighteen years old, and keeping house (more or less adequately) for her father and brother. She was in love with the Muggle Tom Riddle. Shortly afterwards, her father and brother are sent to Azkaban for attacking the wizards who were to bring Morfin to the Ministry for a hearing concerning his attacking a Muggle with magic. Merope, left to her own devices, managed to give Tom Riddle Senior a love potion, which made him fall in love with her. They eventually got married. Merope then becomes pregnant with Voldemort. She decides to stop giving Tom the love potion because she thought since they had been together so long, he might actually like her. If not that, he would at least stay for the baby (the main reason being she did not want to enslave the love of her life anymore.) But she was wrong about this and Tom abandoned her. Merope was so heartbroken that she never used magic again for the rest of her life. Riddle returned to Little Hangleton, and when he got there, he told the town that he had been hoodwinked and taken in. Merope never tried to improve her life after being abandoned by him, living on in London, on her own and in poverty. Shortly before giving birth, she sold her only possession, a priceless locket which was one of the family heirlooms, and which could be traced back to Salazar Slytherin. Merope becomes ill and goes to an orphanage where she gives birth to her child and dies an hour later. Her final request was that the baby was named Tom Marvolo Riddle (after Tom Riddle Senior and Marvolo, Merope's father).
Although Merope is largely lacking in physical strength or magical ability, she still has sufficient strength of character to stand up to her father and brother in the matter of the Muggle Tom Riddle. She does, eventually, use a Love Potion to convince Tom Riddle to marry her, so she has the magical knowledge to be able to create one, at the very least.
There is a possibility that Merope is quite a powerful witch, since both Marvolo and Morfin show signs of being skilled with offensive magic. The abuse she receives at home may be a contributing factor to her perceived lack of skill, and with the rest of her family arrested, she may have begun to blossom magically during that time.
Merope is by far the cleanest of the Gaunts and acts as the house's cook and cleaner - even her clothes are orderly. Without her help, both Marvolo and Morfin live in abject squalor. She is more of a boon to the family than either of them ever knew.
Merope's character was severely weakened by the abuse of her father and brother. She often had trouble with magic growing up, being terrorized by her father, and living in harsh impoverished conditions making her vulnerable to negative feelings about her magic abilities. It is likely that her apparent magical weakness was in part because she was not trained. It is unlikely that Marvolo, with his distrust of the Wizarding hierarchy, would have allowed either of his children to attend school.
As a result of this, Merope's self esteem was quite low; she apparently believed that the only way she could be loved was through a love potion. As noted, she was quite unattractive; it is possible that this assessment of her romantic chances was accurate.
Relationships with Other Characters edit
Most villages in England will have a manor house, and the resident will be the local important person; often referred to as "the lord of the manor" though not necessarily nobility. Tom is the son and heir of the local lord, and Merope is hopelessly in love with him. Her brother and father abuse her quite harshly for daring to fall in love with a Muggle. This abuse from her family has left her feeling unsure of herself.
It is clear to the reader that Merope was faced with a wretched home situation. In even the short time we see the entire family together, we note that Marvolo and Morfin both treat Merope brutally. We also see that Tom Riddle treats the girl he's riding out with much more gently than anything Merope has ever known. It is not surprising, then, that Merope should fall in love with Tom, if only because he was possibly the only Muggle who had ever dared to go near the ugly, scary Gaunt shack while she was living there. The abuse she receives at home predisposes her to escape, and any passing man could be her ticket out; it is unfortunate that the Gaunts had isolated themselves from the Wizarding community, because that resulted in the only available man being a Muggle, an impossible match in the eyes of her father and brother.
Though Merope did fall in love with, and (it is implied) eventually marry, Tom Riddle, the child she had with him seems to have developed into someone who hated Muggles as much as Merope's father and brother. We can't, of course, know if her selection of Tom was love, or a combination of infatuation, woolly romantic thinking, and rebellion. We do know that, as Merope died shortly after giving birth, Tom Marvolo Riddle's eventual character would not be influenced by Merope's feelings about Muggles.
Merope Gaunt is here depicted in such a way as to make explicit one of the major problems with the "blood purity" argument: limiting the gene pool causes reinforcement of unhealthy genetic traits. The episode in the shack, where Merope's physical failings are noted in somewhat gruesome detail, her magical weakness is put on display, and her relative lack of intelligence is implied, all add up to a warning against the sort of inbreeding required to keep Wizarding blood pure. We note that her eventual husband. Tom Riddle, was a muggle, and suggest that Tom Marvolo Riddle's magical power might well be due to the process called hybrid vigour.
Dumbledore comments that he believes Merope had used a love potion to snare Tom, and did not speculate on why it was discontinued; we suspect that she was under the misconception that, as she was bearing his child, Riddle would really love her without the use of potion. It is also possible that the pregnancy weakened her magical abilities, leaving her unable to replenish her supply. Once freed of the effect of the potion, however, Riddle realized what had happened and promptly departed. If Merope believed that Tom's child would be enough to hold him to her, this would explain her utter devastation when he returned alone to his home in Little Hangleton. Merope's choosing to discontinue the potion for that reason is consistent with her displayed lower intelligence and muddled thinking. That the depiction of Merope suggests mental deficiency rather than withdrawal from an intolerable situation is interesting; the student should examine the passages concerning Merope, and to a lesser extent her brother Morfin and father Marvolo, to see how the depiction is slanted.
We do not believe that Merope's particular mental issues were visited upon her son Tom, as Merope is extremely romantic in outlook, and Tom clearly is not. It is possible that Tom Marvolo Riddle's lack of empathy is a genetic failing that had in fact come from his grandfather, possibly skipping the intervening generation, possibly being gender-linked and so present but not expressed in Merope. Morfin, Merope's sibling, certainly seems to exhibit Tom's lack of empathy.
- What might Merope's life had been like if she had attended school?
- What might Merope's opinions be regarding "blood purity" and Muggle/Wizard relations? Does she hold opposite views to the rest of her family or make an exception for Tom?
- Why did Merope stop giving Tom a Love Potion when pregnant with Voldemort?
- If Merope had survived and raised Tom Jr. herself, would he ever have become Lord Voldemort?
Greater Picture edit
Merope is a sad case, having endured verbal and physical abuse for years, and quite likely her whole life. We see no sign of a mother, and even if there was one at some point, she is clearly no longer around. From her brief appearance in the Pensieve, we see her failing to use magic effectively, being laughed at (and later near-strangled) by her father Marvolo. We are clearly meant to feel sorry for Merope, and from what we can see here, the author demonstrates why.
There is an interesting character development in Merope, from victim to survivor to victorious to sacrificial lamb. Her abilities - both magical and character-based - appear to be directly proportional to the amount of affection she was getting from those around her. We can assume that when she was in a loving relationship with Tom she was at the height of her magical powers (at least able to provide him with Love Potion).
Her death, by contrast, seems almost voluntary, staggering into an orphanage to give birth to her baby and then dying an hour later (as opposed to, say, going to St Mungo's). It is possible to assume that she felt that, without Tom, her life was over at that point, and the last thing she could do would be to give birth to her child.
Ironically, despite the wishes of her father, Merope eventually brings an end to the Gaunt family herself - without her help, Marvolo dies, and Morfin lives in poverty until his wrongful arrest and death in Azkaban. Her son, Tom Marvolo Riddle, does not use the name "Gaunt", neither does he identify himself to his uncle Morfin. He is, of course, eventually killed by his own Killing Curse, bringing the House of Gaunt to a definitive end. Had she taken a different path, the family may have continued for a while longer.