Chauvinism is a belief that strongly considers one’s nationality or ethnicity as superior as compared to others. As quoted from the Cambridge Dictionary, it is: “the strong and unreasonable belief that your own country or race is the best or most important”. Chauvinism can be used as a tool to dehumanize parties that are considered less superior.
This act of dehumanization includes invalidation of their citizenship, as well as their territorial, economic, and political rights. Chauvinism is something that is present in our society. There are people who think that their nation or tribe or any social group is always better than the others. Chauvinism had also been used as a foundation of ideologies, for example, Nazi fascism (Stovel, 2000, p. 4). This essay aims to analyze and dissect the chauvinistic tendencies in Children of Húrin (2010) written by J. R. R. Tolkien. In the context of this novel, chauvinistic tendencies have driven several characters in Children of Húrin to perform actions that lead to insoluble conflicts.
Indeed, there is nothing wrong with wanting to adhere to one’s own cultural and racial community as a way to reinforce individual identity. People might accuse you of being ethnocentric, but it doesn’t automatically make you racist or even chauvinistic. However, this tendency could grow too far when it “becomes a feeling of being superior to other ethnicities”. Adam et al. (1997) mentioned that one of the manifestations of chauvinistic behavior includes “preventing people from relating as they naturally would” (Stovel, 2000, p. 4).
There are two types of chauvinism that are present in this book. The first one is chauvinism based on one’s race, which falls under ethnic-chauvinism, and chauvinism within the same race, but by different groups.
In the novel, there are two main racial groups: elves and men. Each of the groups has several kingdoms. Although they have their own ideologies, the men generally hold their allegiance to the elves. However, the novel shows that throughout the coexistence of the two groups, not all members of each society equally respect the other. In many instances, we can see individuals showing chauvinistic traits in their actions and attitudes towards the members of other groups. Those instances could happen in societies consisted of any number of different races. What causes these chauvinistic behaviors is the differences between the cultural background of such groups and thus referred to as “ethnic-chauvinism” as stated by Stovel (2000).
Ethnic-chauvinism in the novel can be seen in every race in the story: the humans, the elves, and even the dwarves. One of the characters that portrays this type of chauvinism is Túrin, Son of Húrin, who has an obsession with his own race. Throughout the book, Túrin’s man-oriented tendency is shown in how he behaves around the elves who welcomed and helped him. Túrin always wants to be reunited with his people, dismissive of where he is and who is taking care of him. For example, he deserted the elf-maiden Nellas and later Finduilas out of ignorance, refused the wisdom of Thingol and Melian out of pride, and took Beleg’s counsel for granted. He always adheres solely to his own truth.
“‘How shall an Elf judge of Men?’ said Túrin.” (Tolkien, 2010, p. 116)
Even during his childhood, he refused to accept the love given by elf-maidens because he was obsessed with the images of females of his own kind. Later in the novel, his behavior results in a bitter ending for him in which he marries his own sister without realizing it. These actions show that he has a considerable degree of dislike towards the elves, due to him thinking that his race is superior.
On the other hand, the elves also show some symptoms of ethnic-chauvinism. The first character to be discussed here is Maeglin, the Nephew of Turgon, King of the Elves of Gondolin. In the book, Maeglin is described as a chauvinistic elf through his inclination to keep the elf bloodline pure. While his story is not heavily presented in this novel, in the novel Fall of Gondolin (2018), Maeglin shows his contempt towards Tuor who is married to Idril, daughter of Turgon. He is shown to have an antipathy towards this matrimony, since he believes that no men have the right to wed an elf and he should keep the elves blood pure by marrying his own cousin.
Another character possessing a similar trait is Thingol, King of the Elves of Doriath. In the novel, he is shown to have a sense of disregard in men.
“but there is little hope that one Man alone can do more against the Dark Lord than to aid the Elf-lords in their defence, as long as that may last.” (Tolkien, 2010, p. 84)
The quote above shows his disdain against Túrin and the race of men.
Thingol’s counselor, Saeros, also shows distrust towards humans. He views them as beings with barbaric nature. In contrast to Túrin, Saeros considers men lesser beings compared to the elves. He exclaims that the men of Hithlum are so “wild and fell”, continued by a degrading question: “what sort are the women of that land? Do they run like the deer clad only in their hair?” (Tolkien, 2010, p. 87). His antipathy towards the human race also leads him to disfavor Túrin from the seats of counselors for King Thingol. He believes that a man should not sit among them as an equal to discuss matters regarding the life of the elves. He considers Túrin unfit to serve the king just because he is human. This aligns with the statement from Taylor-Brown, Garcia, & Kingson (2001, p. 185) that “in the name of cultural competence, some individuals and groups promote a perspective that only members of the same ethnic, racial, or cultural group are qualified to serve individuals from the particular group”. They call this action as a result of cultural chauvinism, conveying the same message with ethnic-chauvinism mentioned before. This, in turn, results in him having personal conflicts with Túrin, leading to them fighting in the woods. Saeros attacks first, but Túrin defeats him. He makes Saeros run naked for his chase, and by ill-chance, forcing him to leap from a cliff to his death. Despite this, Túrin feels guiltless and, in pride, refuses to be judged by the king. He goes away, unheeding the counsels of the elves.
Another character that exhibits hatred towards the human race is Mîm, a prideful dwarf who views men as greedy beings.
“‘They have no name, save in the dwarf-tongue, which we do not teach,’ he said. ‘And we do not teach Men to find them, for Men are greedy and thriftless, and would not spare till all the plants had perished; whereas now they pass them by as they go blundering in the wild. No more will you learn of me;’” (Tolkien, 2010, p. 134)
Due to his distrust against men, Androg, one of Túrin’s men holds a grudge against Mîm. The conflict reaches its peak when Mîm decides to betray the hiding of Túrin and his company to Morgoth. This action is the final blow to the relationship between him and the humans. He is later killed by Androg, proving his distrust. Mîm’s chauvinistic act that leads to his betrayal results in his own demise.
Chauvinism within the same race
Chauvinism in the novel is not limited to ethnical-chauvinism, as there are also several characters that show traits of chauvinism within their own race. In real life, even white people “maintained sharp divisions within the white settler society” however akin they might be (Mlambo, 2000, p. 139). In contrast, native people of colonized nations might generalize their contempt towards any imperialist power. This hits close to home when we see Indonesian people put together the Dutch, the Portuguese, the British, and the Spanish as one big enemy who disturbed their peace and took away their freedom. The Javanese people call all of them the people of Londo (Holland) despite coming from different nations with relatively different agendas. It is likely that the Spanish and the Portuguese meant only to trade spices for business purposes, but we put them on the same level with the Dutch and the British imperialists who had colonial agendas.
In Children of Húrin, the character Túrin himself shows a degree of chauvinism towards different groups within his own race. In the novel, Túrin asserts his dominance over another human tribe, the Folk of Haleth. He compels other people to follow the ways of his own house he believes as superior and most correct, stripping leaders of other groups of respect from their own subjects. He takes pride in altering other people’s customs into his own, even going so far as to force the elves of Nargothrond to fight for his cause despite protests from many parties.
These traits are also visible in other characters, for example, Túrin’s Mother, Morwen, Wife of Húrin. In the novel, it is shown that she despises the Folk of Haleth and is skeptical of their intelligence. She views her house as greater than the other houses of men, a chauvinistic trait that is shared with her own son.
“‘If such an evil time should indeed come, what help would there be in Men?’ said Morwen. ‘The House of Bëor has fallen. If the great House of Hador falls, in what holes shall the little Folk of Haleth creep?’ ‘In such as they can find,’ said Húrin. ‘But do not doubt their valour, though they are few and unlearned.’” (Tolkien, 2010, p. 46)
The dialogue shows Morwen’s opinion about how they are ‘unlearned’. However, it results in an ironic scene in which Morwen should find her children Túrin and Niënor living with the Folk of Haleth. Both Túrin and Niënor disregarded the counsels of Haleth for their own pride and this leads them to their own demise.
Woodwell (2008) believed that the face of chauvinism can be seen through examples where “groups that glorified the distinctiveness of their national heritage began championing their own country above all others” (Blanton & Kegley, 2017, p. 89). We can see the examples on the elves’ side, where chauvinism within a race is primarily shown by Orodeth, King of the Elves of Nargothrond. Orodreth does not like the idea that Turgon’s kingdom will endure longer than his. He believes his kingdom is stronger and should be the one people hope for as their protector.
“‘Why do you seek Turgon?’ said Orodreth. ‘Because it is said that his kingdom shall stand longest against Morgoth,’ answered Arminas. And these words seemed to Orodreth ill-omened, and he was displeased.” (Tolkien, 2010, p. 172)
This later leads to his growing tendencies to follow ‘the Túrin way’ of war, forsaking the wisdom of secrecy and stealth for a show of strength. This action makes Orodeth a parallel to Túrin himself in terms of chauvinism within one’s race, displaying pride and asserting control to those around him to follow his idea. His actions lead to the fall of the Kingdom of Nargothrond he was meant to protect. Orodreth’s chauvinistic tendencies also indirectly cause the tragic deaths of several characters, including himself, Gwindor, Finduilas, Sador, and other remaining people of Dor-lomin, and eventually Húrin, his wife, and his children.
The character Maeglin also exhibits chauvinism towards other groups within his own race. It is shown in the novel that he favors the people of her mother (the high-elves of Noldor) over the dark-elves from which his father came. This leads him to desert the house of his father and run away to the house of his mother, which is Turgon’s kingdom. In the story of Silmarillion (1977), it is stated that when his father comes to pick him up to go back to their house, Maeglin chooses to remain with his maternal uncle. His father becomes outraged, threatening to attack the king. Ultimately, his father is punished to death by Turgon. In short, Maeglin’s chauvinistic behavior has brought death upon his own father.
Before we reach a conclusion, it is important to note that all the actions taken by the characters in the story happened during a time of a great war. In that context, chauvinism can be seen altogether as the cause, the catalyst, and, in some ways, the result of the war. Jack Levy (1989) argued that when people “acquire an intense commitment to the power and prosperity of the state [and] this commitment is strengthened by national myths emphasizing the moral, physical, and political strength of the state and by individuals’ feeling of powerlessness and their consequent tendency to seek their identity and fulfillment through the state”, war is unavoidable (Blanton & Kegley, 2017, p. 199). All actions, beliefs, and motivations done and shown by the characters discussed above fall under the conditions of this ‘intense commitment’. “With each side belittling the national character and ethnic attributes of the other, diplomatic alternatives to war become untenable” (Blanton & Kegley, 2017, p. 89).Based on the discussion above, many of the characters in the novel Children of Húrin have shown chauvinistic ideas through their actions and beliefs. Some inhabit the traits of ethnic-chauvinism, which causes them to see those of the different races as inferior beings and disregard another ethnicities’ way of life as well as their thoughts and opinions. Some characters also exhibit chauvinism towards other groups within their own race. They act superior, assert their dominance, or betray one another in order to achieve a goal that they believe to be the best for their own houses and kingdoms. Ultimately, it is evident that all the chauvinistic behaviors depicted in the novel result in bitter ends for the characters and a grave outcome of the war.
Blanton, S. L., & Kegley, C. W. (2017). World Politics: Trend and Transformation (2016-2017 ed.). Boston, USA: Cengage Learning.
Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). CHAUVINISM. Retrieved January 17, 2020, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/chauvinism
Mlambo, Alois. (2000). “Some Are More White Than Others”: Racial Chauvinism As A Factor of Rhodesian Immigration Policy, 1890-1963. Zambezia, 27(2), 139-160.
Stovel, L. (2000). Confronting Ethnic Chauvinism in a Post-WarEnvironment: NGOs and Peace Education in Bosnia. CCR Working Papers: No. 7. Bradford, Centre for Conflict Resolution, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford. Retrieved January 18, 2020, from http://hdl.handle.net/10454/941
Taylor-Brown, S., Garcia, A., & Kingson, E. (2001, August). Cultural Competence versus Cultural Chauvinism: Implications for Social Work. Health & Social Work, 26(3), 185–187. doi: 10.1093/hsw/26.3.185
Tolkien, J. R. R. (2010). Children of Húrin. (C. Tolkien, Ed.) (2010 Del Rey Mass Market Edition). New York, USA: Del Rey.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (2018). Fall of Gondolin. (C. Tolkien, Ed.) New York, USA: HarperCollins.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977). Silmarillion. (C. Tolkien, Ed.). Australia: Allen & Unwin