It was fun to watch this film this year (my annual Independence Day tradition) and think about the characters from a new perspective, because it turns out to be an “epic battle of wills” between two Gryffindors and a Slytherin!
Benjamin Martin, the family patriarch, is a Slytherin to the core. Despite his involvement in the previous French and Indian War, for which he won acclaim for his brutality at Fort Wilderness, he wants nothing to do with separation from England, because “If I go to war, who will provide for my children? My wife is dead.” Meaning, they only have me to protect them. For their sake and safety, he stifles his political opinions and tries to maintain a neutral stance.
But Colonel Tavington does not let him stay neutral. His assault upon their homestead troubles Benjamin, but it isn’t until he kills Benjamin’s second-eldest son Thomas for trying to rescue his older son Gabriel, and intends to hang Gabriel as a spy, that the Slytherin decides pacifism isn’t for him. He sends his daughters into the woods, arms his barely-grown boys to the teeth, and they enact a brutal rescue mission for Gabriel. When Gabriel, in his father’s eyes stupidly, rejoins despite his narrow escape, Benjamin enlists as a leader of the militia to protect him. In a tragic later turn of events, after numerous narrow hits and misses with Tavington, Gabriel is killed and… Benjamin appears to lose his passion for the cause. It was never his to start with. But in a true Slytherin moment of loyalty, he decides to fight for freedom and even give his life for it, because it was a cause Gabriel held near and dear to his heart. This is a Slytherin transferring their loyalty from a person to that person’s cause – his desire to serve comes out of a love for his dead son, and not any deep rooted political conviction.
If I had to choose a Secondary House for him, his method of getting things done, it would have to be a Ravenclaw. He is a practiced tactician when it comes to war, he reads and absorbs and applies what Cornwallis’ journals and memoirs told him, and he doesn’t improvise well in the moment. He uses the skills he learned in battle and fights smart.
Gabriel, by contrast, is a Gryffindor. He butts heads with his father often, because of his militant trust in his own sense of right and wrong. When others attack Benjamin for his seeming lack of principles, he replies, “I am a father, I don’t have the luxury of principles” (family before creed). To Gabriel, this notion is reprehensible, and he fires back, “When I have a family, I won’t hide behind him.” A true Gryffindor, he thinks standing on anything else but your principles is an act of cowardice. He does come to understand, later, what his father means, after he falls in love with Anne and would do anything for her, but his reactions are all still coming from the heart of a Gryffindor. He is courageous, never backs down from what he believes is the “moral right” (even if it means getting himself arrested, and not allowing his father to protect him), and winds up dying because of his rash actions in defense of his loved ones.
His Secondary House is Gryffindor. Unlike his father, he rushes into battle and improvises as he goes. He can be impatient, impulsive, and reactive.
Their nemesis, Tavington, is another Gryffindor. Where the image-focused General Cornwalis focuses on “gentlemanly behavior” as a Ravenclaw (you act according to your system of nobility and principles, you train your behaviors to exist within certain standards, and you tend to scorn others with lesser constructed values), Tavington always reacts from his gut—even when it means going against his orders. He charges down the hill into battle on numerous occasions without permission from his superior officers; he finds and exploits Benjamin’s weakness by breaking “the rules of war” and going after his children; he is provocative, fierce, and doing this out of an instinctual awareness of how to make things happen—a Cause, to bend the Americans into submission and advance himself in the process. Faced with the end of the war, Tavington demands that Benjamin “kill him” before it ends (or be killed), implying that without it, without a Cause in which he has succeeded and they have won, he is nothing.
His Secondary House is Gryffindor — he rushes into action without thought, he can be provocative and reckless with himself and others.
Cornwallis abides by “the rules of war,” and expects others to do the same. But as a Ravenclaw, he is not above unleashing Tavington to rid himself of the ghost—an example of a man living by an external model of morality (“we conduct ourselves as gentlemen”) who will bend it, if he sees an opportunity to achieve something beyond his present state. He comes at Benjamin for his theft of personal property (a wardrobe, furniture, personal papers, memoires, and his dogs) because it is simply “not done” in a “proper” war. He assumes the militia will fold, because of their previous inconsistencies in battle. And he keeps Tavington on a tight rein because he does not abide within the “rules of war.” But he also tells Tavington that his recklessness “made” this ghost, so… go clean it up, fool. (A Ravenclaw will bend the rules at times, since they are living in a constructed moral system.)
His Secondary House is Ravenclaw. He plans everything out in tremendous detail, relies very much on his own experience and understanding of war, and cannot adapt when confronted by heavy unplanned losses.
Their leading ladies are lovely depictions of two different Houses. Charlotte is a Hufflepuff – a compassionate, considerate woman who treats everyone in her life as an equal, who shows no favoritism, who protects the children when their father goes off to war, and reminds him that he has done nothing for which to feel ashamed. She could also be a Slytherin, because she seems to understand Benjamin’s desire to protect his children ahead of the cost of freedom, but she largely stays out of things that are not her concern (Benjamin and his son’s numerous arguments) and seems to have a gentler, less possessive presence than Benjamin. Given her ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and become whatever is necessary, I suspect she has a Slytherin Secondary House.
Anne, of course, is a fellow Gryffindor. Like Gabriel, she has firm convictions and isn’t afraid to voice them, even in a time when women did not speak up politically as much. She stands up in a church full of men, rants at them for being cowards or saying things but not doing them, and is delighted when they all go off to fight for the Cause she loves and supports. She is drawn to Gabriel primarily because of the same passion they hold for freedom. Both of them are willing to go against their families, to live, or to die, in pursuit of the Cause. Her Secondary House is difficult to figure out, since she has limited screen time… but it may be Hufflepuff. She has an outward focus, she is hard-working and dedicated to her community, and others respect her for her longstanding presence and convictions.