J.K Rowling uses the motif of an eleven-year-old boy and his life experience to bring to life several themes relatable to the real world. Harry is an orphan who has to live with his relatives, and it is apparent from the onset that he is not welcome. He is forced to live in a cupboard beneath a staircase and has to do so many duties that would not normally be assigned to a ten-year-old boy. Despite all these circumstances, Harry soon discovers that he is a significant figure, as he secures an admission to the Hogwarts School of wizardry and sorcery. His parents have left him enough money to ensure he gets the education he needs and the school year begins with much success on Harry’s side. Things take a turn for the worse when strange occurences start to happen at the school and it is eventually revealed that a precious and important item, the sorcerer’s stone, is being hunted for by Voldermont who is the villain responsible for killing Harry Potter’s parents. Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, work together to ensure the stone is safe and, in the end, Voldermont is unable to access it.
Throughout the story, it is apparent that it is the author’s intention to bring several themes into subtle discussion, while showing how they affect day-to-day interactions in the social and real world. An example is that enmity is a constant and irrefutable part of human existence even as is revealed by the contentious relationships between several people in the story. Another theme is the negativity and harm that greed can cause, as is shown by Voldemort’s desire to acquire the sorcerer’s stone just because of what it is capable of doing. Third, there is the evil of segregation or mistreatment on the grounds of social class and family backgrounds that is seen in many forms in the story. These themes, among others, show that the plot in the novel is somewhat a depiction of the circumstances people face in their daily lives, and it goes without saying that the ending of the story is a lesson in itself on how the mentioned vices can only lead to evil. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to show how greed, social class segregation, and enmity have been interplayed in the novel, and how the conclusion of the matter is a lesson in proposition of the good.
Enmity simply means a state of opposition that can exist between two parties, whether they be individuals or groups. In the novel, the first sign of enmity that is presented to the reader is the one that exists between Vernon Dursley and his family, and that of the Potters. Petunia Dursley clearly does not like her sister and is often portrayed as seeking to avoid any associations with her. This enmity extends to how they treat the orphaned child, even though they do share blood and the young one has no other alternative, but to stay with them. They go as far as locking him in cupboard and mistreating him, while all their attention is focused on their spoilt son, Dudley. When it is time for Harry to be admitted at the Hogwarts School as a wizard, Vernon Dursley tries to hide his admission letters to no avail because he wants to deny his wizardry. It is also possible that they are in denial of the fact that Harry is a unusual child with special powers.
Another instance of enmity is the one that exists between Voldermont, the main villain of the story, and Harry Potter’s parents. As the plot begins to unravel, it is revealed that the villain has killed Harry’s parents, which means that it is necessary for Harry to be put up for foster care by his unloving relatives. The enmity flows down to Harry’s time when Voldermont is clearly bent on killing the boy while he is at school. His accomplices, Professor Snape and Quirrell, work with him to find many means with which to kill Harry. Harry almost suffers harm when they are out hunting for the person who has been killing unicorns in the Forbidden Forest and is only saved by a stranger. While Harry is by the Eisdel mirror, he is almost killed by Quirrel, while he is possessed by Voldermont, but his teacher rescues him just in time. Professor Snape also tries to kill Harry, while he is playing for his team, and Hermione saves his life. Other incidences of enmity include that between Snape and Harry’s father, which is said to be similar to the one that then exists between harry himself and Malfoy. In most cases, it is not apparent to the reader what the cause for enmity is, but the consequences are often shown, especially in Harry’s life before and after school.
According to Natov, as much as enmity and its power for evil is a major theme in the novel, friendship is also brought into context. Ron, Hermione, and Harry are good friends who go through several challenges together that they might not have survived had they been alone (Natov). There is also the subtle friendship between Hagrid and Harry, as is seen in how often he is willing to protect Harry and always gives him information that he would not have given to the others. This scenario is exemplary of real-life situations where in human relationships, people are either enemies or they are friends and these choices often have consequences on the people’s lives. It is also the case in the real world that enmity is transmitted from one generation to the next without regard for the consequences it may have on those who inherit it. As such, it is nearly impossible to be at peace with everyone, even in cases where those affected by the enmity are unaware of its origin. On the positive side, the story’s plot shows how even such vices can lead to good and propel an individual towards his or her goals as is seen in Harry’s case. It is while attempting to discover why Professor Snape dislikes him that he chances upon information that aides their investigation of what the Sorcerer’s Stone is.
Another major topic in the novel is that of greed for material possessions and power in various capacities. Greed often represents itself in different forms, some of which are quite subtle, while others are out in open for all to see. As is noticeable, the author of the novel has the trend of bringing two qualities into contrast with one another. In this context, benevolence and kindness are brought into contrast with greed in various circumstances. For instance, it is learnt halfway through the plot that there has been a robbery at the bank and it remains unknown who could have done it. Although this scenario is an almost normal occurrence in the real world, it is also shown how it can be a small and possibly insignificant act, but with far reaching consequences. The more prominent form of greed in exemplified in Voldermont, in his quest to find the sorcerer’s stone. The stone is said to possess the ability to grant its possessor eternal wealth and life. At the beginning, it is depicted that when Voldermont tries to attack the infant Harry, he gets weakened. It is later established that he is the one behind the killing of the unicorns in the Forbidden Forest because he is using their blood to sustain himself before he can obtain the stone. This particular character uses any means at his disposal to obtain the stone and puts many people in harm’s way in order to get it. Furthermore, he works together with Professor Snape whose enmity with Harry’s father makes him even willing to kill an eleven-year-old boy. He then takes over Quirrell’s body so that he can harm Harry and get the stone from him.
The turn of events, however, shows, that generosity and seeking the good of others often is the better trait to possess. In addition, it is learnt that Harry was able to get the stone because he was the only one who wanted it so that he could protect others, unlike the rest who wanted it so that they could benefit themselves. Are earlier mentioned, generosity is brought into contrast with greed in certain scenes of the novel. For instance, while Voldermont is willing to harm anyone to get the stone, Ron sacrifices his safety for a while so that Hermione and Harry can get to the trap door. This approach is often the case even in real-life situations where those who are greedy for power and possessions are often evil and would employ any means within their reach to obtain it (Yoo). In the human society, political figures have often been known to use even fraudulent means to obtain powers, while promising to work for the benefit of those who are vested with the duty of putting them in power. Additionally, false promises are often given and forgotten as soon as the desired end has been achieved (Yoo). Generosity is also seen in the real human society even though it is often not done in public. While there are a select few who are bent on harming others for their own gain, there are always people who are willing to help others when they are in need. In today’s society, greed goes beyond the rich and opulent to exist among the poor. It can be rightly said that greed is the reason behind the existence of many forms of crime. People are seeking to obtain what is not rightfully theirs in a bid to survive in a man-eat-man society.
Social Class Segregation
Another important aspect of real-life that is exemplified in the novel is the existence of discrimination based on a person’s social class. In the beginning, even though it is depicted later that Harry’s parents were probably as rich as the Dursleys, just because he is an orphan when he is left at their doorstep, they mistreat him. There is often a stark contrast between how they treat Harry who is related to them and how they handle their son, Dudley. Dudley often gets away with bullying Harry, which is a behaviour that he learns from his parents. While Harry has to sleep beneath a staircase all his life at the Dursley’s home, Dudley has a big room, receives many presents on his birthday, and has another bedroom in which his toys are stored. At some point in the story, Harry is seen being moved to the smallest bedroom in the house because Vernon is afraid that it has been discovered that he mistreats the boy.
There is also the air with which the Dursleys carry themselves. Their deportment shows that they consider themselves better off than those who are not as rich as they are, often looking down upon them (Roy). Then there is Malfoy, a student at the school who takes pleasure in mistreating those who do not come from opulent backgrounds. When people are going home for the holidays, Harry Potter and Ron have to stay back at school because Ron cannot afford the money and Harry has no parents to go home to. He feels it would be better to stay in school, than spend the holidays with the Dursleys, because he knows he is not welcomed to their home. Instead of being empathetic towards the, Malfoy mocks Harry for being an orphan. In contrast, Harry shows a lot of kindness towards Ron when he buys food for both of them because Roy cannot afford it. Roy’s parents also show their gratitude when they send presents for their son and his friend. Discrimination exists in more apparent and harmful forms in the real world. Examples include discrimination on the basis of race and religion that is informed by negative perceptions people have about others. Malfoy equates being orphaned to being poor and in a disadvantage state, the same way people may equate certain races or religions with negative characteristics. In school, it is a common sight to see a student from a poor background feeling secluded because they cannot live up to the standards of the more advanced world. Harry and Ron’s positivity through all this is somewhat a message of encouragement from the author to others in similar situations.
The themes in the book are attempt by the author to bring to light certain characteristics of the normal human interactions and teach a lesson through the ending. The themes of greed, segregation based on social class, and enmity are brought out in the story, as they often present themselves in the real-life. There is also a constant contrast between the good and the evil in which the former is always better. When, at the end of the novel, Harry Potter and his friends are able to keep the sorcerer’s stone from being stolen, the ultimate lesson is that good always wins. Therefore, people should strive to do good in order to make the world a better place to live in.
Natov, Roni. “Harry Potter and the Extraordinariness of the Ordinary”. The Lion and the Unicorn 25.2 (2017); 310-327.
Roy, Oindri. “The Boy who Lived in the Cupboard: Queer Readings and Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.” Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities 9.1 (2017).
Yoo, Jihun. “Power, Genealogy, and Education in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. Literature Life. (2018) 243-267.