Skip over navigation

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J. K. Rowling

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Summary

Ten years have passed. Harry is now almost eleven and living in wretchedness in a cupboard under the stairs in the Dursley house. He is tormented by the Dursleys’ son, Dudley, a spoiled and whiny boy. Harry is awakened one morning by his aunt, Petunia, telling him to tend to the bacon immediately, because it is Dudley’s birthday and everything must be perfect. Dudley gets upset because he has only thirty-seven presents, one fewer than the previous year. When a neighbor calls to say she will not be able to watch Harry for the day, Dudley begins to cry, as he is upset that Harry will have to be brought along on Dudley’s birthday trip to the zoo. At the zoo, the Dursleys spoil Dudley and his friend Piers, neglecting Harry as usual. In the reptile house, Harry pays close attention to a boa constrictor and is astonished when he is able to have a conversation with it. Noticing what Harry is doing, Piers calls over Mr. Dursley and Dudley, who pushes Harry aside to get a better look at the snake. At this moment, the glass front of the snake’s tank vanishes and the boa constrictor slithers out onto the floor. Dudley and Piers claim that the snake attacked them. The Dursleys are in shock. At home, Harry is punished for the snake incident, being sent to his cupboard without any food, though he feels he had nothing to do with what happened.

Analysis

Character names in Harry Potter are carefully chosen not to be lifelike but rather to color our understanding of the various characters’ social ranks and personalities. This technique, which the nineteenth-century English author Charles Dickens used prolifically in such novels as Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, is closer to caricature than to realism and gives each character a larger-than-life, mythical feel. Harry Potter, for instance, is an ordinary and unpretentious name, though there are associations of creativity and usefulness in his last name: a potter makes pottery, which has a practical function. By contrast, the Dursleys, who brim with self-importance and snobbery, are named after a town in Gloucestershire once important in the medieval wool trade: their name suggests an old-fashioned class-conscious life that may have outlived its grandeur.

The Dursleys’ first names have similar upper-class connotations. The names Dudley, Petunia, and Vernon all contrast sharply with the more working-class name Harry. Dudley Dursley’s name reflects the silliness of the character who bears it, not only in its stuttering quality (“Du-Du”), but also in the “dud” hidden in it. Dudley, we learn, is indeed a dud, and his name highlights the contrast between Harry’s vitality and Dudley’s absurdity. Furthermore, just as the Dursleys seem to be cartoonish versions of provincial English snobs, they are also cartoonish in their villainy. They are not just subtly bad toward Harry (as a real family might be) but outlandishly and unbelievably wicked in making him live in a cupboard under the stairs. Similarly, giving a boy thirty-seven birthday presents is not realistic, but in Rowling’s fairy-tale world, we accept this exaggeration. The caricatured aspect of the characters thus helps us read the story as a myth.

Rowling exposes us to quite a bit of overt witchcraft in the first two chapters, such as Professor McGonagall’s transformation into a cat. But Harry cannot identify magic when he sees it—even when it is his own magic, such as when he releases a boa constrictor at the zoo upon his enemies without being aware that he is doing it. He wonders how it happens and is mystified by it, but he never dreams it is magic. Harry’s gradual understanding of this magic, proceeding from total ignorance to awareness to full mastery, is crucial to the story’s development.

More Help

Previous Next
Sorting Hat

by singdiva1994, January 31, 2013

The Sorting Hat is a symbol of free will. The Sorting Hat places one into the house one wants and therefore you can choose to be good (Gryffindor) or evil (Slytherin).

4 Comments

15 out of 41 people found this helpful

helpful hint!! (for new readers)

by aulfingers123, November 21, 2013

If you have not seen Harry Potter movies. YOU SHOULD!! Seeing these movies gives you a good idea of whats happening and while your are reading you can see and imagine all that happens clearer. To those who do not like to read, (Why?!?!?!) look at the movies they give out very important info and all the answers to your reports in 2 hours!! For those WHO DO READ!!, enjoy the book and have FUN!

Read,Read,Read!

0 Comments

2 out of 4 people found this helpful

Making it simple

by sarahangel778, March 01, 2014

I think the rule breaking can be interpreted as Harry not being perfect however he is making the choice to do a bad thing for a good reason. I think a common theme throughout the books is that there is no purely good and purely evil, it is not our inherent characteristic, however it is our choices, this is demonstrated with Dumbledore, James Potter and Snape. In contrast, bad decisions are represented by Malfoy and Wormtail.

See all 6 readers' notes   →

Follow Us