Throughout most of the story, we share Harry’s point of view. We see what he sees and experience what he experiences. In the first chapter, however, we are shown Mr. Dursley’s point of view as he drives to work, sees a cat reading a map, and encounters oddly dressed people on the streets. Rowling could have given us a more straightforward third-person story without any particular point of view. Why does she choose to show us Mr. Dursley’s thoughts and reactions in this first chapter?
Rowling may start off with Mr. Dursley’s narrow-minded and peevish point of view to help us distance ourselves from our Muggle way of thinking. In inviting us to make fun of Mr. Dursley’s alarmed reaction to such harmless spectacles as men in green capes and cats with maps, Rowling allows us to feel different from Mr. Dursley and associate ourselves with a more interesting perspective and value system. No longer as deeply buried in the Muggle perspective as before, we are ready to be introduced to the wizards’ world more fairly, through the more open-minded perspective of Harry. When we feel familiar with the world of Hogwarts, we can look back on Mr. Dursley’s understanding of the wizards and realize how shallow and wrong he is. Wizards are not just eccentric caped figures with silly ways of speaking, but are agents of growth, wisdom, and self-discovery, as Harry and we find out over the course of the story.
How does the Hogwarts world compare with the Muggle world? Does Rowling want us to make such a comparison?
By setting up two parallel worlds that overlap in a few places (the wizard celebration in Chapter 1 has consequences in the Muggle world, for example), Rowling does indeed invite us to compare them. One of the striking things about such a comparison, however, is that the wizards’ world and the Muggles’ world are remarkably similar—perhaps even more similar than different. There is shopping on the magic Diagon Alley just as there is shopping in Muggle malls, and money must be used in both worlds to make purchases. Indeed, wealth matters in Hogwarts just as much as it does in the Dursleys’ world. Also, there are snobs in Hogwarts: Malfoy is every bit as concerned with social prestige at Hogwarts as Mrs. Dursley is in the Muggle world. And friendship matters in both worlds: Dudley’s friends are as important to him (though much more obnoxious) as Hermione and Ron eventually become to Harry at Hogwarts.
The real difference between the two worlds lies not in their appearances or social structures but in their attitudes toward human potential and human difference. While Hogwarts teaches students to develop their powers to the fullest extent possible, the Muggle world, as represented by the Dursleys, is intent on stifling uniqueness. Mrs. Dursley cares very much about public opinion and about what the neighbors are saying, and we see that being normal is far more important to her than being unusual, different, or special. This desire for normalcy no doubt explains why the Dursleys are so horrified by the prospect of Harry becoming a wizard. They dread his being different, just as they hated his mother’s being different. The Hogwarts world provides Harry with what the Muggles forbid him: the chance to develop his true self.
Harry has no personal contact with Dumbledore until he is caught in the forbidden room where the Mirror of Erised stands. Why does this first close contact with Dumbledore occur in the mirror room? Is the situation more important than just a routine rule violation by a naughty student? If so, how?
The mirror room is the place where Dumbledore really makes an impression on Harry. Harry is impressed by the grandeur of the great wizard at the welcome ceremony, but he is not really personally touched. Harry’s encounter with Dumbledore in the mirror room, however, is about something much more meaningful than a student’s violation of a rule. Dumbledore is not present as a policeman but rather as a wise guide using the opportunity to help Harry learn about himself. In fact, Dumbledore does not even mention the fact that Harry has broken any rules; he just explains why it would be a good idea to avoid the mirror in the future.
Dumbledore begins to forge a more intimate relationship with Harry in the mirror room rather than elsewhere because the mirror is at the heart of the wisdom that he means to impart to Harry. Dumbledore does not care so much about the routine aspects—classes, exams, and rules—of Hogwarts so much as he cares that Harry adopt a proper attitude toward his own desires. He advises Harry to be modest in desire and not to forget that life is more important than dreams. Harry takes Dumbledore’s message to heart, and we see that the aspect of wizardry most meaningful to Harry on a personal level is not the level of cloaks and spells but the deeper level of self-understanding.
Take a Study Break!