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[T]here was a burst of green light and
Harry woke, sweating.
See Important Quotations Explained
[T]here was a burst of green light and
Harry woke, sweating.
The new students are greeted at the castle door by Professor
McGonagall, who tells them they will soon be sorted into their houses.
All Hogwarts students live in one of four residences: Gryffindor,
Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. Each house has its own team
for Quidditch, a game that resembles soccer on broomsticks. The houses
are in a yearlong competition with one another to acquire the most
points, which are earned by success in Quidditch games and lost
for student infractions. As the students enter Hogwarts, ghosts
appear in the hallway. The students are led to the Great Hall, where
the entire school waits for them. They see a pointy hat on a stool.
When the students try on the hat, it announces the house in which
they are placed. Harry becomes very nervous. He has learned that
he does not care for Slytherin house, as the students in it are unpleasant
and Voldemort once belonged to Slytherin. Finally, it is Harry’s
turn to wear the hat. After a brief mental discussion with the hat
in which it tries to suggest Slytherin to him, the hat places Harry in
Gryffindor. Harry is pleased to find that he is joined in Gryffindor by
Ron and Hermione. Draco Malfoy is placed in Slytherin.
Everyone sits down to a grand feast to begin the year.
Harry is overwhelmed by the variety of luscious food served. Sir
Nicolas de Mimsy-Porpington, the resident ghost of Gryffindor (popularly known
as Nearly Headless Nick because of a botched decapitation), introduces
himself to the first-year students and tells them he hopes they
will win the house championship this year. Over dessert, the discussion
turns to the children’s upbringings. A student named Neville tells
how his family thought he was a Muggle until he survived a fall
from a window. Harry glances around the room and notices a few of
the teachers talking to one another. One of them stares malevolently
at Harry, who immediately feels a sharp pain in his forehead scar.
Harry finds out that this man is Professor Snape, who teaches Potions.
After dessert, Albus Dumbledore, the head of Hogwarts, gets up to
make his welcome speech. He adds a few warnings about staying away
from the Forbidden Forest and avoiding the third-floor corridor
on the right side of the school. Everyone sings the school song
and goes off to his or her house.
Harry finds life at Hogwarts unfamiliar and strange. Everyone
talks about him, and an adult always seems to be around when he
is doing something wrong. Harry finds all the classes interesting,
with the exception of the History of Magic. In the first Transfiguration
class (where students are taught how to turn one thing into another),
only Hermione is able to make any progress at turning a match into
a needle. Harry is relieved to see that others are just as lost
as he is.
During breakfast the first Friday, Harry’s owl, Hedwig,
who delivers mail, arrives with a tea invitation from Hagrid. Later,
in his Potions class, Harry discovers that Professor Snape really
does not like him, mocking Harry as “our new celebrity” and then
humiliating Harry for his ignorance of herbs. Harry brings Ron with
him to Hagrid’s shack for tea. Harry and Ron are disconcerted by
Hagrid’s huge and fierce-looking dog, Fang, but discover that he
is gentle. Hagrid tells Harry that he is overreacting to Snape’s
treatment, asserting that Snape would have no reason to hate him.
Harry happens to notice an article from the wizard newspaper detailing
a break-in that occurred at Gringotts bank in a vault that had been emptied
earlier in the day. He realizes that it happened on his birthday,
the day he and Hagrid went to Gringotts. Furthermore, he remembers
that Hagrid emptied vault seven hundred and thirteen, taking a small
package with him as he left. Harry leaves Hagrid’s, his mind filled
Harry’s experience with the Sorting Hat is an important
event in his development at Hogwarts. He dreads putting it on because
he fears that the hat will assign him to Slytherin, which he associates
with unlikable students. He assumes that the hat has all the power
and that the student has no say in his or her own future. But when
he puts the hat on, it actually seems to negotiate with Harry, tempting him
with Slytherin but willing to accept Harry’s refusal. This interaction
is significant, as it shows that while much of Harry’s fate has been
decided for him (like his being a wizard), he still has some control
over what he makes of his life. The hat says that Harry could be great
in Slytherin rather than make a prophecy that he will be great, as
if to emphasize that Harry is free to actualize or not to actualize his
potential, as he wishes. In letting Harry choose between the dark and
suspect Slytherin and the friendlier and nobler Gryffindor, the hat
is allowing Harry to choose as well between goodness and wickedness.
We feel that while Harry’s fate may have been handed to him, what
he does with that fate in his life will be his own achievement and
will reflect his own character.
The hat also gives Harry his first real compliment in
the story, telling him that he has “plenty of courage. . . [n]ot
a bad mind. . . talent. . . and a nice thirst to prove yourself.”
What is important here is not just the hat’s positive judgment of
Harry, but the fact that Harry hears this positive opinion directly.
Even though Harry is famous throughout the wizards’ world, his Muggle
family has raised him to think little of himself. All the rumors
circulating about Harry’s talents have not yet been verified, so
it is hard for Harry to have a clear idea of his abilities. The
hat, with its unquestioned authority, gives Harry the first real
vote of confidence in which he can fully believe. It also gives
him his first hint that he will need to use his powers. The hat’s
reference to Harry proving himself hints at his coming struggle with
his enemies, foreshadowed by the dark look that Professor Snape
gives him and the news about the attempted robbery of vault seven
hundred and thirteen.
Family origins continue to be important in these chapters.
During dessert at the welcome banquet, Harry’s new classmates discuss their
pasts, and Harry is told that some of the students are not from wizard
families. The father of a boy named Seamus is a Muggle, and for
a long while Neville’s parents thought Neville was a Muggle. Hermione
comes from a purely Muggle family. Yet these variations are of no
importance at Hogwarts, which is an equal-opportunity wizards academy.
The students of mixed or Muggle backgrounds are accepted on equal
footing with the more illustrious wizards’ offspring like Draco
Malfoy. Indeed, having magic in the family is no guarantee of being
exceptional or even rich. Ron Weasley, Harry’s first friend at Hogwarts,
is the child of a family with a very strong magic tradition, but
Ron cannot even afford snacks on the train ride to school. Learning
that family origins are not as important as talent and hard work
at Hogwarts allows Harry to break away once and for all from the
snobbish class-dominated world of the Dursleys.
Rowling continues to show that while Harry has great potential, he
is ordinary in some ways. He is not an expert wizard; rather, like his
peers who are just starting out at Hogwarts, he must learn how to
use magic. And like any student, he sometimes has trouble in his classes,
does not like all of his teachers, and gets annoyed by students
who know how to do everything perfectly. The fact that he is flawed
makes it easier for us to relate to him.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone!