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
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.