Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The lightning-shaped scar that Harry receives from Voldemort symbolizes everything unique and astounding about Harry, though he never thinks twice about the scar until its history is finally told to him. Like the famous scar of Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, Harry’s forehead lightning bolt is a badge of honor, an emblem of having survived a great battle and of being destined to wage still more battles in the future. It constantly connects Harry to the past, not just to the trauma of the struggle against the evil Voldemort, but also to the loving parents who tried to protect him. The scar is also a symbol of Harry’s emotional sensitivity, because it hurts him whenever hatred is directed at him, as when Snape first sees him at Hogwarts or when Quirrell tries to grab him.
As the preferred sport and pastime of the wizard world, Quidditch is entertainment, but the game is also a symbol of the deeper virtues taught at Hogwarts. The all-consuming importance of Quidditch at the school shows that magic is not just a bookish pursuit, but has a physical and practical application as well. Hermione may learn all of her textbooks perfectly, but she is not a hero for doing so; heroism is won on the Quidditch fields. Quidditch also shows that wizardry is intended for much more than the self-centered use of magic powers for personal glory. Any wizard who uses it for such ends alone is, like Voldemort, no longer a part of the team-spirit philosophy of Hogwarts. A person should use magic with an awareness of others’ needs and values, just as winning at Quidditch depends on the successful interaction of several players acting cooperatively. No matter how talented a single Quidditch player like Harry might be, he or she cannot play the game alone.
The Mirror of Erised
Harry’s encounter with the Mirror of Erised symbolizes his growing self-awareness, as the magic mirror forces him to look within himself and face the question of what he really wants. Harry has never had to inquire into his own desires before, because the Dursleys never cared about his desires and, upon arriving at Hogwarts, he seems to have everything he needs in his daily schedule of classes and meals. But the Hogwarts experience is meant to be more than a routine of memorizing formulas and learning to transform matches into pins. It is meant to bring personal growth and character development, for which it is necessary to examine one’s soul.
Harry’s desires, as reflected in the mirror, are noble ones; he wants to see his family alive and then wants to find the Sorcerer’s Stone for the common good. Voldemort, on the other hand, is driven by nothing but his ego, and his desires are wholly selfish. The Mirror of Erised shows us that who we are (literally, the reflection of ourselves that we see in the mirror) is defined by what we want—our desires shape our identities. That Harry is the one who ends up with the Stone teaches us that we must temper our desires.
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