Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Isolation

By J.K. Rowling

Isolation

All Harry's spellbooks, his wand, robes, cauldron, and top-of-the-line Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick had been locked in a cupboard under the stairs by Uncle Vernon the instant Harry had come home. What did the Dursleys care if Harry lost his place on the House Quidditch team because he hadn't practiced all summer? What was it to the Dursleys if Harry went back to school without any of his homework done? The Dursleys were what wizards called Muggles (not a drop of magical blood in their veins), and as far as they were concerned, having a wizard in the family was a matter of deepest shame. Uncle Vernon had even padlocked Harry's owl, Hedwig, inside her cage, to stop her from carrying messages to anyone in the Wizarding world. (1.27)

One of the things that strikes us about the early chapters of Book 2 is that, because it is very early in the series, the Harry Potter books have yet to become a true sensation. So J.K. Rowling can't assume that everyone who picks up Chamber of Secrets will be completely familiar with the world of Harry Potter. She has to define "Muggle" quickly here. In the later Harry Potter novels, though, she can be more confident that everyone in the world knows what she means when she says "Muggle." Second, J.K. Rowling lays out very clearly (a) how much Harry feels excluded at the Dursleys' house, and (b) how much he idolizes Hogwarts and the wizarding world. He misses the wizarding world hugely – little realizing, at this point, how much anguish he's going to encounter there.

"And you?"

"I'll be in my bedroom, making no noise and pretending I'm not there," said Harry tonelessly. (1.43-44)

Before the Masons come over for their dinner party, Uncle Vernon makes Harry repeat that he will stay in his room making no noise and pretending he's not there three times. The repetition emphasizes how little Harry is wanted in the Dursley home. While the later novels give us a reason why Professor Dumbledore leaves Harry in the Dursley household even though they are not nice to him, what effects do you think it's having on Harry to be stuck with the Dursleys over summer holidays? How would you respond to this kind of treatment?

[Uncle Vernon] was bearing down on Harry like a great bulldog, all his teeth bared. "Well, I've got news for you, boy... I'm locking you up...You're never going back to that school...never...and if you try and magic yourself out – they'll expel you!"

And laughing like a maniac, he dragged Harry back upstairs.

Uncle Vernon was as bad as his word. The following morning, he paid a man to fit bars on Harry's window. He himself fitted a cat-flap in the bedroom door, so that small amounts of food could be pushed inside three times a day. They let Harry out to use the bathroom morning and evening. Otherwise, he was locked in his room around the clock. (2.110-112)

Aside from being ridiculously inappropriate behavior, Uncle Vernon's punishment of Harry makes no sense. If he hates Harry's guts so much, why does he decide to lock him in his room – in other words, to keep him around at all? What do you think Uncle Vernon is trying to achieve with this horribly cruel punishment? What are the Dursleys trying to get out of this?

Life at the Burrow was as different as possible from life on Privet Drive. The Dursleys liked everything neat and ordered; the Weasleys' house burst with the strange and unexpected. Harry got a shock the first time he looked in the mirror over the kitchen mantelpiece and it shouted, "Tuck your shirt in, scruffy!" The ghoul in the attic howled and dropped pipes whenever he felt things were getting too quiet, and small explosions from Fed and George's bedroom were considered perfectly normal. What Harry found most unusual about life at Ron's, however, wasn't the talking mirror or the clanking ghoul: It was the fact that everybody there seemed to like him. (4.1)

Harry's uncle and aunt think he's a freak. They've always treated him like an outcast because he can use magic. Now, though, he's found this new, magical home where he feels comfortable for the first time in his life. We have to say, this switch from the Dursleys to the Weasleys gives us hope. Even if you feel isolated or left out of the house where you grew up, you can always find new family to accept your quirks. The message of this chapter seems to be, isolation doesn't have to last, even if it is awful while it is happening.

"You were seen," [Professor Snape] hissed, showing them the headline: FLYING FORD ANGLIA MYSTIFIES MUGGLES. He began to read aloud: "Two Muggles in London, convinced they saw an old car flying over the Post Office tower...at noon in Norfolk, Mrs. Hetty Bayliss, while hanging out her washing...Mr. Angus Fleet, of Peebles, reported to police...Six or seven Muggles in all. I believe your father works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office?" he said, looking up at Ron and smiling still more nastily. (5.135)

Professor Snape hates Harry's guts, so he is obviously pleased at this chance to threaten Harry with expulsion for almost exposing the wizarding world with his flying car. At the same time, Professor Snape is pointing out a real danger: Wizards are doing their best to keep themselves secret from us. Some Muggles did see Harry and Ron's flying car. So they did break wizarding law. What do you think of the wizarding policy of keeping themselves a secret from Muggles? What do you think would happen if wizards suddenly announced themselves to our world? What would happen to wizards? What might happen to Muggles?

"He did it, he did it!" Filch spat, his pouchy face purpling. "You saw what he wrote on the wall! He found – in my office – he knows I'm a – I'm a —" Filch's face worked horribly. "He knows I'm a Squib!" he finished.

"I never touched Mrs. Norris!" Harry said loudly, uncomfortably aware of everyone looking at him, including all the Lockharts on the walls. "And I don't even know what a Squib is." (9.27-28)

Argus Filch is a pretty warped individual, since he seems to get positive pleasure from punishing Hogwarts students. On the other hand, he seems desperately isolated. His only friend is Mrs. Norris, his cat, and he genuinely appears to feel that he's being persecuted because he is a Squib. We can't imagine what it would be like to be a non-magical person totally aware of the magical world – how awful, to know about magic but not to be able to do it! If you were a Squib, would you choose to keep working around wizards and witches? Would you join the Muggle world?

"So anyway," a stout boy was saying, "I told Justin to hide up in our dormitory. I mean to say, if Potter's marked him down as his next victim, it's best if he keeps a low profile for a while. Of course, Justin's been waiting for something like this to happen ever since he let slip to Potter he was Muggle-born. Justin actually told him he'd been down for Eton. That's not the kind of thing you bandy about with Slytherin's heir on the loose, is it?

"You definitely think it is Potter, then, Ernie?" said a girl with blonde pigtails anxiously.

"Hannah," said the stout boy solemnly, "he's a Parselmouth. Everybody knows that's the mark of a Dark wizard. Have you ever heard of a decent one who could talk to snakes? They called Slytherin himself Serpent-tongue."

There was some heavy murmuring at this, and Ernie went on, "Remember what was written on the wall? Enemies of the Heir, Beware. Potter had some sort of run-in with Filch. Next thing we know, Filch's cat is attacked. That first year, Creevey, was annoying Potter at the Quidditch match, taking pictures of him while he was lying in the mud. Next thing we know – Creevey's been attacked." (11.136-139)

What do you think of Ernie's evidence here? Would you believe him, based on this logic, if you didn't know that Harry is innocent? If the book weren't from Harry's perspective, could Ernie's deductions sound right? Why is Ernie so quick to believe that Harry Potter is the Heir of Slytherin?

Moaning Myrtle was crying, if possible, louder and harder than ever before. She seemed to be hiding down her usual toilet. It was dark in the bathroom because the candles had been extinguished in the great rush of water that had left both walls and floor soaking wet. (13.21)

First of all, can you imagine anything worse than spending eternity haunting a bathroom? Maybe Moaning Myrtle is annoying and spends too much time feeling sorry for herself, but she really does get a raw deal. Secondly, Moaning Myrtle's hysterics mainly get played for laughs during Book 2. She's so over the top, with her crying and her self-pity. Yet she really is isolated from all of the other characters in the book, not only because she is dead, but also because she is so unpleasant personally. She's neither bad nor cruel; she's just supremely annoying. Why do you think J.K. Rowling depicts a dead girl in this relatively unsympathetic way? How might Book 2 be different if Moaning Myrtle were a tragic figure instead of a ridiculous one?

Just then, Ginny Weasley came over and sat down next to Ron. She looked tense and nervous, and Harry noticed that he hands were twisting in her lap.

"What's up?" said Ron, helping himself to more porridge.

Ginny didn't say anything, but glanced up and down the Gryffindor table with a scared look on her face that reminded Harry of someone, though he couldn't think who.

"Spit it out," said Ron, watching her.

Harry suddenly realized who Ginny looked like. She was rocking backward and forward slightly in her chair, exactly like Dobby did when he was teetering on the edge of revealing forbidden information. (16.20-24)

Finally, just before all the events of Book 2 come to a head, Ginny plucks up the courage to try and speak to Harry and Ron. Percy interrupts her before she can tell them about the cursed diary, so it doesn't work anyway. Still, we are impressed by her courage. Ginny's slow decline throughout Book 2, as she gets more and more nervous and sensitive, demonstrates the incredible damage that holding on to secrets can cause. In fact, the whole idea of the Chamber of Secrets itself takes on a negative connotation because it's secret, hidden, deliberately mysterious. Under what circumstances might secrets be necessary or even virtuous? What examples do we have of good secrets in the Harry Potter series?