Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Principles

By J.K. Rowling

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"A house-elf must be set free, sir. And the family will never set Dobby free...Dobby will serve the family until he dies, sir..."

Harry stared.

"And I thought I had it bad staying here for another four weeks," he said. "This makes the Dursleys sound almost human. Can't anyone help you? Can't I?"

Almost at once, Harry wished he hadn't spoken. Dobby dissolved again into wails of gratitude. (2.32-35)

Poor Harry. He tries to be a nice guy to Dobby, but Dobby's loud cries annoy the Dursleys. He really can't win when he's staying with his aunt and uncle. More to the point: the house-elf/wizard relationship gets more attention in the later Harry Potter novels. When it's first introduced in this book, how is it represented? How do you feel about the fact that wizards basically have a slave population to look after them? How does the existence of house-elves reflect on wizarding society?

"[The Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office at the Ministry of Magic] is all to do with bewitching things that are Muggle-made, you know, in case they end up back in a Muggle shop or house." [...]

"But your dad – this car —"

Fred laughed. "Yeah, Dad's crazy about everything to do with Muggles; our shed's full of Muggle stuff. He takes it apart, puts spells on it, and puts it back together again. If he raided our house, he'd have to put himself under arrest. It drives Mum mad." (3.79-83)

One reason why the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office is so disrespected at the Ministry is because it deals with Muggle things, and there's a lot of anti-Muggle bigotry in the wizarding world. Mr. Weasley's fascination with Muggle things seems pretty funny at this point in the series, when he has the same glee for our things that we have in exploring the wizarding world. Later on in the series, though, Mr. Weasley's love of Muggle things becomes a political principle: Mr. Weasley is from an old wizard family, but he's standing against prejudiced pureblood families like the Malfoys. His admiration for all things Muggle shows how liberal he is.

"Dear me, what's the use of being a disgrace to the name of wizard if they don't even pay you well for it?"

Mr. Weasley flushed darker than either Ron or Ginny.

"We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy," he said.

"Clearly," said Mr. Malfoy, his pale eyes straying to Mr. and Mrs. Granger, who were watching apprehensively. "The company you keep, Weasley...and I thought your family could sink no lower —" (4.176-179)

It's still early in the Harry Potter series, but we're already starting to get a sense of the different politics of the wizarding world. Lucius Malfoy is a snob, both about money and about family. What other major social issues do the wizards of this series face? How much of a role do these social issues play in the plot of Chamber of Secrets?

"Now, listen here, you lot," he said, glowing at them all. "We should have won the Quidditch Cup last year. We're easily the best team. But unfortunately – owing to circumstances beyond our control —"

Harry shifted guilty in his seat. He had been unconscious in the hospital wing for the final match of the previous year, meaning that Gryffindor had been a player short and had suffered their worst defeat in three hundred years.

Wood took a moment to regain control of himself. Their last defeat was clearly still torturing him. (7.38-40)

Lucius Malfoy's principle is that Muggles are bad and wizards are awesome. Professor Dumbledore's principles seem to be all about good vs. evil, and morality. Then there's Oliver Wood, with the refreshingly simple principle that Quidditch is the Most Important Thing on Earth. He mainly seems to feel bad about Harry's hospitalization at the end of Book 1 because it meant Gryffindor lost the Quidditch Cup. Wood is like a stereotype of the serious sports fan, for whom nothing matters except the sport. Wood's presence (and Quidditch in general) lightens things up a little. Harry Potter may be caught in the battle between good and evil, but at least there's always his favorite broomstick sport. How do you compare to Wood? Do you have a sport that makes everything else seem unimportant in comparison? Do you know fans like Wood? Which sports seem to inspire this kind of loyalty among the people you know?

"Good, aren't they?" said Malfoy smoothly. "But perhaps the Gryffindor team will be able to raise some gold and get new brooms, too. You could raffle off those Cleansweep Fives; I expect a museum would bid for them."

The Slytherin team howled with laughter.

"At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in," said Hermione sharply. "They got in on pure talent."

The smug look on Malfoy's face flickered.

"No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood," he spat.

Harry knew at once that Malfoy had something really bad because there was an instant uproar at his words. Flint had to dive in front of Malfoy to stop Fred and George jumping on him. (7.77-82)

Draco's introduction of the word "Mudblood" is huge in terms of the overall direction of the novel. It's the first time that we hear a real epithet about magical people born from Muggles – and it's proof that Draco is a giant bigot. All of the nasty stuff he says about the Weasleys and their poverty is awful, but it's also more familiar. Even here in the Muggle world, we have snobs who think badly of people who are poor. Still, "Mudblood" is an ugly word that we don't have in the Muggle world (of course), so we're getting into a new area of prejudice here. Clearly, the whole idea of Mudbloods and wizarding supremacy is at the core of the Death Eater movement, so this expression is key to the main conflicts of the Harry Potter series.

For a few years, the founders worked in harmony together, seeking out youngsters who showed signs of magic and bringing them to the castle to be educated. But then disagreements sprang up between them. A rift began to grow between Slytherin and the others. Slytherin wished to be more selective about the students admitted to Hogwarts. He believed that magical learning should be kept within all-magic families. He disliked taking students of Muggle parentage, believing them to be untrustworthy. (9.100)

Salazar Slytherin's argument with Godric Gryffindor and the other founders of Hogwarts shows that, no matter what happens between Harry, Draco, and Lord Voldemort, these tensions between "purebloods" and "Muggle-borns" will persist. After all, the wizarding world has a thousand year history of prejudice – it's never going to disappear entirely. That's human nature, we suppose (which is disappointing). At the same time, even if you can't get rid of prejudice entirely, at least you can fight back against it. We also wonder how much of Slytherin's suspicion of Muggle-borns comes from the fact that he lived in "an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution" (9.98). So the suspicion is mutual: Slytherin hates Muggles, but Muggles in this period also hate wizards. Why can't they all just get along?!

"Well, if you two are going to chicken out, fine," [Hermione] said. There were bright pink patches on her cheeks and her eyes were brighter than usual. "I don't want to break rules, you know. I think threatening Muggle-borns is far worse than brewing up a difficult potion. But you don't want to find out if it's Malfoy, I'll go straight to Madam Pince now and hand the book back in —"

"I never thought I'd see the day when you'd be persuading us to break rules," said Ron. (10.36-37)

Hermione believes in school rules. She's much more hard core about being obedient and following the rules in Book 1; as the series continues, Hermione relaxes more and more (under the influence of Harry and Ron). She comes to see that Truth and Justice are more important than following the rules at every turn – it's what keeps Hermione from turning into another Percy Weasley. At the same time, Hermione is generally obedient, more so than her best friends. When does she decide it's OK to break the rules? What will she break the rules to achieve? What does Hermione's rule-breaking tell us about her principles?

Malfoy started taking pictures with an imaginary camera and did a cruel but accurate impression of Colin: "'Potter, can I have your picture, Potter? Can I have your autograph? Can I lick your shoes, please, Potter? [...] Saint Potter, the Mudbloods' friend," said Malfoy slowly. "He's another one with no proper wizard feeling, or he wouldn't go around with that jumped-up Granger Mudblood. And people think he's Slytherin's heir!" (12.171-175)

Clearly, Draco's family represents the worst of wizarding prejudice. Lucius Malfoy believes absolutely in anti-Muggle-born claptrap, and Draco also buys right into it. Yet a lot of Draco's principles seem tied to jealousy. He's jealous of Harry for his fame and of Hermione for her genius. He uses the insults he's been taught by his father to try and shame them, but what really seems to bother him is that they do better at everything than he does. How much of Draco's conflict with Harry and his friends is because Draco really believes all of this pureblood stuff, and how much is because he is jealous and resentful? How much faith do you think Draco has in the belief system of the Death Eaters (Voldemort's supporters) or Voldemort himself?

Professor Sprout set them all to work pruning the Abyssinian Shrivelfigs. Harry went to tip an armful of withered stalks onto the compost heap and found himself face-to-face with Ernie Macmillan. Ernie took a deep breath and said, very formally, "I just want to say, Harry, that I'm sorry I ever suspected you. I know you'd never attack Hermione Granger, and I apologize for all the stuff I said. We're all in the same boat now, and, well —"

He held out a pudgy hand, and Harry shook it.

Ernie and his friend Hannah came to work at the same Shrivelfig as Harry and Ron.

"That Draco Malfoy character," said Ernie, breaking off dead twigs, "he seems very pleased about all this, doesn't he? D'you know, I think he might be Slytherin's heir." (15.19-22)

Honestly, we do have to admire Ernie's willingness to admit that he's wrong under such stressful circumstances. No wonder he and Harry manage to get along so well during the Defense Association/Dumbledore's Army portion of Book 5. Hufflepuff is probably the least immediately distinguishable or recognizable House of the four, but Ernie provides a pretty good model for the House trait of fair play. That said, even though he does have some excellent qualities, why does he immediately jump to blame someone else without direct evidence? Does Ernie learn a lesson from this whole episode with Harry? Why or why not? What lesson is there to learn?

"Sorry to disappoint you and all that, but the greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore. Everyone says so. Even when you were strong, you didn't dare try and take over at Hogwarts. Dumbledore saw through you when you were at school and he still frightens you now, wherever you're hiding these days – " (17.76)

Harry gives this speech to Riddle as he starts ranting about how great he is. At this stage in the series, Harry's loyalty and faith in Professor Dumbledore's power is absolute. Harry loves and admires Professor Dumbledore. The thing is, though, that Harry also has to become a leader in his own right. Eventually, he has to start questioning Professor Dumbledore's decisions, so that he can become his own man. When does Harry start distinguishing himself from Professor Dumbledore? When does he start challenging Dumbledore's authority? What events trigger Harry's break with Professor Dumbledore? How are Harry and Professor Dumbledore's leadership styles similar or different in the later novels of the series?

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