Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Isolation

By J.K. Rowling

Isolation

Frank Bryce was the Riddles' gardener. He lived alone in a run-down cottage on the grounds of the Riddle House. Frank had come back from the war with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises, and had been working for the Riddles ever since. [...]

"Always thought he was odd," [the cook at the Hanged Man] told the eagerly listening villagers, after her fourth sherry. "Unfriendly, like. I'm sure if I've offered him a cuppa once, I've offered it a hundred times. Never wanted to mix, he didn't."

"Ah now," said a woman at the bar, "he had a hard war, Frank. He likes a quiet life. That's no reason to –"

"Who else had a key to the back door, then?" barked the cook. "There's been a spare key hanging in the gardener's cottage far back as I can remember! Nobody forced the door last night! No broken windows! All Frank had to do was creep up to the big house while we was all sleeping ... "

The villagers exchanged dark looks.

"I always thought he had a nasty look about him, right enough," grunted a man at the bar.

"War turned him funny, if you ask me," said the landlord. [...]

By the following morning, hardly anyone in Little Hangleton doubted that Frank Bryce had killed the Riddles. (1.8-18)

("The war" that Frank Bryce came back from is probably World War II, and "a cuppa" is a cup of tea.) This passage is brilliant: in just a few sentences, J.K. Rowling demonstrates how quickly an ordinary man can go from being "odd" to being "nasty" and crazed, with the help of a public rumor. Frank Bryce comes back from World War II with an injured leg and PTSD ("a great dislike of crowds and loud noises"), and his sensitivity actually inspires prejudiced villagers to turn against him. Because Frank is a social outcast, he has no one to stand up for him when rumors start circulating that he must have killed the Riddles. Before you know it, everyone in the village is sure that Frank Bryce is a murderer. This chapter makes us feel so claustrophobic and heartbroken: this poor guy, a veteran no less, prefers not to mix with the villagers, and that seems to be proof enough to convict him of murdering three people. So unfair!

[The Dursleys] knew perfectly well that, as an underage wizard, Harry wasn't allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts, but they were still apt to blame him for anything that went wrong about the house. Harry had never been able to confide in them or tell them anything about his life in the wizarding world. The very idea of going to them when they awoke, and telling them about his scar hurting him, and about his worries about Voldemort, was laughable. (2.15)

One of the formative aspects of Harry's character is that he has grown up in an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive household. Harry as been raised by the Dursleys, his aunt and uncle, who despise and fear him for being a wizard. So they would have absolutely no sympathy for "his scar hurting him" or "his worries about Voldemort" if Harry were to even tell them. But the long-term effect of Harry's isolation as a child is that he has trouble telling anyone when things are going wrong in his life – he wants to handle everything by himself. When Harry thinks of telling his mentor, Professor Dumbledore, about his concerns, he feels "stupid" and can't do it. Still, Harry does manage to reach out to his godfather, Sirius Black – character development!

Harry sat there, aware that every head in the Great Hall had turned to look at him. he was stunned. He felt numb. He was surely dreaming. He had not heard correctly.

There was no applause. A buzzing, as though of angry bees, was starting to fill the Hall; some students were standing up to get a better look at Harry as he sat, frozen, in his seat. (17.1-2)

Even when Harry is doing his best to stay part of a crowd, he gets picked out for isolation by forces beyond his control. It's odd because we want something like the adventurous life Harry has – we want the magic and the daring too, though probably not the deadly danger and the deceased parents. But Harry stands out (as we kind of wish we did) and he wants nothing more than to become ordinary (at least, by wizarding standards). He wants to melt into the crowd. We find it funny that we spend a lot of time reading novels about a kid who has a life we kind of want to lead – yet that kid is miserable in that life most of the time.

The next few days were some of Harry's worst at Hogwarts. The closest he had ever come to feeling like this had been during those months, in his second year, when a large part of the school had suspected him of attacking his fellow students. But Ron had been on his side then. He thought he could have coped with the rest of the school's behavior if he could just have had Ron back as a friend, but he wasn't going to try and persuade Ron to talk to him if Ron didn't want to. Nonetheless, it was lonely with dislike pouring in on him from all sides. (18.56)

There's continuity between the hatred that most of Hogwarts had for Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of the Secrets and now, with the Triwizard Tournament. Why is so much of Harry's school experience based on teasing and exclusion? Is it a genre thing – is this just what we expect of middle school and high school stories? Or does it seem particular to Harry's character and situation? Is there anything unique about Harry's particular isolation from his fellows?

Under the pretext of holding up a measuring cup to see if he'd poured out enough armadillo bile, Harry sneaked a sidelong glance at the pair of them. Karkaroff looked extremely worried, and Snape looked angry.

Karkaroff hovered behind Snape's desk for the rest of the double period. He seemed intent on preventing Snape from slipping away at the end of class. Keen to hear what Karkaroff wanted to say, Harry deliberately knocked over his bottle of armadillo bile with two minutes to go to the bell, which gave him an excuse to duck down behind his cauldron and mop up while the rest of the class moved noisily toward the door.

"What's so urgent?" he heard Snape hiss at Karkaroff.

"This," said Karkaroff, and Harry, peering around the edge of his cauldron, saw Karkaroff pull up the left-hand sleeve of his robe and show Snape something on his inner forearm. (27.67-71)

Occasionally, we can see that there's a challenge involved in focusing the entire novel (with the exception of maybe the first chapter) through Harry's eyes. The problem is that Harry has to be around in every scene to take note of the little details J.K. Rowling wants the reader to pick up. We only see what Harry sees, which means that Harry's eyes and ears have to be really observant for us to get a full picture of what's going on in the novel. In, like, 99% of cases, J.K. Rowling accomplishes this kind of foreshadowing through Harry's eavesdropping. He's always in the right place at the right time to overhear key points, such as when he and Ron listen in on Hagrid's confession to Madame Maxine. At the same time, it can get a little awkward that Harry has to be present so that the reader can find out the content of even super secret conversations. The idea that Karkaroff – who is a former Death Eater – would actually show his Dark Mark to Professor Snape in public while Harry's in the room strikes us as kind of hard to believe.

Ron speared a roast potato on the end of his fork, glaring at it. Then he said, "I hate being poor."

Harry and Hermione looked at each other. Neither of them really knew what to say.

"It's rubbish," said Ron, still glaring down at his potato. "I don't blame Fred and George for trying to make some extra money. Wish I could. Wish I had a niffler." (28.99-101)

Ron's poverty is extremely isolating. Thanks to the Dursleys, Harry knows what it's like to live with shabby clothes and hand-me-downs too, at least. But that was all before Ron met Harry, and now Harry is a very rich young wizard. What's more, the Weasley family's poverty gives them really low social status in the wizarding world. It's obviously had an effect on the choices of Fred and George (joke shop) and Percy (crazed ambition). One of the things that we really like about the Harry Potter books is that they're so frank about how much it can suck to be poor.

One was a huge snake ... the other was a man ... a short, balding man, a man with watery eyes and a pointed nose ... he was wheezing and sobbing on the hearth rug ...

"You are in luck, Wormtail," said a cold, high-pitched voice from the depths of the chair in which the owl had landed. "You are very fortunate indeed. Your blunder has not ruined everything. He is dead."

"My lord!" gasped the man on the floor. "My Lord, I am ... I am so pleased ... and so sorry ..."

"Nagini," said the cold voice, "you are out of luck. I will not be feeding Wormtail to you, after all ... but never mind, never mind ... there is still Harry Potter ..." (29.117-9)

So, Harry's sitting in Divination, he dozes off, and suddenly he's in the middle of a Voldemort dream – great. At least part of the purpose of Harry's dreams seems to be for the readers' sake, so that we're reminded that, hey, Voldemort is planning something and he's still working with Wormtail. After all, Voldemort is in hiding and there's no other way for Harry to overhear his conversations (though Harry is quite the eavesdropper when he has the opportunity). But, besides giving us a chance to check in with our old snake-eyed friend, what other purpose do these dreams seem to serve in the novel? Does the tone of the book change when the dialogue includes Voldemort? Does Voldemort have a real three-dimensional character at this point in the Harry Potter series?

Harry and Cedric stood there in the darkness for a moment, looking around them. Then Cedric said, "Well ... I suppose we'd better go on ..."

"What?" said Harry. "Oh ... yeah ... right ..."

It was an odd moment. He and Cedric had briefly been united against Krum – now the fact that they were opponents came back to Harry. The two of them proceeded up the dark path without speaking, then Harry turned left, and Cedric right. (31.182-4)

Clearly, Harry and Cedric feel better when they're working together rather than against one another. The essential tendency of the decent characters in this novel to combine forces only reaffirms the moral emphasis on cooperation that J.K. Rowling has established since the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Whenever Harry isolates himself from the other characters, someone gets hurt. We love how she sneaks in those great lessons!

"But his journey back to me was not smooth, was it, Wormtail? For, hungry one night, on the edge of the very forest where he had hoped to find me, he foolishly stopped at an inn for some food ... and who should he meet there, but one Bertha Jorkins, a witch from the Ministry of Magic.

"Now see the way that fate favors Lord Voldemort. This might have been the end of Wormtail, and of my last hope for regeneration. But Wormtail – displaying a presence of mind I would never have expected from him – convinced Bertha Jorkins to accompany him on a nighttime stroll. He overpowered her ... he brought her to me. And Bertha Jorkins, who might have ruined all, proved instead to be a gift beyond my wildest dreams ... for – with a little persuasion – she became a veritable mine of information." (33.92-3)

We've been thinking about the importance of freedom of choice in the moral world of Harry Potter. Harry chooses to be a Gryffindor, not a Slytherin, and that changes everything for him. Voldemort responds to his terrible childhood by seeking revenge against Muggles, and that makes him become a true monster to everyone. At the same time, even though choice is important in Harry Potter, there does seem to be an element of fate to this whole thing. How else can it be possible that both Wormtail and Bertha Jorkins are in the same inn in Albania at the same time? Does the series of events that bring Voldemort back to power ever seem contrived to you?

"The Imperius Curse," Crouch said. "I was under my father's control. I was forced to wear an Invisibility Cloak day and night. I was always with the house-elf. She was my keeper and caretaker. She pitied me. She persuaded my father to give me occasional treats. Rewards for my good behavior." (35.133)

We find Mrs. Crouch's decision completely baffling. We get that she doesn't want her son to rot in prison, but how is this treatment truly any better? He's not free at all, certainly, and it's inevitable that something is going to break Barty Crouch, Sr.'s concentration at some point, leaving the son able to do whatever he wants. All we can conclude is that love makes people do the strangest things.