Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Themes

  • Family

    Family is a very important theme throughout Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry misses the family he never knew – his parents – and hates the one he's stuck with – the Dursleys. Blood ties only go so far, and relationships don't necessarily mean that love is felt. Far from it, in fact. The Dursleys feed, clothe, and shelter Harry (barely), but they don't love him, and they certainly don't treat him as though he belongs. Instead, it's the people Harry meets at Hogwarts, both students and faculty, who care for and nurture him, and who slowly become his new, chosen family.

    Questions About Family

    1. Which other characters, besides Harry, are deprived of their parents? Is being without parents the same as not having a family?
    2. The book describes a mother's love as one of the most powerful charms in the world. Do you agree? Why or why not?
    3. What kinds of sibling relationships do you see in the text? How do those compare to the friendships made at Hogwarts?
    4. Can you tell Fred and George Weasley apart?
    5. Do you think the book provides any substitute parental figures for Harry? If so, who might those be, and why?
  • Friendship

    Making friends is arguably one of the best things about going to Hogwarts. Without friends, life can be pretty sad. Having someone to side with, to share with, and to study with – someone who has your back, and who needs you to cover his/hers – is huge. Yet for Harry Potter and some of the other characters who've been set apart by their magical abilities, making real friends is only possible at wizarding school. Wizard friends are lifesavers, literally: who else can you collaborate with to defeat three-headed dogs or evil overlords? By making friends, the characters get to work together, learn from each other, and accomplish more than they ever would have on their own.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Do you think Harry, Ron, and Hermione are friends with Neville? How would you describe their relationship?
    2. Why aren't Harry and Malfoy friends, really?
    3. How differently would things have turned out if Harry had ended up in Slytherin?
    4. Which character would you like to be friends with and why? Which character would you most like to have on your side?
  • The Home

    Home is where the Hogwarts is. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, school's not just where you study and learn cools spells; it's a real home. Harry may start out living in a house with the Dursleys, but it doesn't feel like home to him. To abuse the immortal words of Burt Bacharach, that "house is not a home." At Hogwarts, and in Gryffindor in particular, Harry finally feels a sense of belonging and comfort. Responsible adults care about and look after him, and he has good experiences, good meals, and good friends. It's not sugarcoated – there are still small and large-scale enemies – but for the first time Harry finds pleasure and safety in his living space.

    Questions About The Home

    1. Could you ever see yourself feeling "at home" at school, the way Harry does at Hogwarts?
    2. Why is having a home so important? Is it possible for us to separate the idea of a "home" from an actual house?
    3. How does Hagrid's house compare with the Dursleys'? How do those houses compare with Voldemort's temporary "home" in this text?
    4. What do you think are the things that make Harry feel most at home at Hogwarts?
    5. What is it about Number Four Privet Drive that so un-homey?
  • Loyalty

    Loyalty may be a Hufflepuff virtue, but everyone in Gryffindor is pretty good at it too. Face it, in this book nearly everyone's loyal – even the bad guys are loyal to their own side. Loyalty provides much of the motivation for plot points throughout Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: characters stand up for the ideas they believe in and each other. However, sometimes people – or creatures – have to behave in what seems like a disloyal manner for the greater good.

    Questions About Loyalty

    1. Who do you think is the most loyal character? Why?
    2. Should loyalty really categorize Gryffindors instead of Hufflepuffs? What should Hufflepuffs be known for?
    3. Can Malfoy's praise of purebloods over Muggles be understood as some kind of weird, twisted loyalty? Why or why not?
  • Courage

    Courage is one of the hallmarks of Gryffindor house, and it's also a defining characteristic for our main characters. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and even Neville all reveal themselves as possessing outstanding bravery, and it's their courage that helps them get through the climactic ordeals at the book's end. As Dumbledore praises them at the year-end banquet, he honors their explicit and implicit courage. This shows that the Hogwarts faculty values virtues like courage and loyalty as much as they do more wacky branches of magical education. Being able to make feathers float is all very well and good, but when push comes to shove, what really matters is how you face your fears.

    Questions About Courage

    1. If courage goes so far towards defining Gryffindors, is there anyone who acts so courageously that he/she ought to be a Gryffindor? Is there anyone who doesn't?
    2. Is it braver to stand up to your friends, as Neville does, or to stand up to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Why?
    3. How does this book define courage? What is the most courageous act of the book?
    4. How can Harry's promise to no longer look into the Mirror of Erised be seen as a courageous act?
  • Good vs. Evil

    Good and evil come in all shapes and sizes and aren't necessarily restricted to magic or Muggle worlds, either. At first, we wonder who could be more evil than the cruel, unloving Dursleys and their bullying, slobby son. True, they get some competition from wizarding bullies, who like to intersperse insults with, you know, spells. But actually, there is someone: the half-alive, half-defeated, unicorn-killing, blood-drinking evilest wizard that ever evilled – Voldemort. Luckily, there are examples of goodness flooding Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, ranging from Harry's parents, whose love extends beyond the grave, to sweet awkward Neville, who sides with his friends no matter what.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Do you agree that Voldemort is the most evil person/thing in the book? Or is someone/something else scarier?
    2. Do you think Snape is good or evil? What evidence from the book can you use to support your point of view?
    3. Quirrell tells Harry that, "There is no good and evil, there is only power" (17.31). What do you think of his statement?
    4. OK, if you had to face one of the following in an alley – Voldemort, Malfoy, Dudley, or Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback – which would it be and why?
  • The Supernatural

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone provides a doorway into a magical world. In addition to garden-variety witches and wizards, there are magic trains, magic candies, and several areas dedicated to magical commerce. There's a castle populated with ghosts, poltergeists, strange creatures, and things that go bump in the night, as well as a forest full of centaurs, unicorns, and creepy crawlies. A boarding school, often thought of as an ordinary thing, becomes tinged through and through with the extraordinary – with magic. Getting mail delivered by owl, learning to Transfigure matches into needles, or finding an invisibility cloak at the bottom of your bed? It's all part of a typical day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Which Hogwarts class would you most like to take and why?
    2. What would you do if you received an acceptance letter from Hogwarts?
    3. For you, what's the most amazing part of the wizarding world Rowling describes?
    4. If you could make one of the many supernatural creatures in the book real, which would it be and why?
    5. Why don't the Dursleys like wizards?
    6. Does Rowling do a good job at making the wizarding world seem real or magic seem possible? Why or why not?
    7. How is attending a magical school like Hogwarts similar to and different from your schooling experience?
  • Contrasting Regions

    In the great tradition of many fantasists, Rowling describes a secret, magical world hidden within plain old England. Muggles, or non-magic people, go about their daily lives, while wizards and witches hide in plain sight. Platforms, doors, and all kinds of hidden portals appear where none should exist, and transmit people to the far more exciting little world waiting at Hogwarts. Non-magical England is categorized as not that imaginative, exciting, or interesting; it's full of dull, narrow-minded people leading dull, narrow-minded lives. Magic England is the total opposite: everything about it is tinged with a sense of wonder. It's a place where children can be heroes, and where ordinary kids can discover the secret talents they never knew they always had.

    Questions About Contrasting Regions

    1. What elements of the "regular" world seem weirder than elements of the magic world?
    2. If you could include one element from the magic world in your life, what would it be?
    3. How much does magic affect Muggle life?