The relationship between magic and identity in Howl's Moving Castle is deeply complicated. When Sophie is transformed into an old woman, she decides not to mind too much because "this is much more like [she] really [is]" (2.57). Indeed, Sophie's not the only one who finds that magic helps match her appearance to her sense of inner identity—Howl also uses magic to enhance his sense of self by improving his looks.
By contrast, the dog-man doesn't exactly embrace being a dog. Sure he likes to nap in sunbeams, but he clearly finds his furry form deeply frustrating, and he does his best to overcome it for brief periods of time so that he can try to speak to Sophie. And Martha uses her magical disguise as Lettie as a kind of test for her suitors so that as she grows to look more like her real self only someone truly in love with her on the inside will stick around.
So just as there is no set equation in this book where identity always matches up with outside appearance, so too is there no set rule where identity never matches appearances. Once again, Jones leaves it up to us to decide how to judge each character's identity, using whatever clues we decide are most reliable.
Questions About Identity
Do we have a stable sense of who Howl really is? What are Howl's primary traits, and how do we find them out?
Even though there is technically a third-person narrator, much of Howl's Moving Castle appears focused through Sophie's eyes. How do her internal thoughts and feelings structure your sense of her identity? How might you think of her differently if you watched her character develop without this access to her personal feelings?
What role does occupation play in establishing identity in this novel? Are the magic-users in the book any different from the regular folks? If so, how? If not, why does Jones make magic seem so ordinary and everyday?
Chew on This
While the successful magic-users in Howl's Moving Castle do not share consistent personal or moral traits, they do all show a strong, assertive sense of will, which implies that magic use is a matter of willpower in this novel.
Choosing to focus primarily on Sophie's inner thoughts and feelings gives Diana Wynne Jones the opportunity to develop the identity of her shy main character before Sophie becomes blunt or outspoken enough to share her views with other characters in dialogue.