Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 998

Heritage, love, loyalty, and betrayal are the dominant themes in this novel. Harry focuses on avenging his parents' murders and learning more about his family's magical past. Rowling's fully developed characters participate in events and react to conflicts and danger to develop the novel's plot. Recurring characters from the first...

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Heritage, love, loyalty, and betrayal are the dominant themes in this novel. Harry focuses on avenging his parents' murders and learning more about his family's magical past. Rowling's fully developed characters participate in events and react to conflicts and danger to develop the novel's plot. Recurring characters from the first Harry Potter book consistently aid or hinder him. These archetypal characters represent extremes of good and evil. The battle between those two forces is the basic theme of the Harry Potter saga. Some characters seem stereotypical and derivative but their predictability aids readers in understanding their purpose. Many characters are polar opposites, such as Harry and Tom Riddle, yet they paradoxically share some traits and, like the settings, experience opposing characteristics within themselves, presenting an amalgam of good and bad.

Harry realizes that Riddle is actually Voldemort when he confronts him in the Chamber of Secrets. During their conversation, Harry becomes aware that he and Riddle share similar biographical details, such as being orphans, despite their obvious disparity and hatred for each other. Harry is oblivious to his magical abilities prior to being invited to attend Hogwarts. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry has a deeper appreciation of his heritage and is more self-confident. Both he and Voldemort are cognizant of their half-blood genetic background. Harry virtuously chooses to befriend people based on their personality, while Voldemort sinisterly elects to discriminate against anyone whom he feels threatened by, especially Harry, whom he tried to murder with his martyred parents James and Lily Potter. Harry's parents are also significant characters in the books because of how they motivate their son to pursue justice, fulfill his destiny, and redeem his legacy.

When the chamber monster is released and petrifies students, Harry vows to find Slytherin's heir who is blamed for opening the Chamber of Secrets. Despite false accusations that he is Slytherin's heir, primarily because of his ability to communicate in Parseltongue and proximity to petrification sites soon after incidents occurred, Harry is determined to locate the true culprit. Distractions such as homework and Quidditch matches delay Harry's progress. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, an enchanted Bludger knocks Harry off his broom and breaks his right arm. The ineffective Lockhart casts a spell which inadvertently causes Harry's arm bones to vanish, causing him to become temporarily powerless. The school nurse, Madam Pomfrey, regrows Harry's bones, symbolizing the strengthening of his character. Sacrifice and human fragility are frequent themes in the Harry Potter saga. Harry develops relationships with his closest friends, Ron and Hermione (whom he is especially protective of because of her Muggle parentage), and adults who serve as mentors such as the wise headmaster Albus Dumbledore, good-natured Rubeus Hagrid, strict teacher Minerva McGonagall, and affectionate Arthur and Molly Weasley. Their involvement with Harry, however, has repercussions such as Dumbledore's suspension and Hagrid's imprisonment.

Several characters have prominent roles in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. A thousand years ago, Hogwarts founder, Salazar Slytherin, built the secret chamber beneath the school after a disagreement with other school founders about admitting Muggle-born students. He planned for his heir to release the basilisk to slay future students that might be inferior and threatening to his ideas. Gilderoy Lockhart, the narcissistic Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, boastfully claims to be able to subdue evil creatures and craves publicity. He resents Harry's fame and is passive-aggressive in his efforts to wound Harry's ego. Lockhart's name suggests that he is like a gilded locket, something that is attractive to gaze at but shallow. When he has the opportunity to become a true hero, Lockhart tries to injure Harry and Ron and loses his mind. Twins Fred and George Weasley help Harry escape from his room at the Dursleys' house by driving the flying car and repulsing Vernon Dursley's attempts to control Harry. This action mimics their position as Beaters on the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

Herbology Professor Sprout prepares the antidote to revive petrified students, and the ghostly Mr. Binns, who teaches the history of magic, provides clues about the chamber's history. Ginny Weasley has a crush on Harry and is easily manipulated, resulting in Voldemort invading Hogwarts and holding her hostage in the Chamber of Secrets. Hermione Granger is especially insecure after threatening messages warn that Muggle-born students will be exterminated. Her erratic behavior reinforces stereotypical images of females being moody and unreliable, yet she assertively procures ingredients to brew the Polyjuice Potion and figures out that the chamber's monster is a basilisk. Draco Malfoy, who promotes genocide at Hogwarts, seems draconian but is fooled to reveal his insecurities when Harry and Ron transform into his sidekicks, Goyle and Crabb, in an attempt to learn who Slytherin's heir is. Harry encounters Draco's father Lucius Malfoy (an ally of Voldemort) whose name suggests an allegiance with Lucifer and who is extremely elitist and pretentious. When the Dursleys' business associates, the rigid Masons visit (foreshadowing later petrification in the novel), Harry is banished to his room, but Dobby causes Harry to be falsely accused of using magic off campus, alerting the Dursleys to this prohibition and intensifying their abuse of Harry.

By time-traveling through the enchanted diary, Harry learns why Hagrid was expelled from Hogwarts and encounters the behemoth spider Aragog, whom Hagrid saved from certain slaughter. Hagrid's love for creatures does not extend to Mrs. Norris, or squib (a non-magical wizard) caretaker Argus Rich's spying cat—who is the basilisk's first victim. The basilisk is an ancient serpent representing mythological beasts whose stare was deadly, signifying the blindness of racism (some modern lizards are also known as basilisks). Most animals are helpful. Dumbledore's pet phoenix Fawkes (suggesting Guy Fawkes and the historic British gunpowder plot) saves Harry in the Chamber of Secrets and represents the cycle of rebirth at Hogwarts as new students matriculate. Ghosts, including Nearly Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle, propel the plot forward by providing characters crucial information and reinforcing themes of exclusion and tolerance.

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