Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Analysis

J. K. Rowling


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Most of the action in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets occurs at Hogwarts during the years 1992 and 1993. The realism of the non-magical Muggle world, particularly the Dursleys' home, dramatically contrasts with the fantastical possibilities presented at Hogwarts where the medieval castle's structure is constantly changing to accommodate its inhabitants. While the stone walls symbolize strength, the castle's inner mazes and secret passages hint at complexities that are often hidden to casual observers. People and places are either mortal or magical, with both spheres intersecting along significant peripheral junctures such as King's Cross station and the Leaky Cauldron. Rowling's imaginary settings, whether boring Muggle houses or intriguing magical realms, are vividly depicted, making Harry Potter's environment seem plausible to readers. Rowling intersperses real geographical places with make-believe sites to increase the believability of her fantasy world.

Harry's movement between Muggle and magical settings signals the beginning and conclusion of his annual adventures. Harry loathes the Dursleys' Privet Drive house in the fictional town of Little Whinging which is located in the factual English county of Surrey. Harry's Muggle home is like a prison; the windows in his room are barred. Ironically, despite Harry's derision for his repulsive, parsimonious guardians, he is safer at their house than he is at Hogwarts, which serves a dual role as sanctuary and battlezone. Both settings test Harry's integrity and maturity. The Dursleys' home is an incubator, where his magic is dormant during his childhood. Hogwarts stimulates Harry's supernatural powers to emerge.

Harry attends Hogwarts in northern Scotland from September to June, enjoying the school's abundances and creativity as compared to the...

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Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Rowling's intricate writing style incorporates a variety of techniques which add texture and layers to her characters and settings. By using symbolism, motifs, and puns, Rowling combines humor and the macabre to create storytelling that fulfills readers' desire for adventure and intrigue. She allegorically comments on modern society while alluding to universal concerns such as social acceptance. The Harry Potter saga is told by an omniscient narrator, in the form of an oral, tragic-comic ode to a hero. And although the stories are based on legends, mythology, and fairy tales, the heroes and villains have characteristics that cross cultures and time periods.

Rowling invented jargon unique to the Harry Potter novels such as "Quidditch" and bureaucratic names which blend the fantastical with the mundane, aiding readers' acceptance. Although the wizard realm is exclusive to those with magical talents, Rowling's literary style, using figurative words and descriptive passages which personifies objects and humanize characters, invites readers to become part of Harry's world. Her most effective stylistic device is names. Rowling realizes the power of names and chooses designations that hint of the personalities and traits of the characters. For example, Tom Marvalo Riddle's name represents Lord Voldemort rearranged, and Draco refers to the Latin word for serpent. Names are sometimes alliterative and often rhythmic, enhancing the literary tone, particularly when read aloud.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry undergoes the traditional quest cycle, beginning action in the normal Muggle setting before relocating to the fantastical arena of Hogwarts where he undergoes an apprenticeship and resolves a conflict with his archenemy Voldemort in the underground chamber. Rowling skillfully creates suspense through plot pacing, which results in Harry being in jeopardy for almost unbearable lengths or time. Cliffhangers close each chapter,...

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Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although not blatantly didactic, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets delivers several moral messages to readers. Resisting racism is the most crucial social issue discussed in the book. Harry refuses to discriminate against other students because of factors, such as lineage, that they cannot control. Instead of encouraging inequality, Harry promotes cooperation through teamwork. He avoids controversial causes endorsed by dubious classmates and does not succumb to peer pressure. Rowling incorporates several moral themes in her novel, and she wants to show how character and integrity influences an individual's decision- making processes, noting that most people are innately good unless they have suffered extreme emotional or physical abuse. She stresses that her novels reveal the consequences of evil and how innocent people are often victimized unfairly. Harry has the courage to give voice to his concerns and distinguish right from wrong. He is a role model for his fictional cohorts as well as his readers and establishes acceptable standards for behavior. Keenly aware of what is fair and just, he is accountable for his actions, justifying when breaking rules is permissible for the greater good.

Harry tries to work within established guidelines without harming the Hogwarts community. He opposes favoritism among professors and students, disliking cliques that are a part of most school environments. The hierarchy of wizard castes at Hogwarts...

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Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Should Harry have used his friends' magic to escape from his room in Dursleys' house? Did he have any alternatives?

2. Why do some wizards consider themselves superior to Muggle-born students? In what ways could their elitism and snobbery initiate conflict at Hogwarts and within the larger magical community?

3. Why are people racist? Are only evil characters in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets bigoted?

4. Explain how the terms "mudblood" and "squid" reveal characters' prejudices and why each victim is petrified. What symbolic horrors does the Chamber of Secrets represent?

5. Discuss how Rowling uses caricatures, such as depicting unpleasant people like Dudley as grossly overweight, and how this might influence characters' and readers' prejudices regarding obese people. How could Rowling have achieved successful characterization without describing these people's physiques?

6. Is Harry's voice ever suppressed and by whom? Discuss how library restrictions and rules affected Harry, Ron, and Hermione in their attempt to solve the mystery. How does Harry learn about expected behavior and attitudes to express at Hogwarts and what does such expectations suggest about what people must do to be accepted in most societies? What are the penalties for not conforming? Discuss how individual differences strengthen group identity and efforts. Why is it ironic that this book about discrimination has been...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Research the history of racism, comparing the sociological, cultural, and economic impact of prejudice at different points in history. Outline groups who have been targeted for racism and comment about how they were persecuted and what happened to their oppressors.

2. Write a report about the eugenics movement which sanctioned the reproduction only of wealthy, educated people with distinguished ancestors and the sterilization of impoverished people, often representing ethnic minorities or individuals of mixed-heritage. Could Slytherin, the Malfoys, and other elite wizards and witches be considered eugenicists?

3. Explain the scientific principles that cause petrification of organic materials and list the objects that are usually petrified. Locate geographical sites where petrified items can be located. Would it be possible for a human to be petrified and survive? Discuss what petrification symbolizes in science and literature.

4. Research the human discovery and exploration of caves and subterranean spaces, describing how caves have been used for such purposes as shelters in war and to hide smuggled goods. Locate the site of several caves on a world map and write a report about a major cave system such as the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.

5. Locate information about a hate crime that occurred recently and compare that incident with an historic act of racial violence, such as a nineteenth-century lynching. Why was the...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The sequel to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has been released in audio adaptations: the British version is read by Stephen Fry, and the American recording is told by Jim Dale. A movie based on the first Harry Potter book will be released in November 2001. Many Harry Potter resources recommend books by Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman, L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, but many books with similar themes, characters, and plots as the Harry Potter novels are often overlooked. These books include Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) in which the protagonist, like Harry in the Chamber, must figure out how to escape from a cave where he...

(The entire section is 618 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Estes, Sally. Review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Booklist (May 15, 1999). Declares that "Harry Potter's exploits during his second year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry completely live up to the bewitching measure of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a Booklist Editors' Choice, 1998." Emphasizes that "The mystery, zany humor, sense of a traditional British school,... student rivalry, and eccentric faculty, all surrounded by the magical foundation so necessary in good fantasy, are as expertly crafted here as in the first book" and predicts that fans will not be disappointed."

Hainer, Cathy. "Second Time's Still a Charm for Spellbinding Saga." USA Today...

(The entire section is 437 words.)