Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

by J. K. Rowling

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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 limitations and dreariness of his unimaginative Muggle home. His personality metamorphoses when he moves between the two settings, gradually gaining self-confidence at Hogwarts. The barren Dursley home stifles Harry, while Hogwarts gives birth to his potential and invigorates him. The Chamber of Secrets is the most significant setting within Hogwarts. It is similar to an Egyptian tomb with snakewrapped stone pillars and a giant statue of a wizard. Like a womb, it nourishes the fledgling Harry and protects and strengthens him as he expands emotionally and spiritually to become autonomous. The chamber is also like a dangerous cave or mine that smothers or collapses anyone inside it. The dungeon where Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday Party is held foreshadows Harry's later descent into a metaphorical Hades.

Harry and Hogwarts symbiotically preserve each other from destruction and nurture each other to grow. Surrounded by the Forbidden Forest, home to centaurs and unicorns, Hogwarts sits on a cliff above a large lake that rests above the subterranean chamber, insulating it from external interference. Lacking technology, Hogwarts is self sufficient, isolating itself like an island which can only be reached by the Hogwarts Express and magic.

The Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms are pivotal to plot development and symbolize the characteristics of each house. The noble Gryffindors live in a tower, while the vile Slytherins live in a dungeon much like the classroom of their faculty sponsor, the bitter potions master Severus Snape. Harry shares his dormitory with four boys; he considers the turret room his home and resolves some of the puzzles that confound him, such as deciphering Tom Riddle's diary, in that sheltered space. House membership represents characters' traits and motives, initiating conflicts that propel plots forward.

The Quidditch field is a sanctioned site for the resolution of many disagreements. The Great Hall serves as a place where students gather to replenish their energy with food and entertainment as well as engage in combative taunts and duels. This is where Harry learns...

(This entire section contains 752 words.)

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that he can talk to snakes. The ceiling mirrors the sky and it often reflects the moods of the students. Corridors serve as passages not only to classrooms but also as transitions in story lines. The girls' bathroom, home to Moaning Myrtle, is the portal to the Chamber; its moistness suggests Harry's vigor to pursue the basilisk.

Other significant settings include Knockturn Alley where Harry overhears the Malfoys discussing racist ideology. Harry's accidental arrival in the alley suggests his own potential for evil. The Weasley house offers Harry a temporary refuge from his guardians, and he delights in "degnoming" the garden and discovering how a magical family lives. The Dursleys' orderly house represents those characters' focus on accruing wealth, and the Weasleys' ramshackle home symbolizes their commitment to family. The flying car is personified, using its lights and exhaust pipes to express its anger at the boys whom it has both rescued and abandoned.

Literary Qualities

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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, heightening the reader' emotional involvement with the characters. The illusions cause readers to feel as if they have magically entered the story. Like Hogwarts' twisted subterranean tunnels, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets presents predicaments and enigmatic clues to confuse readers such as Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy fighting at Flourish and Blotts and Ginny forgetting to pack her diary. Rowling builds tension that intensifies to the climax by fully developing confrontations such as Harry and Riddle repeating their statements. The multiple story lines, such as Ginny's bizarre behavior and stolen diary, are resolved by the conclusion which shows how everything was significant to the main plot.

Rowling's fluid prose enables readers to read the novel quickly then return to find the hidden clues which foreshadowed the solution. By intersecting horror with humor, she establishes an unsettled tone which causes readers to distrust their perception of events. Several stylistic devices intensify the reading experience. Rowling casts her main characters as outsiders, reinforcing the themes of acceptance and discrimination. Harry is branded by a scar that shows his differences from the other wizards. He often seems lonely and confined by his uniqueness. Characters are limited by their self- and peer-assigned definitions and discover inner strengths to achieve individually and benefit the community. Memory symbolizes the truth. Voices, especially dialects, create authentic dialogue to enhance omniscient narrative. Speaking and listening also reinforce the racism theme when Draco ignores those he thinks are his inferiors and Harry speaks and understands Parseltongue to open the secret chamber.

Rowling's literary motifs of magic and secrecy dominate Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Illusions and deceptions reveal which wizards are gifted, like Dumbledore, which ones are inept, such as Lockhart, and which ones are malicious, like Voldemort. Temperature indicates good (warmth) and evil (cold). The term "Mudblood" suggests that those students are muddied or dirty and thus undesirables. Rowling poetically names spells to specify their purpose such as "Expelliarmus" meaning to disarm an opponent. The literary use of duality reveals that people and actions often are more complex than first appearances imply and that good and evil are closely related such as the Mandrakes having deadly shrieks but being the main ingredient of the petrification antidote. Magic exposes braggarts like Lockhart as cowards. Invisibility conceals evil such as the blank diary pages but also suggests how good characters are metaphorically overlooked.

Significant literary motifs include family, blood, adolescence, gender, colors, metals, numbers, time, size, movement, moonlight, plants, food, music, animals, and precious stones. Fairy tale elements, religious imagery, and historical allusions contribute to the story's cautionary nature. Mythologist Joseph Campbell might describe the secret chamber as a netherworld where supernatural guides like Fawkes would assist heroes like Harry. Psychological analyses might interpret Harry's adventures as Freudian suggestions about sexuality and repressed desires or Jungian imagery of the stairways, tunnels, and tomb-like chamber representing Harry's fears and introverted personality. The Chamber of Secrets might reflect the individual's internal agony and conflict within their psyche. These diverse literary motifs reinforce the idea that imagination is the primary source of magic.

Social Sensitivity

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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 repulses Harry, whose mother was a Muggle. He resents classmates who passively permit such ostracism to continue. Interestingly, no professors are targeted as outcasts. Harry's compassion for individuals' differences and his sense of social responsibility might make readers aware of any harmful prejudices they have or encounter and strengthen them to voice their concerns.

Harry displays socially acceptable behaviors such as respecting his elders and strives to maintain the honor of Hogwarts through his actions, refusing to cheat on class assignments or sports despite academic pressures and provocations. A diligent, self-disciplined worker, Harry is committed to earning grades and achieving goals rather than being granted privileges that might weaken his character like the spoiled Draco Malfoy. He worries about the well-being of other wizards and witches as well as animals, and places their needs over individual desires and ambitions, altruistically sharing his food and belongings and freeing Dobby from his servitude to the Malfoys. Harry values knowledge as being more powerful than the illusions of magic. Admitting that he is imperfect, he urges his classmates to become better people and is loyal to his friends even when they disagree with him. Harry bravely pursues his course of action despite ridicule, risks of losing possessions, or encountering hazards.

Unfortunately, Rowling sometimes casts characters, albeit the more loathsome ones, with stereotypical descriptions. Harry's offensive male relatives are heavy-set to indicate their stupidity and laziness. The buffoonish classmate, Neville Longbottom, is also described as plump which his surname seems to suggest. Sexism and racism often are intertwined, and, while Rowling does not endorse discrimination, subtle sexism occurs when Hermione becomes is transformed into a cat after creating the Polyjuice Potion. Also, Ginny is depicted as a stereotypical helpless, foolish, confused female who is rescued by a male. Risk-taking by male characters is rewarded, while that undertaken by females is punished.

For Further Reference

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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 (May 27, 1999): 1-D. Review of Rowling's second book which states, "Those needing a hit of magic, morality and mystical worlds can do no better than opening Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Jerome, Helen M. "Welcome Back Potter." Book: The Magazine for Reading Life (May/ June 2000): 40-45. A feature article which chronicles Rowling's rise to fame, including a time line of significant events in her life and discussing experiences which influenced her literary creation of the Harry Potter novels.

Jones, J. Sydney. "Rowling, J(oanne) K." Something about the Author, Detroit, MI: Gale, 2000, Volume 109, p. 199. Biographical sketch of Rowling with a list of resources.

Lipson, Eden Ross. "Books' Quirky Hero and Fantasy Wins Young Minds." New York Times (July 12, 1999): E-l. Explores why the second Harry Potter book is internationally popular and compares reading habits of boys and girls.

Parravano, Martha V. "Review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." Horn Book Magazine 75 (July/August 1999): 472-473. Does not wholly endorse the novel although Parravano says "The atmosphere Rowling creates is unique; the story whizzes along; Harry is an unassuming and completely sympathetic hero." Criticizes the text for being a bit formulaic.

Rogers, Susan L. Review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. School Library Journal, July 1, 1999. States "Fans of the phenomenally popular Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Scholastic, 1998) won't be disappointed when they rejoin Harry." Praises Rowling's writing because "The novel is marked throughout by the same sly and sophisticated humor found in the first book, along with inventive, new, matter-of-fact uses of magic that will once again have readers longing to emulate Harry and his wizard friends."

Schafer, Elizabeth D. Beacham's Source Books for Exploring Young Adult Fiction: Harry Potter. Osprey, FL: Beacham Publishing, 2000. A comprehensive, interdisciplinary analysis of the Harry Potter books which elaborates about literary components of the series. Provides citations for diverse resources, including reviews and web sites, about Rowling and the Harry Potter series. Updates and additional information are posted at: http:// www.beachampublishing.com




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