Themes and Characters

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Manipulation and redemption are two prominent themes in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Major characters present dual natures, reflecting both deceitful and empathetic traits. Some deceptions are benign and initiated to avoid confrontations or intrusiveness, such as Harry's pretence to be Neville Longbottom when he does not want the Knight Bus' driver and conductor to recognize him. Other impostors have malignant intentions, wanting to mislead people in order to take advantage of them and sometimes harm them. Although Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is primarily plot driven, the characters are essential in propelling the plot forward through their selfish motivations and machinations of each other and reactions to circumstances, both contrived and naturally occurring. Rowling's characters are archetypes representing heroes, helpers, villains, and other essential roles. These archetypal characters represent extremes of good and evil, and the battle between those two forces is the basic theme of the Harry Potter saga.

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Although some characters seem stereotypical and derivative, their predictability aids readers in understanding their purpose. Many characters are polar opposites, such as Harry and Peter Pettigrew, yet they paradoxically share some traits and, like some settings, experience opposing characteristics within themselves, presenting an amalgam of good and bad. Readers are familiar with many of the recurring characters—humans, ghosts, creatures, and enchanted objects—in the third Harry Potter novel. These characters are important to plot development in the third book as well as the plot of the overall saga. New characters are introduced to elaborate on information previously presented in the first two books, especially details concerning Harry's parents.

Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, are entering adolescence in the third Harry Potter novel. The magical trio is connected by their friendship and faith in each other's unique abilities. Their teamwork is essential for them to vanquish foes effectively. Although Ron and Hermione are pivotal to plot development, Harry is the hero of the saga. One of the stages experienced by archetypal heroes is learning to use a tool or a way of thinking to conquer a foe and/or help others. Harry achieves this by using his reasoning skills to interpret Black's and Pettigrew's narratives in the Shrieking Shack. Such unbiased thinking and acquisition of knowledge are crucial for Harry to proceed on his overall heroic quest. The combination of his innate goodness empowered by his enlightenment in his third adventure will help him ultimately to defeat wickedness.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is constantly reminded of his parents' tragic demise because he hears their traumatized voices whenever the Dementors are near him. Sacrifice is a major theme of this novel, as well as the entire saga, and Harry knows that he survived Voldemort's assault only because his mother sacrificed her life in exchange for his. Harry, as a result, feels obligated to be worthy of Lily's selfless action. Although he is anxious to enact vengeance on his parents' enemies, Harry learns to distinguish between reality and falsehoods in order to remain good himself and insure that justice is achieved. Ironically, Harry is an enigma who keeps secrets from others and even himself. He gradually recognizes truths about his abilities and admits to himself what he is capable of enduring and performing. The theme that goodness is often an unconscious response while malevolence is a deliberate action is always evident in the third Harry Potter novel. He discovers that the news is often an unreliable source of truth and accuracy and that sometimes the most obvious conclusions are incorrect.

Most characters surrounding Harry are unchanged. The Dursleys are as...

(The entire section contains 2681 words.)

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