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Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling, are about a boy's coming of age. The young Harry Potter has to live in two worlds -- one the ordinary world of those without magical powers, and the other his newly discovered life as an emerging wizard of some importance. In the process, Rowling teaches important lessons about what is truly important in life. Rather than lecturing her young readers with didactic lessons, she presents opposites, often extreme, opposites. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a story about a young boy who learns that in a world of apparent opposites, the truth may lie somewhere in between.
Harry Potter is a boy who was orphaned when he was about one-year-old. While he has been told that his parents died in a car crash, this is only because the aunt and uncle raising him do not want him to enter the magical world his parents lived in. While his relatives are presented quite unpleasantly, the truth is that it was that magical life that led to the parents' death, and Harry's aunt and uncle have good reason to fear it. Harry seems to suspect that there may be something special about him (Olson, PAGE) but mostly his childhood is bleak, with Harry resented terribly by both his aunt and uncle and his cousin Dudley. In fact, this is the first place where Rowling uses opposites to cause the reader to think about how things should be: the Dursleys treat Harry quite shabbily, but their excessive love of and indulgence in Dudley has allowed Dudley to grow up as a fat bully who never has to delay any gratification. Dudley's upbringing may have been as negative as Harry's, with the best way for children well between the two extremes.
As soon as Harry finds out he is a wizard, the reader has the two worlds -- "Muggle," or non-magic, and the wizarding world, put in opposition to each other. Since both Harry's parents were wizards, it is likely he will be one also. Both worlds are very real, but the wizarding world is mostly invisible to Muggles except for situations such as the Dursleys. Petunia Dursley's sister Lily, Harry's mother, was a witch. Like Harry's friend Hermoine, she was an example of the occasional occurrence of a witch or wizard born to a Muggle family. It is through this contrivance that the reader gets to see both worlds. Except for this intersection, the "wizarding world" works hard to remain invisible to Muggles (Olson, PAGE)
Hagrid, the groundskeeper at the wizarding school Harry has been invited to attend, describes it simply:.".. our world, I mean. Your world. My world. Yer parent's world." (Rowling, p. 50)
Rowling also uses opposites to reveal universal traits present among both Muggles and magic folk. In the Muggle world, Harry has to contend with his bullying cousin Dursley and his social-climbing aunt and uncle, who at least partly fear Harry's background because it might interfere with their social and financial plans in some way. At Hogwarts, the wizarding school, Harry has to contend with Draco Malfoy, a Narcissistic boy from an "old wizarding family" who looks down on wizarding students born to Muggles, those who have one Muggle parent, those who aren't wealthy, those who don't dress as well as he does, and anyone he can find some othe reason to dislike. In both worlds, the best people are found between the two extremes: Hermoine's Muggle parents seem quite nice, and the majority of those in the wizarding world are neither all good nor all evil, making it hard to sort out sometimes what the best thing for individuals to do can be. For instance, Hermoine becomes more likeable when she starts breaking school rules. The lesson Rowling buries in these opposites is that Harry will not be able to escape the difficulties of his life by submerging himself into the magical world.
Rowling also provides some opposites in the education of wizards. While many children in Great Britain attend boarding schools, the courses studied by young witches and wizards are markedly different than the courses Muggles such as Dudley will study. This is demonstrated by the names of some of the textbooks: The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1), by Miranda Goshawk, and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, by Newt Scamander
Harry has to deal with the ongoing opposites in his life, as well. Living as a Muggle and unaware of his magical heritage, he lived a hard life with a small closet for a bedroom. His only relatives resented him and regularly locked him in that closet. When he suddenly moves into the magical world, not only is he as good as anyone else, but he is a famous celebrity as well. Where his surviving family actively believed he would come to no good, many witches and wizards who have never even met him see him as a celebrity (Tsubata, p. 5) and assume he will achieve greatness. Harry's response to this is moderate: he accepts it when he does well, such as a spectacular play during a sports event, but doesn't make a big deal of it. He takes a middle course. He also sees others make such transitions: Hermoine, at the beginning of the school year so judgmental that she spends an inordinate amount of time lecturing others, moves away from an extreme devotion to the school's rules, and as she moderates, becomes more likeable. He sees his friend Ron, at first very shy and somewhat embarassed by his family's relatiave lack of wealth, display great courage and loyalty without becoming overbearing, an extreme his brother Percy cannot avoid. In one way or another, Harry and his friends begin to learn the difference between being human, and thus having some flaws, compared to letting one's flaws dominate one's personality (as personified in Dudley and Draco)
Another instance of opposites revealing a truth located between them is demonstrated by the attack that led to the death of Harry's parents. Harry's parents were killed by a wizard representing the evil extreme by the name of Voldemort. For reasons not clear in the first book, his attempt to kill Harry backfires. Harry lives, and Voldemort is nearly killed, reduced to a kind of spirit that cannot exist on its own. Harry discovers that although some of his magic powers clearly can do good, and others seem amusing, such as the time he accidentally caused his cousin to be trapped in a snake habitat at the zoo while the snake escaped, others are quite scary: simply touching the body of the person in whom Voldemort's spirit resided caused the person (Professor Quirrel) to crumble to dust, leaving Voldemort without any kind of body again. It seems that Harry possesses both the best of wizard powers and the worst as well.
Another way Rowling positions opposites is in her use of myths. For instance, she draws on the old beliefs of dragons (Unerman, PAGE) and incorporates them into the first book when Hagrid hatches a dragon egg. In her version of dragons, the animals are potentially dangerous, with a short-temper, but not evil. In another instance, she takes the myth of Cerberus, the three-headed dog who is guardian of the entrance to the Underworld, and re-creates him as "Fluffy," Hagrid's three-headed dog who guards the entrance to passages under Hogwarts Castle. By her use of Fluffy, the dragon egg and other examples, she joins the real world (the wizarding world is quite real in this book) with the worlds of ancient myths. Through this we get a glimpse that the wizarding world is more complex than has been revealed to us so far.
However, the author uses opposites to teach the most important lesson of the book through the symbolism of the "Mirror of Erised." Erised, in its opposite or reverse spelling, is "desire." Harry happens upon it, look in, and sees the impossible -- his mother and father staring back at him. Dumbledore, the Headmaster, explains to him what the mirror does: "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts" (Rowling, p. 213). This is a precursor to what corrupted Voldemort so completely: a desire for immortality. Harry is drawn to the mirror because he knows so little of his personal history. His adolescent struggle to understand himself (Frank & McBee, PAGE) is severely hampered by that lack of knowledge, but Dumbledore warns him that it isn't enough to see what is in the mirror, and that one can get completely lost in fantasy. The mirror -- our desires -- are inherently dangerous, and understanding ourselves isn't as simple as a quick glimpse at some facet of us.
The issue of desire is closely related to the opposites of good and evil. Dumbledore seems all good, and Voldemort all evil, but other examples aren't as simple. It turns out that Snape, who seems to despise Harry, has actively worked…[continue]
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