How does the death of his parents influence Harry's character and the decisions that he makes over the course of the book?
The death of Harry's parents is the catalyst that shapes the entire course of Rowling's narrative. Without their death, Harry would not have spent his childhood with the neglectful Dursleys nor would have entered Hogwarts with little knowledge of his background or importance in the wizarding world. More importantly, the death of his parents gives Harry an impetus for his hatred of Voldemort and ensures that, despite his similarities to the Dark Lord, he will never be seduced by the power of the Dark Arts. The absence of his parents in Harry's life also distinguishes him from the other students: he has endured a loss that none of them can understand, and this sense of isolation and martyrdom will become crucial aspects of later books.
Was Professor Dumbledore correct to leave the infant Harry with the Dursley family instead of keeping him in the wizarding world?
By leaving Harry with the Dursleys, Professor Dumbledore doomed Harry to spend his childhood being neglected and mistreated by Muggles who would never understand or love him. However, Professor Dumbledore also ensured that Harry would be protected from all of the elements of the wizarding world that might ruin him. Not only was Harry safe from the threat of dark wizards determined to avenge the fallen Voldemort, but he was safe from the heavy burden and unavoidable attention given to the boy-who-lived. Because of Professor Dumbledore's decision, Harry grows to be a kind, modest, and unassuming young man who is not forced to learn of the horrific murder of his parents until he is emotionally mature.
Why is Harry's insistence on being placed in Gryffindor House instead of Slytherin House so significant in terms of his development as a character?
Throughout the novel, Rowling emphasizes the importance of choice in determining an individual's character and direction in life. It is the choices that we make that establish what kind of person we will become. With that in mind, Harry's refusal to be placed in Slytherin House, despite his many similarities with Voldemort, is crucial in terms of his characterization. Harry could have remained passive during the Sorting and would have ultimately been sorted into Slytherin. Yet, by taking an active role in his Sorting and choosing to be placed in Gryffindor, Harry demonstrates his determination to choose his own direction in life and not adhere to anyone else's perception of his nature.
Is there a clear sense of good and evil in the book?
At the beginning of the book, it seems as if there are clear distinctions between good and evil: Professor Dumbledore and Harry are wholly good, while Voldemort and his Death Eaters are wholly evil. Yet, over the course of the narrative, Rowling complicates the issue and creates a sort of moral ambiguity, particularly in the character of Professor Snape. From the start, Professor Snape is presented to be a malignant follower of Lord Voldemort, and Harry is only too ready to believe that his Potions teacher is completely evil. In actuality, though, it is the seemingly benevolent Professor Quirrell who is doing the bidding of Lord Voldemort. The concepts of good and evil are too complex to be expressed in black-and-white terms, and every character has some element of good and evil in their nature. The problem is, Rowling suggests, how a battle can be fought between good and evil when the lines between the two are so blurry.
What primary difference between Harry and Voldemort does Rowling choose to highlight in the book? Why is this difference so important?
The primary difference between Harry and Voldemort is Harry's capacity to understand and feel love. Although Harry does not have his parents, he is still able to love their memory and develop close relationships with other characters, including Ron, Hermione, and Professor Dumbledore. Voldemort, on the other hand, views love as a weakness and so chooses to isolate himself from those around him. Professor Quirrell does not love Voldemort but rather fears him, so his loyalty is far weaker than the bonds of friendship forged between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Moreover, because Lord Voldemort did not comprehend the power of Lily Potter's love when he attempted to kill her son, Voldemort nearly destroyed himself with the killing curse meant for Harry. Voldemort will never be able to understand the strength of love and, though he will always be more powerful than Harry, Harry has the support and strength of the people he loves to help him defeat the Dark Lord.
How does Rowling present the difference between the wizarding world and the Muggle world? Why does she choose to highlight these differences?
The Dursley family serves as the primary example of the Muggle world in the first part of the novel: ignorant, selfish, close-minded, and not equipped to understand the wonders of the wizarding world. One of the reasons why Harry is left with the Dursley family is precisely because of their "Muggleness," which allows him to grow up without the burden of the wizarding world. However, when Harry goes to Hogwarts and meets Hermione and other Muggle-born wizards, he learns that the Dursleys are not representative of the Muggle world, but rather the worst part of it. Moreover, Rowling reveals that people in the wizarding world can be just as cruel and close-minded as Muggles. Although the two worlds seem to be completely different, good and evil are present in both, and both worlds are worth saving from Lord Voldemort's reign of terror.
Throughout the novel, Harry and his friends break numerous rules at Hogwarts. How does Rowling create a balance between the importance of maintaining authority and the importance of rebelling against it?
Rowling does not argue in favor of ignoring all rules and regulations. Many of the rules at Hogwarts are instituted in order to protect the students; for example, the rule that prohibits students from going to the forbidden third-floor corridor ensures that students are not attacked by the three-headed dog. At the same time, however, Rowling realizes that rules must be broken in certain situations for the sake of the bigger picture. Harry does not break the rules at Hogwarts simply for the sake of breaking them; he rebells because he knows that his actions serve a greater purpose: protecting the Sorcerer's Stone, defeating Voldemort, and ultimately, protecting a way of life. No one can make a difference, good or bad, if they always adhere to the rules, and part of Harry's appeal is that he is willing to risk the consequences in order to do what he believes is right.
What larger theme does Rowling express in her discussion of the Mirror of Erised and Harry's fascination with it?
In her discussion of the Mirror of Erised, Rowling explores the issue of desire and the way that it can hinder a person from taking action in his or her life. When Harry looks into the Mirror of Erised, he sees the family that he will never know. As Professor Dumbledore tells him, the vision of Harry's parents is not truth or knowledge: Lily and James Potter are dead and never coming back. Yet, Harry's desire for his family is so strong that he could easily lose himself in the visions of the mirror and waste away, never to move forward. Desire can be an important catalyst for action (as in Ron's case, in which he sees himself as Head Boy and Quidditch captain), but with Harry, his desire forces him always to look backwards. In order for Harry to live his own life and fulfill his other desires, he cannot lose himself in the desire for something that he can never have.
What is the significance of Dumbledore's relationship with Harry?
Professor Dumbledore is the first real father figure that Harry has in his life at this point. Lacking the presence of his true parents, Harry had to raise himself more or less on his own, rather than follow the example of the warped parental figures: Vernon and Petunia Dursley. Although Professor Dumbledore does not seem to take an active role in Harry's life until half-way through the novel, he is always watching over Harry and seems to care for him a great deal. It is not coincidental that Dumbledore is the one who takes Harry after his parents' death and determines where he should be raised. Harry's conversations with Dumbledore shape his belief system, as well as providing him with a stable figure of authority that he can model himself upon.
Many conservative critics claim that the Harry Potter series promotes witchcraft and is therefore unsuitable for children. Do you agree or disagree with this claim?
In the Harry Potter series, Rowling creates a magical world in which the forces of good are pitted against the forces of evil. Yet, the themes that Rowling promotes in her books--the importance of choice, friendship, love, determination--are themes that are important in the everyday world and that any young children should strive to learn. Rowling's decision to express these themes through a magical and exciting fantasy world is not a promotion of witchcraft, but rather a way to connect and speak to children in a manner that excited their imagination, creativity, and desire to read. A close examination of the Harry Potter books also reveals that Rowling is very clear about which kinds of magic belong to the Dark Arts and are thus associated with cruelty, tyranny, fear, and other negative elements of the everyday world. When conservative critics denounce Rowling for promoting witchcraft in her novels, it seems likely that, not only have they not read any of the Harry Potter books, but they have missed the important lessons that Rowling instills in her work.