What is the underlying political conflict in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?
The underlying political conflict of the book is between those who support pure-blood ideology and those who oppose it. The characters who most represent this conflict are Lucius Malfoy, a pure-blood supremacist, and Arthur Weasley, an enthusiastic supporter of Muggles. Malfoy tries to gain power over Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic by using the Dark Arts in Riddle's diary to terrorize the school and discredit the Weasley family via Riddle's possession of Ginny Weasley.
The origin story of Hogwarts contains the trauma that began the conflict: Muggles persecuted wizards out of fear. The school was built in isolation for the protection of the magical community. One of the founders, Salazar Slytherin, mistrusted Muggles so much that he wanted to bar Muggles with magical powers and half-bloods from Hogwarts. Slytherin left the school when the other four founders disagreed, but created the Chamber of Secrets with its monster so that his pureblood ideology could gain power one day.
Harry's self-doubt about his own identity dramatizes this conflict on a broader scale, a conflict between two views of human nature: essentialist vs. constructivist. Dumbledore sums up the constructivist thesis of the book when he says that "it is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Dobby says he has always known about Harry Potter’s greatness, but not his goodness. What is the difference?
Harry is famous for defeating Lord Voldemort as a baby. This is what Dobby means by Harry's greatness: his heroic role in this legend.
When Dobby meets Harry, he finds that Harry empathizes with the house-elf, wants to help him, and ultimately sets him free. This goodness, this care for the powerless, comes as a result of Harry's own suffering: his powerlessness, isolation, and neglect growing up with the Dursleys.
What does Hermione do in this book that seems out of character for her? How and why does she change?
Hermione usually obeys the rules. Readers know about this aspect of her character from Book 1. It is also on display when she disapproves of Ron and Harry arriving at Hogwarts by crashing a stolen car into the Whomping Willow.
But Hermione is willing to risk getting caught breaking the rules when she creates the Polyjuice potion, because she sees that it is more important to find out the truth than to follow the rules. The institution is enforcing the rules to protect the powerful rather than the vulnerable. As a Muggle, Hermione faces an existential threat at Hogwarts from the pure-blood supremacist ideology represented by the monster in the Chamber of Secrets. So she uses her powers, education, and skills, to fight that threat.
Why is it important for students to know both the history and the legends and of Hogwarts?
Knowing the history of the founding of Hogwarts helps the students understand the present terror they are experiencing. Understanding the legend of the Chamber of Secrets also helps unravel the mystery. As Hermione says to Professor Binns: “Please, sir, don’t legends always have a basis in fact?” Fact and legend interweave to create the stories that form the collective identity of the community.
What are some examples of prejudice leading to incorrect judgments in the book?
When Harry Potter speaks Parseltongue, other students, such as Ernie MacMillan and Justin Finch-Fletchley, assume that he is the Heir of Sytherin. Because Draco Malfoy disparages Muggle-born students, Ron Weasley and Harry both suspect that he is the Heir.
Armando Dippett believes Tom Riddle when he accuses Rubeus Hagrid of opening the Chamber of Secrets, and Aragog of being the monster. This leads Cornelius Fudge to arrest Hagrid fifty years later on the same charge, and send him to Azkaban without a trial.