“Dunno how Mum and Dad are going to afford all our school stuff this year,” said George after a while. “Five sets of Lockhart books! And Ginny needs robes and a wand and everything. . . .”
Harry said nothing. He felt a bit awkward. Stored in an underground vault at Gringotts in London was a small fortune that his parents had left him. Of course, it was only in the wizarding world that he had money; you couldn’t use Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts in Muggle shops.
One of the themes of the book is social status and the power that it affords. Harry experiences the extremes: pennilessness and powerlessness living with the Dursleys, and an inherited fortune and fame in the wizarding world.
His contrasting experience gives Harry a consciousness of inequality. It also complicates the dichotomy between the mundane and magical worlds for him. The same social problems exist for wizards. Magic doesn't produce wealth.
In this passage, Lockhart, who often appears as comic relief, is shown to take advantage of Hogwarts students in requiring them to buy so many of his textbooks. His job at Hogwarts is at least in part a scheme to sell books. For some students, like the Weasleys, this creates unnecessary financial hardship.
The Grangers exchange Muggle money for wizard money at Gringotts (p. 57). Why wouldn't the reverse be possible? Either this speaks to Muggle intolerance or unawareness of the wizarding world, or it is an inconsistency in the story.
“Busy time at the Ministry, I hear,” said Mr. Malfoy. “All those raids . . . I hope they’re paying you overtime?”
He reached into Ginny’s cauldron and extracted, from amid the glossy Lockhart books, a very old, very battered copy of A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration.
“Obviously not,” Mr. Malfoy said. “Dear me, what’s the use of being a disgrace to the name of wizard if they don’t even pay you well for it?”
Mr. Weasley flushed darker than either Ron or Ginny.
“We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy,” he said.
“Clearly,” said Mr. Malfoy, his pale eyes straying to Mr. and Mrs. Granger, who were watching apprehensively. “The company you keep, Weasley . . . and I thought your family could sink no lower —”
This exchange between Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley sets up the underlying political tension in the book.
The raids that Malfoy is referring to are meant to protect people from exactly the sort of crisis that Riddle's diary provokes. The diary is a misuse of a Muggle artifact filled with Dark Arts Magic. That is precisely what Mr. Weasley's department The Misuse of Muggle Artifacts handles.
We know through Harry's experience in Borgin and Burkes that Malfoy is worried about the raids and plans to sell objects he has hidden in his manor.
He is disparaging Mr. Weasley for his class: for being a poorly paid bureaucrat, rather than gentry like him. And Malfoy is essentially calling Weasley a race traitor for befriending Muggles such as the Grangers, attempting to shame him based upon their common "pure-blood" status. He can only imagine supporting Muggles for personal gain.
While Malfoy considers befriending Muggles, raiding wizard mansions, and poverty disgraceful, it is implied that Weasely believes the exact opposite.
As this exchange is taking place, Malfoy has secretly planted Riddle's diary in Ginny's textbook, setting the plot in motion.
“Good, aren’t they?” said Malfoy smoothly. “But perhaps the Gryffindor team will be able to raise some gold and get new brooms, too. You could raffle off those Cleansweep Fives; I expect a museum would bid for them.”
The Slytherin team howled with laughter.
“At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in,” said Hermione sharply. “They got in on pure talent.”
The smug look on Malfoy’s face flickered.
“No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood,” he spat.
Draco Malfoy repeats the pure-blood supremacy ideology espoused by his father. He has been taught to feel entitled based upon his genealogy and wealth.
Hermione represents meritocracy. In this passage, she mentions an inherent trait, talent, instead of hard work. This shows some ambivalence in the way that she is characterized, and maybe in the notion of merit: Does she excel because she is the most talented student, or because she works the hardest? Hermione is a "model minority" who must constantly prove her right to a place at Hogwarts.
Malfoy disparages and silences her based upon a slur: "Mudblood." This is the moment the word is introduced to the reader, and to Harry Potter. The pure-blood ideology behind it will turn out to have roots that stretch back to the founding of Hogwarts.
“D’you think I should have told them about that voice I heard?”
“No,” said Ron, without hesitation. “Hearing voices no one else can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.”
Something in Ron’s voice made Harry ask, “You do believe me, don’t you?”
“ ’Course I do,” said Ron quickly. “But — you must admit it’s weird. . . .”
Ron exhibits common wizard prejudices frequently. He snickers at Filch being a Squib, for example, and warns Harry against touching Riddle's diary. Despite being Harry's best friend, he is suspicious when Harry speaks Parseltounge, because he is afraid of the unknown and unusual. Being a Parselmouth is a rarity in the wizard world, and associated at Hogwarts with Salazar Slytherin.
When Ron advises Harry not to tell anyone about the voices he hears, he isolates Harry from the rest of the community. Harry becomes depressed and angry after this, as his peers ostracize him.
“Oh, very well,” he said slowly. “Let me see . . . the Chamber of Secrets . . .
“You all know, of course, that Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago — the precise date is uncertain — by the four greatest witches and wizards of the age. The four school Houses are named after them: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution.”
He paused, gazed blearily around the room, and continued.
“For a few years, the founders worked in harmony together, seeking out youngsters who showed signs of magic and bringing them to the castle to be educated. But then disagreements sprang up between them. A rift began to grow between Slytherin and the others. Slytherin wished to be more selective about the students admitted to Hogwarts. He believed that magical learning should be kept within all-magic families. He disliked taking students of Muggle
parentage, believing them to be untrustworthy. After a while, there was a serious argument on the subject between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and Slytherin left the school.”
Professor Binns paused again, pursing his lips, looking like a wrinkled old tortoise.
“Reliable historical sources tell us this much,” he said. “But these honest facts have been obscured by the fanciful legend of the Chamber of Secrets. The story goes that Slytherin had built a hidden chamber in the castle, of which the other founders knew nothing.
“Slytherin, according to the legend, sealed the Chamber of Secrets so that none would be able to open it until his own true heir arrived at the school. The heir alone would be able to unseal the Chamber of Secrets, unleash the horror within, and use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic.”
Professor Binns tells the origin story of Hogwarts, which contains the seed of the current crisis–fear. The political context matters: Muggles feared wizards, and persecuted them. The school was built partially out of a protective impulse. It started out harmoniously, bringing students of all backgrounds who showed signs of magic to Hogwarts to be educated.
But Salazar Slytherin believed that "magical learning should be kept within all-magic families" meaning that he interpreted the skills to be inherent and inherited. He distrusted students of Muggle parentage. His view of identity was essentialist. This led to conflict with the other founders, and he left the school.
it should be noted that this pure-bloodist ideology has clear political winners, such as the Malfoys, and losers, such as the Grangers.
Binns then moves from history to legend. Both of these are necessary for the students to understand to solve the mystery.
The "horror within" the Chamber is a symbol for the prejudice and fear of racism that leads to ethnic cleansing.
“Well, if you two are going to chicken out, fine,” she said. There were bright pink patches on her cheeks and her eyes were brighter than usual. “I don’t want to break rules, you know. I think threatening Muggle-borns is far worse than brewing up a difficult potion. But if you don’t want to find out if it’s Malfoy, I’ll go straight to Madam Pince now and hand the book back in —”
As a Muggle, Hermione has more at stake than Ron or Harry in the attempted intimidation scheme at Hogwarts. This gives her courage and moral clarity.
Her natural inclination is to follow rules. This may reflect her precarious position as a minority in the wizarding world. She toes the line and studies harder to prove that she belongs there.
But this strategy is failing. The rules are supporting the preservation of the status quo, which has become dangerous for her. She must weigh doing something difficult, including breaking the rules, against finding out the truth, and has made her own ethical choice.
“Ah, if Harry Potter only knew!” Dobby groaned, more tears dripping onto his ragged pillowcase. “If he knew what he means to us, to the lowly, the enslaved, we dregs of the magical world! Dobby remembers how it was when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was at the height of his powers, sir! We house-elves were treated like vermin, sir! Of course, Dobby is still treated like that, sir,” he admitted, drying his face on the pillowcase. “But mostly, sir, life has improved for my kind since you triumphed over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry Potter survived, and the Dark Lord’s power was broken, and it was a new dawn, sir, and Harry Potter shone like a beacon of hope for those of us who thought the Dark days would never end, sir. . . ."
In this passage, Dobby uses the metaphor of light to describe a political transformation: there was a "new dawn" after Harry Potter defeated the "Dark Lord" and "shone like a beacon." This common religious imagery, along with his emotional tone, implies a spiritual experience. Because this is a parable of light defeating darkness, and Dobby represents the meek, it has been interpreted as a Christian parable.
“Dangerous?” said Harry, laughing. “Come off it, how could it be dangerous?”
“You’d be surprised,” said Ron, who was looking apprehensively at the book. “Some of the books the Ministry’s confiscated — Dad’s told me — there was one that burned your eyes out. And everyone who read Sonnets of a Sorcerer spoke in limericks for the rest of their lives. And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed. And —”
“All right, I’ve got the point,” said Harry.
The little book lay on the floor, nondescript and soggy.
“Well, we won’t find out unless we look at it,” he said, and he ducked around Ron and picked it up off the floor.
This passage displays the contrast between Ron's wizard upbringing and Harry's childhood with Muggles. Ron has been taught about the potential magical powers of books, including their dangers. Harry thinks this is silly. Ron turns out to be right.
In the end, Arthur Weasley admonishes his daughter for having not learned this exact lesson when he says: “'Ginny!'...Haven’t I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain. Why didn’t you show the diary to me, or your mother? A suspicious object like that, it was clearly full of Dark Magic —'”
Harry's naivete, like Ginny's, makes him easy to manipulate through the diary.
“This is what Dumbledore sends his defender! A songbird and an old hat! Do you feel brave, Harry Potter? Do you feel safe now?”
Harry didn’t answer. He might not see what use Fawkes or the Sorting Hat were, but he was no longer alone, and he waited for Riddle to stop laughing with his courage mounting.
Tom Riddle's statement represents both situational and dramatic irony in the story, as both he and the reader are not expecting Fawkes and the Sorting Hat to appear, and they seem of dubious help to Harry in battle.
But we have just learned that Riddle is a poor interpreter, as he mistakes the love of Harry's mother that saved him as mere "luck." He is unable to see the saving power of grace through love and loyalty, which these two objects represent. Harry feels encouraged. He doesn't need to know rationally what utility these will provide, because they represent support, which gives him fortitude.
“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin. . . .”
“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Dumbledore's claim that choices determine identity, more than abilities, is the thesis of the book. It is also a rebuttal to the essentialist ideology of pure-blood supremacy. Harry chooses to act on his empathy, which determines his character, making him both loyal and brave, and so a hero.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
“Have you any idea how worried I’ve been?” said Mrs. Weasley in a deadly whisper. “Sorry, Mum, but see, we had to —” All three of Mrs. Weasley’s sons were taller than she was, but they cowered as her rage broke over them. “Beds empty!...
Essays for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.