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“Humans Do Have A Knack For Choosing Precisely The Things Worst For Them”: Critiques Of Society In Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone By J.K. Rowling

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In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, there are many contrasts, and even similarities, between the wizarding world and our world, known as the Muggle world. Both societies clash and contrast in many ways. Represented by the Dursleys, Rowling symbolizes everything wrong with the Muggle world and modern society. Because of their fear of magic and what the Dursleys know Harry will become, they try their best to oppress and subdue him. The Dursleys are the force in society today that would destroy that society’s creative qualities and stomp out any “weirdness” out of fear of the imaginative and different. In the first few pages of the book, the Dursleys are described as “perfectly normal, thank you very much”, showing that they are as ordinary as can be and are even be proud of showing no connection to anything mysterious or strange. However, over the next few pages, Vernon Dursley notices peculiar things going on. Things such as “a cat reading a map” and “people in cloaks” but tends to write them off as ordinary things. This seems to represent that even though strange or even peculiar things may happen in modern society, the Muggle world seems to overlook it or dismiss it as being no concern to them. It is this ignorance that allows the Wizarding world to function and stay in secret. This critiques society’s flaw of witnessing something unfamiliar and using ignorance and lack of curiosity or attention to overlook or rewrite uncomfortable experiences or scenarios that we can not outright explain. So why do the Dursleys overlook these certain scenarios?

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The Dursleys fear for the different and hatred of the extraordinary are the main reason for this behaviour and their mistreatment of Harry. They are bullies (even Petunia and Vernon Dursley) because of what they fear Harry is and what he represents if he were given the best opportunities to succeed. Traits of selfishness and greediness are well within the Dursley’s interests and this also plays a part in the development of both Dudley and Harry. In Chapter three, Dudley is enrolled into a private boarding school, and Harry, however is enrolled in a less exclusive public school. This would mean that Dudley is given a more exclusive, more expensive schooling experience than Harry and thus, given a better chance to succeed later in life by means of overall education and connections.

From step one, the Dursleys set up Harry to be less successful than Dudley and do not give him the chance to live up to his full potential (magical or not). Rowling could be critiquing in this example, that the rich people receive a head start in education in modern society and this creates a system of wealthy elites to be more successful than the rest. Nothing seems to change this system, and this can also be another example of why the Dursleys seem to hate Harry. He represents change and could transform their entire way of living. These decisions made by the Dursleys seem the give them a denial of reality but also, they seem to be so worried about the controlling Harry’s destiny that they do not seem to worry about the consequences of their actions. Only when they suspect that they are accused of these wrongdoings that they see the error in their ways. “‘Look at the address… You don’t think they’re watching the house?’” Petunia becomes hysterical when they are sent Harry’s enrollment letter, suspecting her to believe that there has been someone spying on the house and the Dursley’s treatment of Harry. Only now do they feel somewhat conscious or guilty of their actions and fear what the consequences would be for years of mistreatment and abuse. This may critique modern society’s inability to understand the consequences for their actions when it is for their own personal gain or amusement. Such as the quote, “You weren’t sorry that you did it. You are just sorry because you got caught. ” Years of abuse and mistreatment by the Dursleys also brings up another question to consider. If so many people were involved in the Dursley’s life, how was it that no one called them out for Harry’s mistreatment?

The Dursleys had many neighbors and most probably knew about Harry. However, no one ever asked how Harry was doing or if he was treated to the same calibre as Dudley. Harry also went to school with hundreds of other children, also with many teachers keeping supervision. So how was it that no one saw all the times that Harry was being bullied or that he was being bullied by his own cousin? This could be that students and teachers alike saw what was going on but saw that it was not their place to interfere or that they saw that there was no problem to remedy. However, this could also be the ignorance or selfish factor coming into play and that the teachers did not think they saw what they really saw or that the students did not interfere by fear that they would be targets by association.

This example also critiques society’s major flaw of selfishness and how the bystander effect works in certain situations. People tend not to get involved if they would be the odd one out, which could also be mob mentality. This would be mean that even though many bystanders saw this mistreatment of Harry, no one would interfere because no one else was doing anything to prevent it. Even though the Wizarding world and the Muggle world share some similarities. Both tend to vary in some major factors.

18 March 2020

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