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About the Author

Born on July 31, 1965, in Gloucestershire, England, Joanne Kathleen Rowling grew up in rural communities in the southwestern part of that country. Her parents, Peter and Anne Rowling, an engineer and laboratory technician respectively, bought books such as The Wind in the Willows to read to their two daughters. Rowling’s childhood experiences shaped her future literary creations. She explored the English countryside, visiting castles and historical sites which inspired her imagination. Although she disliked science and mathematics courses, Rowling excelled in literature classes. She penned funny, fantastical tales to amuse her sister Diana and friends, especially the Potter siblings whose name she later appropriated for her wizardry novels.

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Overview

Heroic Harry Potter battles prejudice in the second volume of Rowling’s wizard series. Returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after another awful summer with his guardians, the Dursleys, twelve-year-old Harry yearns to play Quidditch, improve his magical skills, and enjoy his friendships. Such normal activities are soon overshadowed by sinister events. Prior to school beginning, a house elf named Dobby warned Harry not to go to Hogwarts and interfered with Harry’s plans to do so.

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Setting

Most of the action in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets occurs at Hogwarts during the years 1992 and 1993. The realism of the non-magical Muggle world, particularly the Dursleys’ home, dramatically contrasts with the fantastical possibilities presented at Hogwarts where the medieval castle’s structure is constantly changing to accommodate its inhabitants. While the stone walls symbolize strength, the castle’s inner mazes and secret passages hint at complexities that are often hidden to casual observers. People and places are either mortal or magical, with both spheres intersecting along significant peripheral junctures such as King’s Cross station and the Leaky Cauldron. Rowling’s imaginary settings, whether boring Muggle houses or intriguing magical realms, are vividly depicted, making Harry Potter’s environment seem plausible to readers. Rowling intersperses real geographical places with make-believe sites to increase the believability of her fantasy world.

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Themes and Characters

Heritage, love, loyalty, and betrayal are the dominant themes in this novel. Harry focuses on avenging his parents’ murders and learning more about his family’s magical past. Rowling’s fully developed characters participate in events and react to conflicts and danger to develop the novel’s plot. Recurring characters from the first Harry Potter book consistently aid or hinder him. These archetypal characters represent extremes of good and evil. The battle between those two forces is the basic theme of the Harry Potter saga. Some characters seem stereotypical and derivative but their predictability aids readers in understanding their purpose. Many characters are polar opposites, such as Harry and Tom Riddle, yet they paradoxically share some traits and, like the settings, experience opposing characteristics within themselves, presenting an amalgam of good and bad.

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Literary Qualities

Rowling’s intricate writing style incorporates a variety of techniques which add texture and layers to her characters and settings. By using symbolism, motifs, and puns, Rowling combines humor and the macabre to create storytelling that fulfills readers’ desire for adventure and intrigue. She allegorically comments on modern society while alluding to universal concerns such as social acceptance. The Harry Potter saga is told by an omniscient narrator, in the form of an oral, tragic-comic ode to a hero. And although the stories are based on legends, mythology, and fairy tales, the heroes and villains have characteristics that cross cultures and time periods.

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Social Sensitivity

Although not blatantly didactic, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets delivers several moral messages to readers. Resisting racism is the most crucial social issue discussed in the book. Harry refuses to discriminate against other students because of factors, such as lineage, that they cannot control. Instead of encouraging inequality, Harry promotes cooperation through teamwork. He avoids controversial causes endorsed by dubious classmates and does not succumb to peer pressure. Rowling incorporates several moral themes in her novel, and she wants to show how character and integrity influences an individual’s decision-making processes, noting that most people are innately good unless they have suffered extreme emotional or physical abuse. She stresses that her novels reveal the consequences of evil and how innocent people are often victimized unfairly.

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Topics for Discussion

1. Should Harry have used his friends’ magic to escape from his room in Dursleys’ house? Did he have any alternatives?

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Research the history of racism, comparing the sociological, cultural, and economic impact of prejudice at different points in history. Outline groups who have been targeted for racism and comment about how they were persecuted and what happened to their oppressors.

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Related Titles and Adaptations

The sequel to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has been released in audio adaptations: the British version is read by Stephen Fry, and the American recording is told by Jim Dale. A movie based on the first Harry Potter book was released in November 2001. Many Harry Potter resources recommend books by Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman, L. Frank Baum, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien, but many books with similar themes, characters, and plots as the Harry Potter novels are often overlooked. These books include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) in which the protagonist, like Harry in the Chamber, must figure out how to escape from a cave where he is trapped.

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