In contrast to the ideas of power, greed, and desire held up as forces for evil, humility and self-sacrifice become the cornerstones of good character in The Sorcerer’s Stone. While antagonistic characters like Voldemort, Quirrell, and Dudley tend to focus on their own desires and needs, characters like Harry, Ron, and Hermione often think about others before themselves. In associating her protagonists—and Harry in particular—with these virtues, Rowling emphasizes the idea that humility and self-sacrifice are key indicators of goodness and are virtues worth striving for.
Throughout the novel, Harry is the primary example of how characters are shown to be good by exhibiting selflessness and humility. After Harry’s parents are tragically killed and Dumbledore is figuring out the best course of action to take regarding the newly orphaned one-year-old Harry, he comes to the conclusion that it is best to leave him with the Dursleys in the Muggle world. Otherwise, he reasons, Harry’s ego will swell considerably, as he is soon to become famous in the wizarding world as “the boy who lived,” and the boy who was able to defeat Voldemort. In fact, Snape’s instant dislike of Harry stems from the idea that he thinks Harry is arrogant due to his fame. This could not be further from the truth, however: Harry spends the first eleven years of his life essentially as a servant to his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, with no knowledge of the wizarding world, and thus he has no conception of the fame surrounding him (and little conception of his own self-worth, as Petunia and Vernon constantly belittle him).
When Harry discovers that he is one of the most famous people in the wizarding world, he still remains humble. Instead of letting the fame go to his head, he actually becomes worried because he doesn’t think that he can live up to people’s expectations. Thus, Harry sets out to try and prove himself through hard work rather than relying on his reputation. He works hard in school and earns good grades, even though he does sometimes get into trouble. He also becomes the youngest Quidditch player for a Hogwarts team in a century after Professor McGonagall sees his knack for flying. But again, rather than let this get to his head, he works harder and harder at practice. When he wins a match for his team in under five minutes, which is an astonishing feat, he is hardly phased by the adoration his classmates heap upon him—he is simply happy that he is no longer just a famous name, and that he has an accomplishment to be proud of. This humility fuels Harry’s self-sacrificing tendencies, putting his own desires and sometimes his well-being aside in order to please others or to do good deeds. When Harry thinks that Professor Snape is out to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone (a powerful object that gives its owner eternal life), Harry is adamant that he should find the Stone before Snape does—not because he wants its power, but simply because he wants to protect the Stone from those with evil or selfish intentions. He risks his life completing the obstacles that are guarding the Stone, all in service of the good of the school—and the wider magical world. These actions make him the hero of the book, and associate his core qualities of humility and selflessness with his goodness.
Hermione and Ron, the two other protagonists, also follow Harry’s lead, learning to putting others’ needs above their own. This reinforces the importance of striving toward humility and selflessness as a means to be a genuinely good person. When Ron, Harry, and Hermione discover that Hagrid is trying to keep a dragon illegally, Ron offers to give the dragon to friends of his brother Charlie (who works with dragons for his job) so that Hagrid will not get into trouble for keeping it. At another point in the novel, Harry and Ron try to save Hermione from a troll that is loose in Hogwarts and they get in trouble for not leaving it to the teachers to handle. Uncharacteristically, Hermione lies to the teachers so that only she will get in trouble instead of the two boys, thus sacrificing herself for her friends. This moment is a key turning point in Hermione’s character, as she sheds her towering self-importance and instead begins to be more selfless and humbler. Ron and Hermione also accompany Harry on his quest to protect the Sorcerer’s Stone, and when facing the challenges that guard the stone, each of them stays behind so that Harry can advance closer and closer. Ron deliberately allows himself to be hurt playing a game of wizard’s chess (in which the pieces are alive and violently break each other when the pieces are taken) so that Harry and Hermione can move forward to the next task. Then, when Hermione figures out a logic puzzle that will only allow her or Harry forward, she argues that Harry should go ahead; she’ll return to Ron and send an owl to Dumbledore. Thus, each of them retains humility and understands that the greater good is more important than achieving some kind of personal glory.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s humility sets them apart from the other characters in the book. In contrast with characters like Voldemort and even Draco Malfoy and Dudley, the novel’s three kid protagonists care about others more than they care about themselves. In making these traits key to getting the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling emphasizes how humility and self-sacrifice are necessary qualities to being the heroes of the book and achieving success in their mission.
Humility and Self-Sacrifice ThemeTracker
Humility and Self-Sacrifice Quotes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“He’ll be famous—a legend—I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in the future—there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!”
“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, looking very seriously over the top of his half-moon glasses. “It would be enough to turn any boy’s head. Famous before he can walk and talk! Famous tor something he won’t even remember! Can’t you see how much better off he’ll be, growing up away from all that until he’s ready to take it?”
“Don’ you worry, Harry. You’ll learn last enough. Everyone starts at the beginning at Hogwarts, you’ll be just fine. Just be yerself. I know it’s hard. Yeh’ve been singled out, an’ that’s always hard. But yeh’ll have a great time at Hogwarts — I did — still do, ’smatter of fact.”
“Go on, have a pasty,” said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with. It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry’s pasties, cakes, and candies (the sandwiches lay forgotten).
“Not Slytherin, eh?” said the small voice. “Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that — no? Well, if you’re sure — better be GRYFFINDOR!”
Harry heard the hat shout the last word to the whole hall. He took off the hat and walked shakily toward the Gryffindor table. He was so relieved to have been chosen and not put in Slytherin, he hardly noticed that he was getting the loudest cheer yet.
“SO WHAT?” Harry shouted. “Don’t you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort’s coming back! Haven’t you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won’t be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He’ll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! […] I’m going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?”
“Oh, come off it, you don’t think we’d let you go alone?”
“Of course not,” said Hermione briskly. "How do you think you’d get to the Stone without us? I’d better go and look through my books, there might be something useful…”
“That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices! I’ll make my move and she’ll take me — that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”
“Do you want to stop Snape or not?”
“Look, if you don't hurry up, he’ll already have the Stone!”
“Harry — you’re a great wizard, you know.”
“I’m not as good as you,” said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and — oh Harry — be careful!”
“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.”
“You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone — find it, but not use it — would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.”