Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first novel in a seven-part series centering on protagonist Harry Potter, who discovers that he is a wizard when he is eleven years old. The series tracks an epic battle between good and evil in the wizarding world, but the first book is, in its essence, a coming-of-age story. Harry spends his early life feeling different from the non-magical people (“Muggles”) around him, though he doesn’t know why. It is only when he discovers he is a wizard and is introduced to the other wizards and the magical world around him, that he is able to grow and feel confident. The magic, then, is not just an exciting part of Rowling’s fantastical world, but also a metaphor for Harry’s coming into his own. Harry’s transition from the non-magical “Muggle” world to the magical world parallels his transition from the isolation and dejection of feeling different to the beauty and excitement of finding a place where he belongs.
Harry’s early life in the Muggle world is marked by isolation and rejection; his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon make him feel that he is profoundly different from other people and punish him for that difference. Harry’s parents, Lily and James (who are a witch and wizard), die when he is just a year old when they are killed by a dark wizard named Voldemort, and subsequently Harry is raised by his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon (who are Muggles). They treat his magic as dangerous and refuse even to tell Harry that he has these magical abilities. When they literally try to fit him into their “normal” life, Harry’s magic comes out in full force and he is often punished as a result. One day, Aunt Petunia tries to cut Harry’s hair to her own liking, making him almost bald except for his bangs. When his hair grows back immediately the next day, she punishes him by making him remain in his cupboard for a week. In other words, Aunt Petunia isolates Harry for what makes him different—his magical abilities, which are still unknown to him—making him feel worthless and like he doesn’t belong. When Harry is included—a rare occurrence—on a trip to the zoo for his cousin Dudley’s birthday, he finds that he is able to communicate with a snake in a glass display. He then unintentionally makes the glass disappear, allowing the snake to escape. Harry is severely disciplined and again made to stay in the cupboard for a week without any meals. Later, Vernon insists to Aunt Petunia that when they took him in as a baby, they swore they would “stamp out that dangerous nonsense.” In referring to magic as “dangerous nonsense” that needs to be “stamp[ed] out,” Vernon firmly positions Harry’s difference—his magical ability—as something inherently evil that needs to be quashed. Vernon and Petunia’s displeasure is then passed on to Dudley as well, who makes sure Harry is miserable at school by preventing him from making friends, often chasing him or picking on him. These treatments sum up an idea that Harry has felt through his whole life: the odd occurrences that seem to mark a difference in him signify that he doesn’t fit in.
When a wizard named Hagrid visits Harry and informs him that he is a wizard, Harry’s understanding of himself and the world around him drastically changes. Magic represents a new world to which Harry finds that he truly belongs, and one that he starts to grow into over the course of the book. J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is not an entirely separate, mythical place, but one that is woven into the fabric of the non-magical world. Hagrid takes Harry on a shopping trip in London, and when Hagrid taps on a brick in a nondescript back alley, the wall pulls away to reveal the magical Diagon Alley, a wizarding shopping area where Hagrid gives Harry a basic knowledge about what his magical abilities mean. As Harry is initiated into this new world, it transforms Harry’s difference from “dangerous nonsense,” as Uncle Vernon put it, to something that makes him special. At Hogwarts, the wizarding school where children learn to harness their magic, the differences from regular school are many. Rather than math, science, and languages, Harry learns Charms, Herbology, Potions, and Transfiguration. The building itself is very different, as the staircases move on their own, ghosts flit about the hallways, and owls deliver the morning mail. “Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place,” which implies that the things that make Hogwarts (and perhaps Harry himself) seem different or “strange” are also the things that make it “splendid.” Additionally, the magical Sorting Hat at Hogwarts places children into four different “Houses” based on their personalities and defining attributes. When Harry is placed into Gryffindor House, it literally gives him a sense of belonging, of joining a group of children that become his closest friends. On a broader scale, Hogwarts itself is a place for those who are different and don’t quite fit into the Muggle world. In other words, Harry essentially finds belonging by embracing rather than shying away from the magic that makes him different.
The Sorcerer’s Stone bears many touchstones of a classic coming-of-age story: Harry Potter is a neglected child who feels different and isolated from those around him. When he enters a new school and makes new friends, however, he sees how his differences give him the opportunity to feel as though he belongs. What sets Harry Potter apart is Rowling’s sly implication that being able to find that world—where one’s differences are celebrated—can literally be a magical thing.
Magic, Difference, and Belonging ThemeTracker
Magic, Difference, and Belonging Quotes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
“Then she met that Potter at school and they left and got married and had you, and of course I knew you’d be just the same, just as strange, just as — as — abnormal— and then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up and we got landed with you!”
Harry wished he had about eight more eyes. He turned his head in every direction as they walked up the street, trying to look at everything at once: the shops, the things outside them, the people doing their shopping.
“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.”
Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets.
“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.
Harry ignored her. Blood was pounding in his ears. He mounted the broom and kicked hard against the ground and up, up he soared; air rushed through his hair, and his robes whipped out behind him — and in a rush of fierce joy he realized he’d found something he could do without being taught — this was easy, this was wonderful.
“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?”