Critical Commentary of King’s Cross
Abstract: This is an essay I wrote in practice for my International Baccalaureate coursework, and it involves looking closely at a particular section of the thirty-fifth chapter (lines 1-53), entitled King’s Cross, from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” I wanted to explore how J.K. Rowling used literary style to emphasize the connection between Harry and the ‘creature,’ as well as to describe Harry’s experience in this unknown place.
NOTE: All quotations are from this passage of the book.
The passage depicts the protagonist Harry in a dream-like state after what appears to have been a period of unconsciousness. He finds himself in a large and brightly lit hall and notices a small creature suffering in the corner.
The narrative style can be assumed at once; the opening sentence begins with “He lay face down,” which implies that the third-person narrative is limited, as the focalized character is Harry. The use of short sentences in the first paragraph suggests that the protagonist knows very little about his surroundings and the repetition of the word ‘nobody’ highlights his solitude. Incidentally, the repetition of another word, ‘perfectly,’ suggests a completeness that contrasts this.
The increasing length and complexity of the sentences reflect Harry’s increased awareness of his environment; “he must exist,” and the phrase “disembodied thought” connotes death and even the supernatural. By including a conversational tone, “he was lying, definitely lying,” it adds to the idea of a limited narrative, as it appears as though the protagonist is talking to himself. The reference to the senses at the end of the second paragraph conveys the idea that he is rediscovering himself, not dissimilar to a newborn baby, which adds to the atmosphere of purgatory.
This is furthered in the next paragraph, “Harry became conscious that he was naked” as this language, again, has connotations of birth. It creates a sense of innocence about the situation and encourages the reader not to feel panic about the character’s surroundings. The line “convinced as he was” gives the impression that Harry is not alone, as otherwise, it would not be necessary to mention it, which makes the reader expectant. The idea of nativity is reinforced as Harry returns to focusing on his senses, “he discovered that he had eyes,” which is odd, so it implies that he was not expecting to exist anywhere. The syntax of this particular sentence – with the verb towards the beginning instead of the subject – symbolizes the action of opening his eyes before believing them to exist, emphasizing the protagonist’s increase in understanding.
Harry’s setting is illustrated more by “bright mist,” which has connotations of heaven and the unknown, and the use of the verb ‘experienced’ introduces a new action. Up until this point, the most common verb used is ‘lay/lying,’ which is quite passive, creating a sense of progress. The syntax of the following sentence, “His surroundings were not hidden by cloudy vapour; rather the cloudy vapour had not yet formed into surroundings,” is almost like a reflection of itself, making the reader feel like the situation is not real – and only a reflected image. This suggests that the protagonist is experiencing this situation in his mind; however, the use of sense would contradict this and therefore could imply that he is indeed in the supernatural world. This confusion is echoed in the repetition of the verb ‘lay,’ which creates a strong notion of regression, and the narrative appears to show the protagonist talking to himself as the verb ‘seemed’ is used. It gives the impression that he is still unsure of his environment, and the theme of the unexplained is referred to again as the phrase “neither warm nor cold” which suggests the halfway point between life and death. The adverb ‘simply’ is similar to the first adverb used, ‘perfectly,’ as it implies a complete image, so it could show how the protagonist is nearing an understanding. Finally, the way in which the surface is described, “a flat, blank something on which to be,” reinforces the idea that Harry is still unaware of where he is, and the verb “to be” yet again is an inclination of the question approached in this passage: whether Harry is alive or not.
The paragraph style reverts back to short sentences as Harry completes a second action, “he sat up.” This could suggest that he is discovering more about his setting, and the idea of confusion is furthered by the use of the verb “appeared,” which emphasizes the uncertainty. Again, the primary senses are mentioned as Harry “touched his face,” and the fact that he “was not wearing glasses anymore” shows how he is accomplishing something, but could also symbolize his new-found mental clarity.
A third sense is addressed in the next paragraph, “a noise reached him through the unformed nothingness that surrounded him,” it seems almost as though he was being called to, which suggests that he is not alone. The writer uses sibilance and alliteration to make the phrase “the small, soft thumpings of something that flapped, flailed and struggled” appear so much more realistic. It gives the impression of a fish that had been caught, and so it makes the reader imagine something wet and slimy – not something to be hospitable towards. This is furthered by the words “pitiful” and “indecent,” which are adjectives that give the impression of something or someone with poor etiquette, and therefore could encourage the reader to picture something that is not human like Harry. He feels “uncomfortable” about the noise and so it makes the reader feel the same way because they are just as unaware as he is, and the deliberate pause between “furtive” and “shameful” exaggerates the sense of secrecy.
The short paragraph, “For the first time, he wished he were clothed,” creates a great weight on the words said. For instance, it emphasizes the comma in the middle of the sentence, which separates the adjective ‘first’ from the subject – i.e. ‘he.’ This suggests a distance between the character and his environment. It also implies that he is experiencing a rebirth of some description, as it seems unlikely for this to be the first time in his life.
This notion of ‘re-birth’ is continued in the next paragraph, as the adverb “barely” implies something new and fresh. However, the reference to Harry’s “head” shows how it is still possible that this situation is a mental rather than physical state, and the apparition of clothes adds to the theme of magic. Again, the idea of separation is referred to with the word “distance,” whilst the sentence that follows emphasizes this by using a colon. It begins quite simply, “he took them and pulled them on,” suggesting that he is doing something instinctive and basic, and the phrase “they were soft, clean and warm” gives the impression of something natural and maternal. By using “extraordinary” and repeating “appeared,” it makes the supernatural the most prominent theme. In contrast, “just like that” suggests a more conversational tone, and so brings the situation back into a more realistic context. Finally, the use of the ellipsis creates a sense of ambiguity, as well as reinforces the conversational tone.
“He stood up” is almost a reflection of the verb in a previous paragraph – “he sat up” – so it strengthens the idea of surrealism in the text. These differing ideas – whether it’s real or imaginary – are continuously emphasized so that the reader is made to feel confused, therefore retaining his/her interest. The use of the question stresses the conversational and human elements of the passage and creates a sense of involvement for the reader. They, therefore, feel as though they are also discovering more with Harry as the phrase “the more there was to see” is used, as it implies that something is about to happen. As the surroundings are described, the words “great, domed glass roof” give the impression of a planetarium, and, together with “glittered high above him,” it creates the image of the night sky and what is considered to be Heaven high above it. However, the use of the noun “sunlight” contrasts this image and therefore accentuates the notion of fantasy. “Perhaps” could be considered a thought process, and as it alliterates with “palace,” it emphasizes the grandeur of the setting, and the length of the sentence separates the statement, highlighting it. There is slight discomfort with the word “hushed,” as it suggests something that has been subdued into silence, yet the noise of the “odd thumping and whimpering” is kept apart – the adjective ‘odd’ creating the impression of something bizarre or even off-beat – connoting further inhuman features. Again, an ellipsis is used to indicate more unsure feelings, and keep the reader interested.
The opening sentence of the next paragraph uses sibilance to attract attention so that the reader notices the phrase “invent themselves before his eyes,” which implies peculiarity as well as referring back to the senses. The description of the scene has connotations of freedom, “a wide open space, bright and clean,” while the repetition of “domed glass” reiterates the importance of the text, and Harry’s interest in it. The short sentence “it was quite empty,” similar to the sentence in the first paragraph, “he was perfectly alone,” gives the impression that Harry is alone, so it is a surprise to the reader when the sentence ends abruptly. The particular use of the hyphen shows how the writer intended to have the reader know as much as Harry throughout the extract.
The two words “he recoiled” are in a separate sentence because it symbolizes the act illustrated, and as Harry considers what he is seeing to be “the thing that was making the noises,” the reader also feels a detachment from the creature. By objectifying it, the phrase “naked child” – whilst normally would imply birth and nativity, and could even be compared to the description of Harry – seems unappealing. Even when it is illustrated to be “curled on the ground,” which is similar to the fetal position, it is also depicted as having “raw and rough” skin, suggesting something unnatural. Also, the adjective “flayed-looking” creates a vivid and unattractive image of something severely maimed and inhuman. However, the use of the verb “lay” is uncomfortably similar to its use for Harry’s description, and so presents a likeness between the two. Even though both are portrayed as child-like and newborn, the creature is described as being discarded and almost ugly – “it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath.” It creates an image of a ‘dustbin baby,’ and so it almost provokes the reader into feeling sorry for it, but the continuous sibilance gives the impression of something snakelike – which is commonly associated with sin.
Another short sentence is used, “he was afraid of it,” this time the thought is blunt, and therefore exposes Harry’s true feelings. The lack of punctuation in the first part of the following sentence, “small and fragile and wounded,” creates a sense of discomfort, and even though it might, again, make the reader sympathize with it, Harry’s reaction – which has been the biggest influence on the reader’s up until this point – deters them. “He did not want to approach it” gives the impression of something diseased or extremely unwelcoming, and so causes the audience to revert back to being repulsed by the creature. As he approaches, he is represented as being “ready to jump back,” causing the person who is reading to feel expectant of something. The longer sentence lengths here in this paragraph could suggest a great surge in awareness, as Harry begins to understand his feelings towards the creature. Another blunt exposition of the protagonist’s thoughts, “he felt like a coward,” shows how he feels ashamed that he cannot interact with it, as the word ‘coward’ connotes weakness. “He ought to comfort it” suggests that Harry is considering etiquette again, but the use of the verb “repulsed” shows how he thinks against it.
The first piece of speech comes at the very end of the passage, “You cannot help,” and is very short, yet it creates an impact because it introduces a new, unknown character. It suggests that, as Harry was debating with himself whether or not to help the creature, it has been decided for him, and therefore would imply that the confusion of his existence would be explained by the new character too.