Harry Potter: A Coming of Age Story
Abstract: Throughout the essay I examine not only the idea that appearances are not only deceptive within the Harry Potter series, but also Harry’s inability to see the adults in his life for what they truly are and how, by learning to see beyond appearances, Harry is able to grow and mature.
J. K. Rowling claims that ‘the trouble with writing [the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone>] was (as so often in a Harry Potter book) I had to give a lot of information and yet conceal even more’ (http://www.jkrowling.com/en/).
The readers are introduced to the idea of concealment early on in the novels and the audience is shown that a key theme in the Harry Potter books is that appearances are deceptive. The wizarding world itself is hidden from the non-magical people and the ‘international statute of secrecy’ (p 261 DH UK) is a law regularly referred to throughout the novels which enforces wizarding secrecy.
However the wizards and witches of this community do not only disguise themselves against non-magical people. Throughout the course of the seven novels Harry and the readers encounter animagi, metamorphmaguses, paintings that hide secret passage ways, a castle that appears from the outside to be a ruin, potions that enable people to transform into someone else and invisibility cloaks. Although the audience is introduced to these many overt means of disguise there are also many instances of secrets, lies and withholding the truth; these means of concealment, although not as magical, allow the best insight into the true characters and often reveal the most important information.
Almost none of the characters encountered within the series are entirely forefront about who they are and nearly every character is shown to have secrets and flaws that Harry was not aware of. The Harry Potter series is a coming of age story in which a young boy has to grow up and learn to see the world and the people in it for what they truly are.
This is marked by his first encounter of the magical world, when Hagrid arrives to give Harry his letter; during this scene Hagrid also reveals the truth of what really happened to Harry’s parents. Although the Dursleys’ mistreated Harry and Harry disliked them for it, Harry was dutiful and respectful of the adults in his life and the adults who had taken him in; upon discovering the truth about their deception Harry becomes less obedient towards them because he has begun to see the Dursleys’ for what they really are and has ceased to view them with the childish naivety he had previously used. By discovering the truth and learning that not everything is as it appears to be, Harry takes his first step on the road to adulthood. Over the course of the seven novels Harry must learn to question and learn to see past appearances. However this discovery also has greater implications in Harry’s life; by discovering that his parents were murdered Harry is drastically altered and his future path is determined. As readers we instantly know that Harry must face the man who killed his parents in the end.
Although Harry discovers Quirrell’s deception and later the truth that Lockhart is a fraud, these instances have light weight in terms of Harry’s maturity; although they further add to the idea that appearances are not always really the most impactful discoveries. Harry may discover that Sirius is not a murder, as he previously believed, and he is in fact the man who loves Harry most in the world, however the truth of Sirius’ innocence and indeed his animagi form are not the secrets that Harry must discover. Upon learning that he has a parental figure in Sirius, Harry begins to view Sirius with idealised childlike naivety; he sees only a cool, caring father figure and friend and neglects to see the flaws that Sirius possesses. Throughout Order of the Phoenix Harry begins to witness Sirius’ selfish temper while he broods and sulks over his confinement in Grimauld place and his childish bullying behaviour when Sirius pushes his chair ‘roughly aside and [strides] towards Snape’ (p459 OOTP UK) and calls Snape his childhood nickname ‘Snivellus’. Harry is later confronted by Dumbledore with the reality of Sirius’ cruelty towards Kreacher through his ‘indifference and neglect’ (p 735 OOTP UK); eventually Harry learns to see Sirius for what he truly is, a human being with flaws, a man who loved him but wasn’t perfect.
Likewise in OOTP Harry witnesses his father’s arrogant, bullying ways (p 570 OOTP UK) and has a crises of faith about whether the heroic man who died protecting his son and wife was in fact the man that ‘Snape had always told him’ he was (p 573 UK). Sirius and Lupin attempt to comfort him by telling Harry that James outgrew this behaviour however Harry is ‘horrified’ (p 573 UK) to discover that his idealised opinion of his father is not everything he had hoped it to be.
In the final novel Harry is angry and hurt that Dumbledore, his mentor and the man he looked up to most of all, has failed to provide him with enough information to find and defeat all of the horcruxes. This information is further compounded with the understanding that Harry knew very little of Dumbledore and his life and the question regarding Dumbledore’s anti-muggle beliefs. Having come to the understanding that not everyone is what they seem to be and that even the adults that Harry looks up to are not the idealised people Harry sees them as, the final step in Harry’s journey is to come to terms with the fact that even Dumbledore was not perfect.
Only once Harry finally learns the truth about the adults who have helped shape and mold him into the man he has become is Harry ready to face his death. The young boy with messy hair and glasses arrives in Kings Cross a man who was ‘not wearing glasses any more’ (p 565 DH UK). The fact that Harry no longer needed his glasses in King’s Cross shows that Harry can finally see the truth, he no longer sees only what prejudice or naivety show him and he is able to see the world for what it really is, a magical, beautiful place which is by no means perfect.