Unfogging the Future: Foreshadowing in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – Part 2
This is the second installment in my series of articles where I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in an attempt to see just how much of the entire series is foreshadowed in the first book. In this article, I reread Chapter 2: “The Vanishing Glass,” and among other observations, the key idea I took away from it was the dangers of having one’s identity denied.
Chapter 2: “The Vanishing Glass”
In this chapter, we get an insight into what Harry’s life with the Dursleys is like. Harry is treated like vermin while Dudley is treated like royalty – his parents attend to his every whim. It’s Dudley’s birthday and Petunia and Vernon are overindulging him with presents; thirty-seven plus two presents, to be precise. But why are the Dursleys spoiling Dudley so much? Once we get a glimpse of what Petunia’s life was like as a child, we’re able to draw parallels to the way she treats Harry.
As a child, Petunia felt unappreciated and unimportant as her parents fawned over Lily’s magical abilities. In adulthood, she compensates for this by giving Dudley extravagant amounts of attention and lavishes him with praise. Similarly, Petunia imposes a “Don’t ask questions” rule on Harry because it’s the only way that she can compensate for the jealousy of not being able to attend Hogwarts. Petunia desperately wanted to be a part of the wizarding world. She knows that Harry is desperate to know more about his parents but cruelly denies him this. It’s also why she wants to prevent Harry from attending Hogwarts; she cannot bear to be reminded of Lily coming “home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn” (SS 4).
We’re given our first of many flashbacks of the night when Voldemort killed James and Lily when Harry sees a vision of “a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead.” Although the pain on his forehead seems to indicate that Harry is revisiting his own memory, there are times (especially in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) when I have wondered whether Harry is revisiting this moment in his life through Voldemort’s recollection of it.
We also learn about Harry’s physique. Rowling describes him as “small and skinny for his age” and mentions that “he was very fast.” These physical traits would come to prove advantageous. Harry’s size and speed account for his success on the Quidditch pitch. Oliver Wood even says that Harry is “just the build for a Seeker” (SS 9). Harry evading Dudley’s punches is comparable to him dodging Bludgers on his broomstick.
However, Harry’s physique could be partly attributable to the Dursleys’ mistreatment of him. When Harry arrives at Hogwarts in Chapter 7, he ruminates on how the Dursleys had raised him:
The Dursleys had never exactly starved Harry, but he’d never been allowed to eat as much as he liked.
Harry’s physique could also be attributed to the fact that he was made to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs.
Rowling uses the trope of “being in the closet” to illustrate how the Dursleys attempted to suppress Harry’s magic. Although Harry had moved out of his cupboard by then, in Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry repeatedly recites to Uncle Vernon, “I’ll be in my bedroom, making no noise and pretending I’m not there.”
One of the core themes of the Harry Potter series is having the confidence to be yourself (e.g., Harry is doubtful when Hagrid first tells him that he’s a wizard). Harry’s experience in the cupboard under the stairs is akin to Ariana Dumbledore’s and Credence Barebone’s experiences in the late 19th century and early 20th century, respectively. Unlike Credence – and possibly Ariana – though, the Dursleys’ attempts to quell Harry’s magical abilities did not result in him becoming an Obscurial. Incidentally, when we got our first glimpse of an Obscurus in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, its appearance struck me as being Dementor-like. While Dementors, metaphorically, are the physical manifestations of clinical depression, Obscurials allow us to visualize the psychological impact of any aspect of one’s identity being denied.
As Harry and the Dursleys are having breakfast, we’re introduced to Mrs. Figg, who calls to inform the Dursleys that she’d broken her leg and is therefore unable to look after Harry while they’re at the zoo. Although Mrs. Figg initially seems like a character of little significance, we learn in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that Dumbledore knows her, and we learn in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that she’s a Squib assigned by Dumbledore to watch over Harry in Little Whinging. We know very little else about Mrs. Figg, but hopefully, we’ll get to read about her backstory one day.
Vernon name-drops Aunt Marge in this chapter, who, according to Petunia, “hates the boy.” We learn in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that she definitely hates Harry. While the Dursleys are pondering where to leave him, Harry suggests that they could leave him alone in the house, to which Petunia snarls, “And come back and find the house in ruins?” Petunia’s choice of words seems to refer to the condition that the Potters’ house was in on the night that Voldemort killed them.
Throughout this chapter, we’re given examples of the way that magic manifests itself in young wizards, prior to being formally educated. Harry manages to grow back all his hair overnight, shrinks one of Dudley’s old sweaters, and either Apparates or levitates onto “the roof of the school kitchens.” The defining moment in this chapter occurs when Harry – whom we learn in Chamber of Secrets is a Parselmouth – sets a boa constrictor free at the zoo.
Despite the Dursleys mistreating Harry, Dumbledore’s plan seems to be working. We learn that Harry is an ordinary boy who isn’t burdened with the knowledge of his own celebrity. This doesn’t stop wizards and witches from trying to get a glimpse of him, though. Harry reflects “that strangers in the street seemed to know him” and recalls encounters with “a tiny man in a violet top hat” (who turns out to be Dedalus Diggle), “a wild-looking old woman dressed all in green,” and “a bald man in a very long purple coat.”
Rereading this chapter, what do you think are the most significant moments in terms of their importance in the overall series? Is there anything that you feel should’ve been highlighted but has been omitted? Whom do you think the “old woman” and the “bald man” are? Please leave your comments below!