Unless you have spent your entire existence under a rock, you know the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. These books got me through my childhood and helped make me the person I am today. From the first word to the last, I was enraptured with the world that Rowling created. This series taught me about courage and love and sacrifice and I don’t think I would have been able to succeed without Hermione Granger’s voice in my head and Albus Dumbledore’s kind words telling me to push through even when it seemed impossible.
Now, I’m a junior in college and studying to be a Psychology/English major. Because of this, I am taking Social Psychology, which is how this project became a reality. You see, my lovely professor, who reminds me quite a bit of Sirius Black, forces all his students to create a Choose Your Own Adventure project where we decide how a portion of our grade will be determined. My CYOA? The Potter Project. For the next 8 weeks, I intend to read each book and watch each movie in chronological order and then write a post about the psychology behind the characters and such. This week is Book 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Our opening is simple, but truly sets up the story.
The Boy Who Lived
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.
The entire first chapter features exposition from Mr. Dursley as he experiences a particularly strange and mysterious day, unlike his normal routine. He sees a cat reading a map and people in strange cloaks.
The first psychological aspect we encounter is Mr. and Mrs. Dursley’s view of the Potters. They are clearly prejudiced towards the wizarding community, even though they have no foundations for their stereotypes and judgement. In terms of attitudes, this shows how truly corrupt the Dursley family is.
Though Lily was Mrs. Dursley’s sister and Harry her nephew, Mrs. Dursley absolutely refused to treat him like a human being. The entire family treats him like dirt, as if he is an unwanted burden. I think the most horrendous aspect of the ordeal is the lack of grief shown by the Dursley family. They simply find the deaths of Lily and James Potter an inconvenience; they don’t recognize it as a tragedy. The abuse that the Dursleys inflict upon Harry is dismal. They force him to live under the stairs in a room the size of a cabinet and force him to be their slave.
We also see the controlling attitude of Vernon Dursley as he goes above and beyond to try and hide the letters from Hogwarts that were sent for Harry. He even goes as far as to take the entire family to a hotel, then later to a hut in the middle of the ocean at a small island when his prior tactic fails. He wants so badly to be in control that he is willing to uproot his wife and son, not to mention spend money to get away from the letters. He is desperate because his control is slipping away. He doesn’t get to decide what information to give Harry anymore. There are outside sources nibbling at his authority.
As Harry discovers the truth about his parents and about the wizarding world, we see him take on Hogwarts. Rowling offers a stark contrast to the Dursleys in the form of the Weasleys. Instead of the harsh and cold personalities of the Petunia and Vernon, we see the curiosity and cleverness of Arthur and the warmth and kindness from Molly. Instead of the cruel and calculating Dudley, we have a humorous and welcoming Ron. In a way, we are seeing what Harry’s life could have been like with James and Lily.
One of the most interesting scenes in this book, especially in terms of psychology, is the scene with the Sorting Hat. Here, Harry and his new friends will be put into one of the four Hogwarts houses. As Harry prepares to be sorted, the Hat proposes that he would be a good fit as a Slytherin. Harry immediately objects, which the Hat accepts, and he is put into Gryffindor, along with Ron and Hermione. This is interesting psychologically because I think it was all about choice and personality. Hermione is definitely a Ravenclaw, the house of intelligence and knowledge. Ron could easily have been a Hufflepuff because of his open nature and endearing personality. And, as the Hat said, Harry could have very well been a dark wizard and prospered in Slytherin. But, I think that they each wanted to be Gryffindor. They wanted it enough to ask for it, showing bravery, which is the central Gryffindor trait.
The book continues and we see a myriad of other characters, including Dumbledore, Malfoy, and Snape. The main conflict revolves around a trapdoor that seems to lead to the Philosopher’s Stone, an object made by Nicolas Flamel. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione fear that Snape is trying to get to the stone and use it to restore Voldemort to his former power, they venture into the trap to beat him to it. We see more of Ron’s personality and social psychology as he is willing to sacrifice himself to help his friends beat the game. He lets himself get injured to protect Harry and Hermione. On the other hand, we get to see his fears as he has the hardest time out of the three when they are dealing with the strangling plants. I really like that Rowling showed such a dramatic difference here to show that people are not one dimensional. It is normal to be terrified of something, yet still be able to risk your own life for the people you love. Just because you get scared sometimes doesn’t mean you aren’t brave. Ron, Harry, and Hermione all have fears and we got to see them a little bit in this first book. But, we also got to see have astoundingly brave and courageous and fearless they are.
Conclusion? J. K. Rowling is magic and so are her characters. Also, I grew up to be Hermione Granger, and I am not ashamed of that at all.