The first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone focuses on themes of good vs. evil, immortality and death, and is also full of religious symbolism. Author J.K. Rowling includes these themes and symbols to further the development of the series and characters. The world of Harry Potter is not necessarily overtly religious, but religion is still mentioned in the novel. In particular, at the beginning of chapter 12 the world of Hogwarts is preparing for the Christmas holiday. Harry is staying at Hogwarts for the holiday, and he thinks that his time at Hogwarts will be better than any Christmas spent at Privet Drive with the Dursleys.
A pivotal point in the chapter is when Harry awakes to an unexpected small pile of presents. While this highlights the materialistic part of a holiday that is meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus (some might say taking the “Christ” out of Christmas), it still highlights an extremely important part of religion and religious holidays in general: community. Much of religion, Christianity in particular, is centered around community and coming together. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 4:19-12: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”This relates to the overarching idea of community, as Hogwarts serves as Harry’s central community. The people at Hogwarts (particularly Ron and Hermione) ensure that Harry will never have “no one to help [him] up.” The Christmas holiday in particular serves as a representation for community in Harry Potter because the gifts are tangible evidence that for the first time (because the Dursleys surely didn’t make him feel this way) people care about Harry and wish for his wellbeing. The battle between good and evil is a central theme in the novel, as Harry is constantly battling a variety of evils. His most obvious daily encounter with evil is his relationship with Voldemort. This, undoubtedly, plays into the novels central theme or concept of good and evil, but the relationship of good and evil within the novel is larger than that. Harry himself struggles with a conflict of good and bad decisions. An example of this comes during chapter 16. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are trying to stop who they thought was Snape. To do this, they sneak out in the middle of the night.
Neville Longbottom is waiting in the common room and prepared to stop them, and Harry ends up being semi-evil when he uses petrificus totalus to silence and sneak past Neville, thereby exploiting Neville’s stupidity or ignorance. In this instance, Harry is using evil for the sake of nobility, which becomes a common theme throughout the series. He frequently breaks the rules or exploits people when he has the goal to do something for the greater good. This gray area between cruel and noble becomes an interesting aspect to the series, as Harry learns more about his own battle between good and evil in the second book. Death and immortality serve as major themes throughout the novel, especially considering most of Harry’s experience is based around being the “boy who lived.” Harry’s brush with death serves as just one example of death and immortality as a theme in the novel. The stone serves as the prime example or focus of immortality in the novel, however, in terms of theme, it’s the characters reactions to the stone and how they act because of it that shape how the theme of death and immortality play out in the novel. An example of this is Harry being tantalized by the stone, particularly through its potential as advertised by Voldemort to bring his parents back, even though that is pretty blatantly a lie. That temptation and immersion in death is also reflected in Harry’s obsession and his subsequent return trips to the Mirror of Erised.
Although Harry himself is not in pursuit of immortality, his need to have his parents back serves as a want for it. He doesn’t want immortality for himself, but he wishes his parents could’ve been immortal and were alive. This theme of immortality and death being the great unifier continues throughout the series, and it’s a battle Harry continues to deal with.The novel, while full of various themes that could have religious connotations, is also full of religious symbolism. Harry serves as a symbol for many Christian figures. An obvious example would be Jesus, as Harry (like Jesus) survived death and was resurrected. However, he is more similar to the Prophet Moses than he is Jesus. For example, Moses was born into a family of Hebrew slaves. When Moses was born, there was a slaying of Hebrew boys, so his mother sent him down the Nile River, so he wouldn’t be killed. He was later adopted by a Pharaoh and led most of his life believing he was Egyptian. Likewise, Harry’s parents were killed by Voldemort when he was a baby, he lived with the Dursleys and lived most of his life believing he was a Muggle. The similarities between Moses and Harry Potter don’t stop with them both being orphans. The central similarity between the two is their constant battle between good and evil (as previously mentioned as a theme in the novel). For Moses, the battle was focused around carrying out the law of God, which led him to eventually become a prophet and saint. Harry’s battle was quite different, as he was battling Voldemort for his own sake and for the greater good, but he is still a prophet in a sense, as he is declared “the chosen one.” The religious symbols throughout the novel only serve to strengthen the central themes, and they continue throughout the series. Rowling uses these themes not only to strengthen the characters, but to immortalize them.
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