This week the book club is reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone chapters 8-9 and one of the themes we identified is rebellion.
Rebellion against authority is important in many modern hero stories. Sometimes it is outright rebellion against tyranny and in some cases it is more a rebellion against expectations and roles.
Harry has several rebellious moments in these two chapters. In his first Potions class, Harry is singled out by Professor Snape who seems intent on cutting Harry down to size. Harry is polite but quickly tires of Snape singling him out. He ends up making a smart comment to the professor that results in a House point deduction. Harry does not appear to be rebelling to look cool or make an impression; he seems to have reached his limit and is pushing back against this authority figure who clearly has it in for him.
The next instance of rebellion that I noticed happened during flying lessons when Madam Hooch expressly forbade the students from flying while she took an injured Neville Longbottom to the nurse. Harry disregarded this in order to chase Malfoy to get Neville’s Rememberall back. It is my view that Harry is not rebelling for its own sake rather he is doing so presumably because he feels that the rules are less important than principles. He is polite and resigned to grave punishment when confronted by Professor McGonagall, not rebellious and indignant.
Finally, Harry rebels against several rules at once when he agrees to a midnight wizards’ duel with Malfoy. Students are not allowed to roam the school at night, let alone practice magic combat on one another. In this case, I feel that Harry’s pride is his motivation, though it can be argued that higher principles of standing for what is right in the face of bullies is also a factor. My sense is that he intensely dislikes Malfoy and is unwilling to be called a coward by him. He takes on a risky and totally unnecessary challenge and puts himself and his friend (more than one friend, it turns out) in jeopardy. Harry is strongly warned by Hermione not to participate and she even goes as far as to ask him and Ron “Don’t you care about Gryffindor, do you only care about yourselves?” which reinforces the interpretation that this is a selfish act of rebellion.
Harry is a Gryffindor and bravery, maybe even bravado, is a trait the school is known for, so it should not surprise to see Harry sometimes veering off the straight and narrow. Moreover, he is finally getting a chance to really rebel and test his limits in a safe environment (three-headed dogs notwithstanding.) Meaning that he is not being belittled and constrained by the Dursleys so he is free to push boundaries and explore his new freedoms. I think that rebellion is very good for Harry at this stage. Likewise for Ron, who has lived in the shadow of his brothers’ accomplishments and finally has a chance to make his own decisions. I expect to see many more instances of rebellion from the pair as we continue through the story. Malfoy, alas, seems in a constant state of rebellion. Though we have no been given too much insight into his situation, we do know that his family are all snobs and generally superior people based on his comments in Madam Milken’s Robes shop in the previous section. Young Malfoy seems to echo his parents disdain, rather than rebel against it. From that point of view, his rebellion is essentially obedience. His sycophantic behavior toward Snape is even on-brand.
The rebellion theme will continue to be explored as the story goes on and it will be interesting to see Malfoy’s interactions with his family and his relationships with teachers and other students progress in the story. He may chose another kind of rebellion. Ron will need to continue to assert himself but as it stands, he risks trading walking in his brothers’ shadows for Harry’s. Even Hermione may need to choose what is right (rebellion) instead of what is easy (being the good girl.) And Harry certainly will need to challenge authority if he is to move toward the destiny already being foreshadowed for him.