Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Themes and Analysis

J.K. Rowling explores some essential themes within Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. An analysis of this book sheds light on how well structured and carefully planned most of the plot points of this book are.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a children’s book, but it has a lot of essential life lessons for readers of all ages. The world-building for this novel hooks the readers into staying engaged, and the third-person narration adds to the detailed storytelling ability of the book. Several themes that are crucial to a child’s development are tackled in this book. Themes like love, friendship, and life lessons to tell apart absolute good and evil form a major part of the wide roster of themes that reside in this book.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Themes and Analysis


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Themes

Love and Family

One of the ‘standout’ themes of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and by extension, the whole book series, is love. The very premise of Harry Potter surviving the killing curse of Lord Voldemort is based on the protection offered by Harry’s mother, Lily. By sacrificing herself to protect her son, she builds a strong magical shield around Harry, and Voldemort is destroyed by his very own curse as it rebounds.

Love is a recurring theme in the entire novel, and it dictates the dynamic of the plot. For instance, the lack of love from Harry’s foster family, and his hatred towards them is in clear contrast to his desire to see his parents in the Mirror of Erised, which is fueled by love.

Friendship

Although similar in many respects to love, friendship has a more nuanced role in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Starting with Hagrid, who is Harry’s first friend in the book, Harry goes on to make several friends including Ron and Hermione. Furthermore, the idea of making friends is also of major importance in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 

When Harry meets Draco Malfoy for the first time in Madam Malkin’s shop, Harry has already formed an opinion of Draco and during their second meeting, Harry rejects Draco’s hand at the friendship and remains loyal to the humble and kind natured Ron. Harry says, “I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thanks.” which illustrates his confidence in making clear choices very early in this world he recently discovered. 

Sacrifice

Another major theme in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is sacrifice. Harry Potter’s mother, Lily Potter sacrifices her life to save him. Although Ron is partially responsible for Hermione being locked in with a mountain troll, Harry and Ron sacrifice their safety by choosing to save her from the troll and run towards danger knowingly. Hermione sacrifices her place in Hogwarts by saving both Harry and Ron from possible expulsion from Hogwarts and risking her own expulsion.

Finally, Ron sacrifices himself in the game of Wizard chess to facilitate safe passage for Harry and Hermione to protect the Philosopher’s Stone. While this being a children’s book allows for most of them to be unhurt despite sacrifice, all these choices to sacrifice themselves, made by the characters involve accepting the possibility of death.

Courage and Bravery

An essential theme of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, bravery plays a major role throughout the narrative. For example, Neville Longbottom is scared and nervous in most parts of the book. He gets bullied severely, especially by Malfoy and his friends, Crabbe and Goyle. However, taking Ron’s word of ‘having to stand up for himself’, Neville gathers enough courage to fight Malfoy during the Quidditch match. He goes on to even stand up against his very friends, Harry, Ron, and Hermione when they are on the verge of breaking school rules.

Bravery is also portrayed by Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they persevere amidst challenges and keep their goal to prevent the stealing of the Philosopher’s Stone always.

Magic

Although an obvious theme, magic is an essential theme and is crucial in the details that build the story world. The major fascination in this book comes from a wide array of magical nuances that would be helpful to have in the real world. Spells, enchantments, potions, magical beings, artifacts, and several other aspects, that make Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a great read for children, play an important role in building the imagination of the reader.

Spells like Wingardium Leviosa, flying broomsticks, or Madam McGonagall’s transfiguration into a cat are all impossibilities in the real world but add to the fascinating attraction that makes this book a memorable one. It caters to the escapism and fantastical requirement of the reader, thereby creating a sort of ‘magic’ of its own.

Intelligence

Another minor yet important theme in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is intelligence. It is illustrated several times, starting with Hermione’s continuous application of her knowledge resourcefully with the spell Alohomora to open the door and her impressive application of logic amidst a stressful situation.

Ron’s intelligence to win the game of Wizard Chess is another good illustration. Furthermore, the headmaster Dumbledore also plays a very clever role in showing Harry the mirror of Erised beforehand, and using the subtle distinction between greed and need as a basis of his puzzle to retrieve the Philosopher’s stone.

Analysis of Key Moments in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

  1. Harry Potter is safely brought to his Aunt’s House from the wreckage in Godric’s Hollow by Hagrid and Dumbledore and Madam McGonagall place him on the doorstep.
  2. Harry Potter grows up to be eleven but is bullied by his cousin Dudley and ill-treated by his Aunt and Uncle.
  3. Harry encounters Hagrid, who conveys that Harry is a wizard and has been admitted to Hogwarts to the dismay of his aunt and uncle.
  4. Harry buys all his things and visits Gringotts bank with Hagrid who picks up a small package from there.
  5. Harry meets Ron and Hermione on the train to Hogwarts. Harry and Ron become friends.
  6. Harry along with Ron and Hermione is sorted into Gryffindor house.
  7. Harry learns how to fly and is selected as a seeker in his Quidditch house team.
  8. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville encounter a huge three-headed dog in a corridor that was forbidden for students.
  9. Harry and Ron fight a mountain troll and save Hermione. They all become friends.
  10. Harry wins the Quidditch match by catching the snitch but is almost knocked off his broom during the match. Hermione and Ron suspect Professor Snape.
  11. Harry is presented with the invisibility cloak. He also encounters the Mirror of Erised.
  12. Harry, Ron and Hermione find out about Nicholas Flamel and the Philosopher’s Stone.
  13. Hagrid tries to tame a dragon and is unsuccessful. He is forced to send it to Romania with Ron’s brother’s friends.
  14. Harry, Hermione, Neville and Malfoy are sent with Hagrid for detention in the Forbidden forest. Harry comes across a cloaked figure who turns out to be Lord Voldemort.
  15. Harry, Ron and Hermione decide to go to the Philosopher’s Stone and protect it from Professor Snape, who they suspect is behind it.
  16. They make it through all the obstacles and Harry alone enters the last room where he finds out Professor Quirrell was the culprit. Further, Lord Voldemort resides in Quirrell’s head and is controlling him. Harry fights them and is victorious.
  17. Harry tells Professor Dumbledore about everything that happened. Later in the school feast, Dumbledore awards extra points to Gryffindor for their heroic actions. Gryffindor wins the House Cup.


Writing Style and Tone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is written with simple language and is easy to follow especially as it is a children’s book. The writing style is primarily in the basic third person without any evident experimental styles.

The tone of the novel is sometimes funny and even engaging. J.K. Rowling evokes humorous situations within the text by alluding to certain characters of the book whom Harry dislikes. Examples include Aunt Petunia, who is written as a nosy neighbor, Uncle Vernon as a rude, rule-following, and boring man, and his cousin Dudley as a spoilt brat who is pampered beyond repair by his parents.  

Analysis of Key Symbols in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Mirror of Erised

The Mirror of Erised is where Harry first sees the reflection of his parents and the rest of his family. It is revealed to show the deepest desires of the viewer. It works as an important literary tool in portraying Harry’s deep desire to be reunited with his parents whom he never had the chance to know. It also does the same with Ron, who is revealed to want to be more successful than all his elder brothers, shedding light on his plight as a young sibling overshadowed by successful elder brothers.

The Philosopher’s Stone

Being an extremely valuable magical artifact, the Philosopher’s stone can create the Elixir of Life, which would make its drinker immortal. This symbolizes absolute power and demonstrates Lord Voldemort’s drive to attain dominion over others with this power. Furthermore, the fact that Harry could get it out of the Mirror of Erised illustrates his pure and incorruptible intentions and cements Dumbledore’s faith in him further.

FAQs

What does the Sorcerer’s Stone symbolize?

The Sorcerer’s Stone, in its essence, symbolizes power in this book. However, it is an essential plot device and helps differentiate good from evil. Voldemort seeks the Sorcerer’s Stone for his selfish purpose of coming back to life as the tyrant he always was. On the other hand, Harry frantically attempts to prevent Voldemort from getting it as he wants the collective good and peace of the magical world to remain.

What is the message of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

There are several messages in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. However, the most important message in Harry Potter is that love and friendship triumph over anything no matter how fear-inducing the obstacles may be. Another message in this book is also that taking action in the face of adversity despite fear is the true sign of bravery.

What is written on top of the Mirror of Erised?

The engraving on the top of the Mirror of Erised reads “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.” When one reads this backward, the sentence becomes more apparent – “I show you not your face, but your heart’s desire.” This is the very purpose of the mirror and the engraving works as a clever stylistic device to create mystery in the reader’s mind till it becomes apparent.

About Mohandas Alva
Mohandas graduated with a Master's degree in English literature. He is very passionate about deciphering the nature of language and its role as a sole medium of storytelling in literature. His interests sometimes digress from literature to philosophy and the sciences but eventually, the art and craft of narrating a significant story never fail to thrill him.
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