34 Characters and Characterization
The characters are the persons that are involved in the story. Obviously, Harry Potter is the main character. The main character is often called the protagonist. Since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a novel, we meet many other characters as well. Look at the character list on Sparknotes – Harry Potter. Which characters would you rank as the most important? It would be surprising if you did not include Harry’s friends Ron and Hermione, his enemies Draco and the scary Voldemort, and not to forget “the good guys,” Professor Dumbledore and the giant Hagrid.
How are the characters described? In the novel we are admitted to Harry’s thoughts and fears and based on that, we can say something about Harry as well as his relationship with other characters.
Most novels will have a hero, a good guy. There is no doubt that Harry Potter is the hero and protagonist, and he has a lot of good friends. How do we know that they are good? We have to depend on information about looks, behavior and speech.
Extracts from the Novel
Study the extracts and then answer the questions which follow.
Extracts from the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone used in the analysis.
If the motorcycle was huge, it was nothing to the man sitting astride it. He was almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild – long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, he had hands the size of trash can lids, and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins. In his vast, muscular arms he was holding a bundle of blankets. (Description of Hagrid)
“S–s–sorry,” sobbed Hagrid, taking out a large, spotted handkerchief and burying his face in it. “But I c-c-can’t stand it – Lily and James dead – an’ poor little Harry off ter live with Muggles – ” (Hagrid talks about Harry’s dead parents and how he has to stay with the humans, the Muggles)
“Yes, yes, it’s all very sad, but get a grip on yourself, Hagrid, or we’ll be found,” Professor McGonagall whispered, patting Hagrid gingerly on the arm as Dumbledore stepped over the low garden wall and walked to the front door. He laid Harry gently on the doorstep, took a letter out of his cloak, tucked it inside Harry’s blankets, and then came back to the other two. For a full minute the three of them stood and looked at the little bundle; Hagrid’s shoulders shook, Professor McGonagall blinked furiously, and the twinkling light that usually shone from Dumbledore’s eyes seemed to have gone out. (From the delivery of the orphan Harry at the Dursleys’ doorstep)
“Look”– he murmured, holding out his arm to stop Malfoy. Something bright white was gleaming on the ground. They inched closer. It was the unicorn, all right, and it was dead. Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad. Its long, slender legs were stuck out at odd angles where it had fallen and its mane was spread pearly white on the dark leaves. Harry had taken one step toward it when a slithering sound made him freeze where he stood. A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered… Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy, and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood. (from the first time Harry meets Voldemort)
Study Extracts 1, 2 and 3
- How does the author introduce us to Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore? What kind of impression do you get? Do you like them? Why?
- Describe in your own words Hagrid’s looks.
- How is speech used to describe the characters?
In most novels we will also meet some “bad guys”. They are often called villains or antagonists. How do we know that they are evil? Study Extract 4 above.
- Describe in your own words Voldemort’s looks and behavior.
- How does the author tell us that Voldemort is an evil character (an antagonist)?
Throughout the story Harry changes a lot. He develops from a loner into a sociable, more mature guy, and he also has to admit that he is mistaken. One of the characters that he thinks is “a bad guy” is actually “a good guy”! In most reports you will be asked to write a characterization of one of the main characters and to comment if they have changed, or not.
- The characters are the persons we meet in the story.
- A characterization is a description of the characters.
- The protagonist is the main character, often the hero of the story.
- The antagonist is the villain or enemy in the story.