J. K. Rowling uses the Harry Potter series as a lens to address many societal issues. Among them, there’s the role of sports at school between Harry and Snape, the liberty an institution has with educating youth between Hogwarts and Fudge’s Ministry, and how disease is treated in the magical community (think werewolves). One that becomes particularly prominent in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is exclusion and its many degrees. The degrees of exclusion do not only affect Harry and his immediate friend group. They expand to encompass secondary characters, even characters who only make occasional appearances in the books.
When exclusion first comes to mind (when considering the entire series) the Weasleys nearly always take the cake. Despite their pure-blood lineage, the Weasleys (Arthur in particular) are often at the end of a scoff or snort of disdain by other pure-bloods. Arthur’s fascination with Muggle artifacts and the rest of the family’s fondness for their just-off-centre life choices (Bill’s earring, Charlie’s long hair, Percy’s snobbiness, Fred and George’s mischief, Ron’s lack of talent, and Ginny’s sheepishness) earn them less than they deserve as tolerant, progressive wizards. Indeed, it is mentioned they are branded as blood-traitors and considered second class by the Malfoys when we first meet Lucius at Flourish and Blotts.
Harry and Hagrid neighbor the Weasleys as well as Hermione when dealing with exclusion throughout the series. As far as Chamber goes, readers get a jarring addition to their separation from your average student.
Both Harry and Hagrid experience trauma when accused of being the Heir of Slytherin or opening the Chamber of Secrets, respectively. For Harry, he’s powerless as his fellow Hogwartiens (Mrs. Norris, Colin Creevey, Nearly-Headless Nick, Justin Finch-Fletchly, Hermione, and Ginny) all fall victim to the legacy of Slytherin at the school and be blamed for it all. For Hagrid . . . well there’s little worse than being expelled from wizarding school, having your wand snapped in half and forbidden to use magic for something you didn’t do. Indeed, Harry, putting a name to his ability to talk to snakes (Parselmouth), experiences the kind of exclusion from those he counted as good people. On top of members of Gryffindor House being wary of Harry’s infamous ability, the Hufflepuffs too increase their distance from him after he “attacked” Justin Finch-Fletchly during the Dueling Club. Fred and George are the only ones who have a laugh about it.
And speaking of Salazar Slytherin, his very policy on whom should be taught at Hogwarts is the championing case of exclusivity. It’s the root of the future division at the school and the Wizarding World as a whole; it’s the standard many subscribe to at the present time of the Potter books. This attitude to anyone outside his circle (pure-bloods) even effects those who favor his kind.
Filch, in all his unpleasantness and in support of Slytherin House, experiences exclusion after Harry finds out he’s a Squib — somebody who’s born into a wizarding family without any magical ability . . . bummer. Squibs are often sectioned off in the Wizarding World. Ariana Dumbledore was kept hidden in her house (which had some tragic results if clues from the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them films are any indication). Mrs. Figg, who lives by Harry on Privet Drive, probably was encouraged to blend into the Muggle World. Squibs, of course, are the opposite of Muggle-borns — those born in Muggle families who are magically sensitive. Chamber is in fact where we first learn of the exclusion-evoking term assigned to magical folk like Hermione: Mudblood. Colin Creevey, aside from being Muggle-born himself, experiences exclusion when fawning over Harry all over the castle. He is described by Harry as a nuisance and hazard through Harry’s reactions to his presence, even though Colin was just excited to be part of something he grew up only thinking was in fairy tales or make-believe.
I think the implications of Ginny’s exclusion with regard to her crush on Harry is largely overlooked. Since she can hardly talk to anyone about it, where does she spill the contents of her heart? Tom Riddle’s diary. By doing so, it nearly kills her.
Even in life after death there is exclusion. While some are applauded in their House (the Bloody Barron, Nearly-Headless Nick, the Fat Friar), there are ghosts who experience exclusion within their own kind as well as with the living. Obviously, there’s Peeves. As a poltergeist, he is received with little enthusiasm from most of the students and staff (Filch in particular). He’s even described at Nick’s Deathday Party as “the very reverse of pale and transparent. He was wearing a bright orange party hat, a revolving bow tie, and a broad grin on his wide, wicked face” (134). And then there’s Moaning Myrtle. She is even more of an ostracized member of the ghost community as she only haunts a girl’s toilet, a toilet incidentally that is continuously vacant because of her constant wailing. Nobody wants to deal with Myrtle, ghost or human.
Chamber often ends up at the bottom of reader’s list of their favorite Potter books. It’s unfortunate because it so perfectly captures the true genre of this series: mystery. Hopefully, with additional consideration of the degrees of exclusion experience, readers will begin to see the book in a new light.
***This post is part of my Perusing Potter – a series of exploring the known and not-so-known aspects of the Harry Potter Series***