Friday, February 20, 2015
In Defense of Mr Dursley
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense.
--the introductory paragraph in J. K. Rowling's novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
I don't know what delights you might discover when reading a book by Gilderoy Lockhart, but delving into J. K. Rowling's first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, offers delights for anyone who has only seen the movie adaptation. One of those is an enhanced understanding of Harry's uncle, Mr. Dursley.
The Dursleys have everything in life they want, and this is largely because of Mr. Dursley's hard work. He not only works for a company that makes drills, but has made his way to the top office as the company director. He's made his reputation, and doesn't want anything to damage how others perceive him. The one thing that could do that is if his coworkers and neighbors learned that his wife's sister is a witch. And that's just what he and his wife come to fear, when a baby is left on their doorstep.
The baby's name? That of their infant nephew, Harry Potter.
Now we tend to think of witches as being fun and cool in Harry Potter's world, but society has a long history of demonizing things it doesn't understand. The history of witch trials and witch-burnings is hardly a tribute to ordinary people's ability to accept others who live a life different from theirs. Mr. Dursley and his wife thus shine a light on our own limitations to accept change. Whether you label yourself a conservative, a moderate, or a liberal, in any aspect of your life (your political outlook, your religious beliefs, your views on society at large), there are areas in which you are liable to be adaptable, and places where you simply cannot bend.
Mr. Dursley is one of us. He's just like us. The problem is that he's too much like us. So he comes off as one dimensional. We laugh at him, we make fun of him, we deride him. The problem is that we are the hypocrites, not Mr. Dursley. We want to believe that we're better than him. And maybe we are in some ways. But when the owls start to appear, delivering invitations for Harry to join Hogwarts, he can no longer hide from the truth: Harry is destined to become a wizard.
And everyone in the world will know that he raised the boy!
In time, this fear will give way to cruelty, and it's true: there's simply no excuse for the way Mr. Dursley treats Harry. He houses the growing boy in a cupboard under the stairs, he makes Harry into the family servant, he never celebrates Harry's birthday but lavishes untold gifts upon his biological son. But inside Mr. Dursley, there's a good person yearning to get out. He wants to treat Harry well. I believe he wants to lavish gifts upon Harry, and proudly show him off to everyone as his own son. The problem is that Harry keeps on exhibiting signs of a magical nature. I think Mr. Dursley honestly believes that if he keeps on repressing the boy's magical instincts, and plowing on with his own version of Tough Love, that Harry will choose to become a good, stable, conventional member of society. Just like he hopes his biological son Dudley will become.
But then the owls start appearing, delivering invitations for Harry to join Hogwarts, and Mr. Dursley goes frantic. If only he could protect his nephew from the evil, insidious attraction of magic! Why can't the boy choose to be like everyone else? Why can't Harry embrace his ideals, and be the boy Mr. Dursley wants to love and admire?
Ultimately, Mr. Dursley reminds us of our own brittleness, of our inability to accept diversity. He reminds us how we fight against religious, political, societal, and familial change, even though we know it's inevitable. He reminds us why we argue vociferously and tirelessly how others ought to stop being different, and be more like us, the way we want them to be. And finally, he shows us how one-dimensional we appear when we refuse to accept that others are different from us, and refuse to accept their choices as just as rational (and righteous) as our own.
But that's just me, one thing I got out of reading J. K. Rowling's novel. How do you see Mr. Dursley? Am I onto something, something real and true? Or am I merely a muddled muggle?