Literature Study GuidesHarry Potter SeriesHarry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets Summary

Harry Potter (Series) | Study Guide

J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter (Series) | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Summary

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About the Title

In this book, a monster that has been confined to the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts begins attacking students. Harry Potter must enter the Chamber of Secrets and face the monster and its master at the climax of the novel.

Summary

Escape from 4 Privet Drive

Harry spends a miserable summer with the Dursleys. As the time for returning to Hogwarts draws closer, a house-elf named Dobby visits him. Dobby warns Harry not to go back to Hogwarts as he is in great danger. When Harry remains unconvinced, Dobby uses magic, which Hogwarts students are forbidden from doing outside of Hogwarts. Immediately, the Improper Use of Magic Office of the Ministry of Magic issues a warning to Harry, thinking he is the one who has done the magic, and the Dursleys lock him in his room, vowing he won't be allowed to go back to school.

Fortunately, Ron Weasley and two of his brothers, twins Fred and George, arrive at Harry's window one night in a flying car. They break Harry out and take him to their home—the Burrow—where he is warmly welcomed by the Weasley family. Harry spends the remaining weeks of summer vacation there. When the time comes to catch the Hogwarts Express, however, Ron and Harry find the magical pathway through the wall of King's Cross Station inexplicably blocked. They decide to take the flying car, but when they arrive at Hogwarts, they fly straight into the Whomping Willow, a wildly flailing tree. It is a rocky start to their second year at Hogwarts.

Trouble at Hogwarts

Since Professor Quirrell had been their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and he is no longer teaching, the Hogwarts students find the class being taught by obnoxiously self-important Gilderoy Lockhart. Beyond this change, the school year begins as usual with the usual problems.

There are some other troubles in store for Harry. As he is serving detention one evening, he hears a voice saying "Come ... come to me ... let me rip you ... let me tear you ... let me kill you." No one else seems to hear the voice. On Halloween Harry, Hermione, and Ron attend a Deathday Party for the Gryffindor ghost, Nearly Headless Nick. On their way back to the Great Hall they find a frightening message painted on the wall: "THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE." Nearby, Mrs. Norris, caretaker Argus Filch's cat, is found petrified.

Speculation begins at once. What is the Chamber of Secrets, and who is "the heir"? Eventually, Professor Binns reluctantly shares that, when the school was founded by Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin, Slytherin believed only students from all-magic families should be admitted. An argument ensued, and Slytherin eventually left the school. Before leaving, he built a Chamber of Secrets somewhere in the castle, placed a monster inside, and sealed it up. Only his own heir could open it and "use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic"—that is, anyone with a Muggle parent.

Hermione, Ron, and Harry make a plan to find out if Draco is the heir of Slytherin—after all, he is in the Slytherin house and a known hater of Muggle-borns—or if Draco knows who the heir is. Hermione begins brewing Polyjuice Potion in the girls' bathroom, which is haunted by a ghost named Moaning Myrtle. The potion takes several weeks to brew. Meanwhile, Harry is almost killed by a bewitched Bludger in a Quidditch game, and Colin Creevey is petrified by whatever came out of the Chamber of Secrets.

In addition, Harry discovers he can speak the snake language—Parseltongue—during an ill-conceived Dueling Club spearheaded by the incompetent Gilderoy Lockhart. This ability causes many students to suspect Harry is the heir of Slytherin, who was known to be a "Parselmouth."

Christmas evening, Hermione, Ron, and Harry take the Polyjuice Potion. While Ron and Harry turn into Crabbe and Goyle, Hermione's potion goes wrong, and she ends up with cat features. Unfortunately, all Ron and Harry find out is Draco isn't the heir of Slytherin and doesn't know who is. Hermione spends weeks in the hospital wing getting rid of her tail, whiskers, and fur.

The Diary of Tom Riddle

Harry finds a blank diary that says it belongs to T. M. Riddle. Later that night, Harry writes in the diary: "My name is Harry Potter." The diary writes back: "My name is Tom Riddle." The Tom Riddle of the diary shows a memory indicating Hagrid opened the Chamber 50 years ago and allowed a huge spider to kill a student.

When Hermione is petrified, the situation becomes dire. Harry and Ron go into the Forbidden Forest and talk to Aragog, the spider creature Hagrid raised. Aragog assures them the monster in the Chamber of Secrets is not a spider. Aragog also tells them the victim of the earlier attack was killed in a bathroom. Harry realizes this victim must be Moaning Myrtle.

Harry and Ron visit Hermione, who is still petrified, in the hospital wing. They find she has a page of a book clutched in her hand. The page describes the "Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents ... the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death." Harry realizes he has been hearing its murderous voice because he speaks Parseltongue.

When Ron's younger sister Ginny is captured and taken to the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and Ron—along with a reluctant Lockhart—go after her. They find a pipe leading from Moaning Myrtle's bathroom down into a large secret chamber. Ron and Lockhart become trapped behind a wall of fallen rubble, and Harry must go on alone. As he goes deeper into the Chamber, he finds Ginny's unconscious body lying near a young dark-haired man. The young man introduces himself as the memory of Tom Riddle, preserved in the diary for the past 50 years. Then he reveals Ginny Weasley wrote in the diary, became possessed by his memory, and opened the Chamber of Secrets under his influence; she painted the writing on the wall. Finally, he shows Harry rearranging the letters of "Tom Marvolo Riddle" yields the sentence "I am Lord Voldemort."

As Tom Riddle prepares to kill both Ginny and Harry, Fawkes suddenly arrives with Godric Gryffindor's sword. Fawkes pecks out the eyes of the basilisk, and Harry kills the serpent with the sword. He uses one of the basilisk's fangs to stab through the diary. Tom Riddle disappears, and Ginny revives. Fawkes carries Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Lockhart all out of the Chamber.

Dobby Freed

All the petrified students are revived, and Hermione reunites with her friends. Harry tricks Lucius Malfoy, who is accompanied by his house-elf Dobby, into breaking the enchantment that keeps Dobby enslaved to the Malfoy family.

The school year is over. Harry and his friends take the train home once again.

Analysis

Developing Themes

The themes of power, of self-sacrifice versus self-preservation, and of death, resurrection, and immortality take a backseat in this novel, but they do appear, developed mainly by the introduction of Tom Riddle's diary. Through the diary, the seemingly sentient memory of Riddle is able to possess Ginny Weasley. As before, the power he displays is exploitative. Riddle uses Ginny and then intends to steal her life to feed his own. When Riddle reveals he is the young version of Voldemort, it becomes clear Voldemort will use any means to preserve his own life and gain back the power he once held. In the previous book Voldemort takes over Professor Quirrell's body and kills a unicorn, sacrificing its life to preserve his own. In this installment he operates in a similar manner—he intends to take over Ginny's body and use her life to fuel his own. Voldemort manages to achieve a kind of immortality by recording his memories in the magical diary, and he is nearly able to return. Later in the series, this diary will be tied even more tightly to this theme.

New Themes Emerge

New themes—discrimination and oppression, and fate and free will—emerge in this book and dominate its message. The theme of discrimination and oppression is developed along two main threads. The first of these is the controversy at the founding of Hogwarts and the purpose of the Chamber of Secrets. At the founding of Hogwarts, there were opposing beliefs about whether one's ancestry factored into one's value. Founder Salazar Slytherin believed "pure-blood" wizards and witches were inherently better or more worthy of admittance to the school. The other founders believed a student's qualities and abilities would merit admittance. As in the real world, these issues did not just go away when Salazar Slytherin left the school. They persisted, as racism has persisted in countries that once relied on slavery. As Ron explains to Harry, "There are some wizards—like Malfoy's family—who think they're better than everyone else because they're what people call pure-blood."

The book explores the ideas that fuel the racial discrimination against Muggle-born and half-blood students and the many ways these racist attitudes do not hold up logically. Ron notes Neville Longbottom is a pure-blood student who is not very good at magic. Hagrid adds Hermione Granger, a Muggle-born witch, is a fantastic student who excels at all her magical subjects. Ron adds, "Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn't married Muggles we'd've died out." This idea suggests the rules about who is considered pure-blood and who is not are largely subjective; they are used to shore up the privilege of those already in power, allowing them to influence the way these rules are applied. Voldemort himself is revealed to be the son of a Muggle, yet he becomes the champion of those who crusade for pure-blood dominance. Filch is revealed to be a "Squib"—a person from a magical family who has no magical ability. So even within pure-blood families, there are levels of "worth," and those who are deemed less worthy are discriminated against.

The second thread that develops this theme is Dobby's role. Dobby's attempts to protect Harry reveal he has some kind of foreknowledge of what might happen. In the course of Dobby's interactions with Harry, Harry learns Dobby is enslaved by a magical family and can be set free only if he is given clothing. This rule is true of all house-elves. Dobby tells him, "The family is careful not to pass Dobby even a sock, sir, for then he would be free to leave their house forever." This sock-giving, however, is exactly what happens at the end of the book when Harry tricks Lucius Malfoy. The oppression of house-elves will continue to develop this theme over the series.

The theme of fate and free will is introduced through Harry's conversation with the Sorting Hat in Dumbledore's office, Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue, and later conversations with Tom Riddle and Dumbledore. The Sorting Hat tells Harry (again) he would have done well in Slytherin. Then Harry learns he shares his ability to speak to snakes with Salazar Slytherin. Later, Tom Riddle notes Harry is not so unlike him. These incidents cause Harry to feel as though he might be destined to be a bad wizard, like Voldemort or Slytherin. Dumbledore points out the Sorting Hat only said Harry would have done well in Slytherin, but it actually placed Harry in Gryffindor. It was Harry's own desire to avoid Slytherin that determined the outcome. In other words it was Harry's free will that changed the outcome of the Sorting Ceremony.

Repeated Structures

Like the first book, the second installment of the Harry Potter series has its own plot arc but still has many repeated structural elements. The magical object introduced toward the beginning and crucial to the book's climax is the diary. Although unknown to readers at the time, the diary enters the story when the Weasleys are shopping in Diagon Alley and Lucius Malfoy secretly slips it into Ginny's pile of books. At the end of the book, Dumbledore mentions the loyalty Harry must have to Dumbledore, and Dumbledore reassures him he truly belongs in Gryffindor. As before, Harry is helped by many others but ultimately must face the final crisis alone. In the chamber Ron is prevented from going with Harry just as Hermione and Ron were prevented from going with him past the final challenge in the previous book.

As before, details are also introduced in early books that become important later: the Hand of Glory that Draco asks his father to buy in Borgin and Burkes and the cursed necklace, also on display there, which play roles in the sixth book. The Whomping Willow, an important part of the third book, is introduced in passing when Harry and Ron crash into it. The use of Polyjuice Potion is introduced in the second book and is a key plot device in the fourth book.

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