Table of Contents
Rowling’s description of the Dursleys is a criticism of what society considers normal. What is normal? Why do the Dursleys consider themselves to be normal? The Dursleys, who proclaim themselves the epitome of normal, are intolerant. Mrs. Dursley gossips about what her neighbors do and Mr. Dursley can’t stand it when people dress funny or when strangers hug him. The Dursleys are close-minded, the opposite of the imaginative Harry who thinks about flying motorcycles and sympathizes with zoo animals.
The Dursleys represent the worst aspects of the Muggle world, the kind of intolerance that forces wizards to stay secret. They stand in direct contrast to the Potters and to the majority of the wizard community. As McGonagall tells Dumbledore, “You couldn’t find two people who are less like us.” Dudley himself serves as a foil for Harry. Dudley is ungrateful for being so spoiled and rarely thinks of others. Harry is mistreated yet considerate.
The first paragraph of the book tells a lot about Rowling’s stylistic devices and the point-of-view used:
“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 “were proud to say” statement tells the reader that the book was written in the past tense. The passage as a whole hints towards a third-person point of view and later statement such as, “As he [Mr. Dursley] drove toward town he thought of nothing except a large order of drills he was hoping to get that day” clinch that the book was written from a third-person omniscient perspective. The passage as a whole also has an informal and colloquial tone, which is continued throughout the book. Finally, the “they were the last people you’d expect...” statement foreshadows the magical events to affect the Dursleys that day and Harry’s entry into their family that night.
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are an odd couple: they think alike, but look very different. Mr. Dursley is stocky with no neck, whereas Mrs. Dursley is lanky with a long neck--almost birdlike in appearance. Odd couples abound in literature and film: Laurel and Hardy, Jay and Silent Bob, Jake and Elwood (the Blues Brothers). This kind of a comparison of opposites is called juxtaposition.
Mr. Dursley’s odd day escalates in weirdness as it goes on. The reader finds this amusing because of dramatic irony. We, the audience, know that magic is afoot. However, Mr. Dursley does not know what’s going on and refuses to believe in the supernatural. After an owl passes unnoticed past the kitchen window, Mr. Dursley notices a cat reading a map. Stuck in traffic, he notices an alarming number of people dressed in cloaks. At work, he misses the numerous owls swooping over the city because he sits with his back to the window. He overhears cloaked people saying his nephew’s (Harry’s) name. He is called a Muggle and hugged by the same stranger. He hears about owl sightings and shooting stars on the news. And to each of these occurrences he reacts with denial: he convinces himself that he was imagining the cat’s map, that cloaks are just another weird fashion, that his nephew’s name is Harvey. These denials just result in more humorous dramatic irony. For example, readers know for a fact that Mr. Dursley’s nephew’s name is Harry, not Harold. Another tactic he uses to distract himself from all the weirdness is yelling at co-workers, which greatly improves his mood. His inclination towards taking out his anger on others contrasts with Harry’s quiet and kind nature.
The fact that Mr. Dursley’s office chair faces away from the window symbolizes his refusal to come to terms with his world and how out of touch with reality he is.
When the newscaster mentions Bonfire Night, he is referring to the English holiday of November 5 th that celebrates Guy Fawkes getting caught in the act of trying to blow up the Parliament. In 1603, Fawkes, a Catholic terrorist attempted to blow up the English Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder. Although he did this in retaliation for the vicious anti-Catholic policies of James I, his name has lived in infamy ever since. Every year on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, children burn an effigy of him on a bonfire, chanting songs like, “Guy, Guy, Guy, Stick him in the eye, put him in a bonfire, there let him die,” and “Please to remember the 5th of November gunpowder treason and plot... I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” This includes the letting off fireworks and has become an event much like the 4th of July in the US. Fawkes, Dumbledore’s pet phoenix that is featured later in the series, is named after Guy. Fawkes is a phoenix and therefore rises from flame, hence his bonfire- associated namesake.