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The fact that Harry is going to Stonewall while Dudley is going to Smeltings is another contrast in the way they are treated by the Dursleys. Color is also important in that Dudley gets a colorful uniform while Harry is adorned in gray-dyed hand-me-downs.
The Smeltings knobbly stick is also an important symbol. Rowling’s cynical statement that the Smeltings students hitting each other with their knobbly sticks is supposed to be good training for later in life is a social commentary on the competitiveness and dog-eat-dog attitude of the world.
When Dudley shows off his uniform Harry and the Dursleys have opposite reactions: Harry’s holding back from laughing is juxtaposed with the Dursleys’ pride.
Rowling uses similes by comparing Harry’s dyed uniform as looking like bits of old elephant skin and by describing Harry’s heart as twanging like a giant elastic band when he sees his letter.
Rowling uses metaphoric language and color in this sentence: “His face went from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights... Within seconds it was the grayish white of old porridge.”
Rowling is gradually dropping clues, for those few readers who don’t know what the book is about, concerning Harry’s wizard background: “I’m not having one in the house, Petunia! Didn’t we swear when we took him in we’d stamp out that dangerous nonsense?” This quotation exemplifies the Dursleys’ undying commitment to normalcy at all costs and the nature vs. nurture theme (the Dursleys’ are trying to unteach Harry what’s in his blood, but find that they can’t).
Dudley’s love for toys, especially his television and computer, and dislike of books is a social commentary by Rowling. Rowling thinks too many kids are growing up glued to the television and blowing up aliens on computer games and too few are reading. She makes Harry out to be better off for not being corrupting with the “modern conveniences” of TV and computers. Rowling makes Harry out to be a noble savage of sorts, a nature boy uncorrupted by civilization much as Huck Finn was in Mark Twain’s works.
The Dursleys’ birthday and Christmas gifts for Harry are a running joke throughout the series.
Rowling writes of Uncle Vernon buying a long, thin package. In the next chapter it’s revealed that this package is a rifle. Rowling will increasingly give small clues and then reveal their significance as the book and the series continues. The fact that Rowling dislikes everything the Dursleys stand for combined with Uncle Vernon’s purchase of a rifle is a hint that Rowling dislikes guns. Also consider the fact that Dudley owned a toy rifle before he broke it. The guns are symbols for violence even though they are never used. Hagrid’s destroying the rifle rather than just taking it might also be symbolic.
Harry’s birthday “celebration,” or lack thereof, is contrasted with Dudley’s thirty-eight present bonanza the chapter before. Harry and Dudley’s treatment has also been juxtaposed with the number of pictures each has on the mantle, what each of them has to do for chores, their bedrooms, and their school uniforms.
Rowling uses the countdown of minutes very effectively, with clues of Hagrid’s presence growing as Harry’s birthday nears, with a climatic, booming knock coming at midnight.
According to Rowling, the Ministry of Magic doesn't find out which children are magic. In Hogwarts there's a magical quill that detects the birth of a magical child, and writes his or her name down in a large parchment book. Every year Professor McGonagall checks the book, and sends owls to the kids who are turning eleven.