Ten years after the previous chapter, Harry is living a miserable life in a cupboard under the stairs at Number Four Privet Drive, the Dursleys' home. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia spoil their overweight and obnoxious son Dudley, while virtually neglecting Harry entirely. They only pay attention to him to force him to do chores. When he asks questions about his parents, his aunt and uncle tell him that his parents died in a car crash-the same crash in which he got the scar on his forehead.
One morning, Aunt Petunia awakens him while he is having a good dream about a flying motorcycle in order to make him cook bacon for Dudley's birthday breakfast. The Dursleys, of course, never celebrate Harry's birthday. They are, however, reluctantly taking him along on Dudley's birthday outing to the zoo-they don't trust Harry enough to leave him home alone. "The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no good telling the Dursleys he didn't make them happen." Another of those strange occurrences happens when the family reaches the zoo. While they are looking at a boa constrictor that is behind a pane of glass, Harry finds himself actually talking with the snake (when his family is not looking, of course). Harry notes the snake is from Brazil; he asks the snake if Brazil is nice, but the snake has been bred in captivity and has never been. Suddenly, the pane of glass separating the snake from zoo visitors simply vanishes, and, as the snake slithers away amid the panicking patrons, it hisses at Harry, "Brazil, here I come . . . Thanksss, amigo." A furious Uncle Vernon takes the family back home and locks Harry back in his cupboard under the stairs.
Chapter 2 establishes that the Dursley family is not only mundane but also mean. Their treatment of Harry borders on, if it is not in fact, criminal abuse. The light manner in which Rowling depicts life at Privet Drive, however, is not a casual dismissal of child neglect but is a further juxtaposition of the two worlds which Harry will occupy throughout the series. Furthermore, Harry's persistent hope that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he is not alone in the world creates a favorable impression of him in readers' minds. Harry stands in a long literary tradition of sympathetic orphans, among such classic characters as Oliver Twist and Little Orphan Annie. Readers can identify with him even if they are not literal orphans themselves, because we have all felt as isolated as Harry feels in this chapter. We all possess a yearning for a better life. Rowling's narrative evokes sympathy for and identification with Harry in a deft and economic way.
Fans of the complete series will note that this chapter establishes Harry's ability to communicate with snakes (which features prominently in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), as well as the fact that he cannot always control his magic (as we will see again, for instance, at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).