16

The Dursleys considered themselves as a respectful family, but did anyone else see them as such?

Neighborhood children all around were terrified of him [Dudley] - even more terrified than they were of "that Potter boy", who, they had been warned, was a hardened hooligan who attended St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys.

We don't see the Dursleys communicating much with their neighbors, apparently they were not a pleasant people after all. But as we see the story from Harry's perspective, it gives the impression the whole neighborhood was just as snobbish and "respectful" as the Dursleys themselves, since no one had ever been nice to Harry, helpful or empathetic to him seeing the treatment he gets from the Dursleys.

I always wondered, were their neighbors really afraid of him believing he was a criminal as they were told, afraid of the Dursleys as a foul family in general, or just indifferent to the whole situation?

16

The neighbors opinions’ of the Dursleys isn’t said, but they spied.

It’s never said what exactly the neighbors thought of the Dursleys, and there aren’t that much details mentioned about what the Dursleys’ neighbors were like. They were described as being boring and law-abiding, and their houses and lawns were kept neatly like the Dursleys’ were.

“She was the nosiest woman in the world and spent most of her life spying on her boring, law-abiding neighbours.”
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 2 (Aunt Marge’s Big Mistake)

It’s also implied the neighbors were nosy. Just as Petunia spied on the neighbors, the neighbors spied on the Dursleys, peeping through their windows at them when they heard a sudden noise.

“Lovely evening!’ shouted Uncle Vernon, waving at Mrs Number Seven opposite, who was glaring from behind her net curtains. ‘Did you hear that car backfire just now? Gave Petunia and me quite a turn!’

He continued to grin in a horrible, manic way until all the curious neighbours had disappeared from their various windows, then the grin became a grimace of rage as he beckoned Harry back towards him.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Dudley Demented)

However, whether the Dursleys’ neighbors actually liked or approved of the Dursleys isn’t clear. There’s nothing indicating that the neighbors thought the Dursleys were an upstanding family. They do, though, have similar standards for cleanliness of their neighborhood as the Dursleys do, and the whole neighborhood, including the Dursleys’ house, looks all very much the same. This is likely meant to imply that the neighbors are similarly small-minded as the Dursleys, as they’re all described as having immaculately well-kept houses, and there don’t seem to be any notable differences between them. The neighborhood they live in gives a distinct impression of ‘sameness’ and dislike of anything that stands out - everyone has the same sort of house, lawn and car, and everything is very clean. It gives the impression that the neighbors are all very much alike.

“Magnolia Road, like Privet Drive, was full of large, square houses with perfectly manicured lawns, all owned by large, square owners who drove very clean cars similar to Uncle Vernon’s.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Dudley Demented)

The neighbors are all described as very similar, implying a neighborhood where the people living there are all similarly small-minded. As everything is so very eerily consistent within the Dursleys’ neighborhood, it implies a certain distaste for anything different - people in one neighborhood don’t often naturally all like the same type of house, car, or lawn as the neighbors do. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the neighbors were quite as cruel as the Dursleys, though. It’s possible they are, but their nosiness and desire for cleanliness isn’t enough evidence for this.

The neighbors didn’t like Harry, because he looked unkempt.

It’s mentioned what the Dursleys’ neighbors had thought of Harry - they didn’t like him much since he looked scruffy and they considered this to be offensive, again implying small-mindedness.

“Harry Potter’s appearance did not endear him to the neighbours, who were the sort of people who thought scruffiness ought to be punishable by law, but as he had hidden himself behind a large hydrangea bush this evening he was quite invisible to passers-by.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Dudley Demented)

They disapprovingly muttered about the way he looked when he passed by their houses.

“Harry preferred Little Whinging by night, when the curtained windows made patches of jewel-bright colour in the darkness and he ran no danger of hearing disapproving mutters about his ‘delinquent’ appearance when he passed the householders.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Dudley Demented)

However, all the neighbors would know about Harry is how he looked and whatever the Dursleys told them - Harry was forbidden to speak to them, at least after he became a wizard.

“The most the Dursleys could do these days was to lock away Harry’s spellbooks, wand, cauldron and broomstick at the start of the summer holidays, and forbid him to talk to the neighbours.”
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 1 (Owl Post)

The neighbors didn’t really seem to know Harry, and their opinion seems solely based on how he looks. In addition, it’s likely they’ve been told a lot of lies about him by the Dursleys, which Harry couldn’t refuse because he wasn’t allowed to talk to the neighbors.

One neighbor, Mrs. Figg, did know what the Dursleys were like.

The only neighbor who for certain did know the Dursleys were abusive was Mrs. Figg, a Squib who was ordered by Dumbledore to keep an eye on Harry while he was at Privet Drive.

“Why didn’t you tell me you’re a Squib, Mrs Figg?’ asked Harry, panting with the effort to keep walking. ‘All those times I came round your house – why didn’t you say anything?’

‘Dumbledore’s orders. I was to keep an eye on you but not say anything, you were too young. I’m sorry I gave you such a miserable time, Harry, but the Dursleys would never have let you come if they’d thought you enjoyed it.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Dudley Demented)

She certainly knew they were awful, since she knew they wouldn’t let her babysit Harry if they thought he was enjoying himself when he was at her house.

  • 3
    A masterful answer. I didn't remember even half of this :-) – Valorum Sep 30 '18 at 22:07
  • 1
    @Valorum Aww thanks a ton! :) I’m glad you like it! :) – Bellatrix Sep 30 '18 at 22:08
  • 2
    I have no doubt that the neighbours were intended to be as nosy as Petunia, but I don’t think the scene you quote here does much to indicate that. There’d just been a long bang in the street right outside their houses; you don’t have to be nosy to look out the window to see what’s going on in such a situation. There’s nothing to suggest that they were spying on the Dursleys at that moment—they were just looking out into the street to see where the noise came from, and Uncle Vernon was the one to speak. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 30 '18 at 23:45

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