Hermione is a very personal character for me. I was a slightly toned down version of her when I was younger (okay, much less annoying than her, but still..) In a way, I could relate to her, and I knew where she was coming from. It's not a question of being 'likable' or 'unlikable'. It was just that, she (being a muggleborn), was simply trying "too hard" to fit in a world that would be (otherwise) completely alien to her. She did not want to be rejected because of her background. So while, she might not have been completely aware of how she came across and was being perceived by others (because she desperately 'wanted' to be accepted by others), but at the same time, she was also misunderstood to a great extent. Granted, she went about "fitting in" the wrong way, but eventually, she became friends with Harry & Ron.
I absolutely love this outlook on Hermione and the way she behaved.
Do you think that in this first book, the characters personalities are exaggerated to make them more understandable to a younger audience, or perhaps because Jo was just getting started? Many of the characters introduced in the first book are very narrowly defined, such that nothing outside of those characteristics is apparent...
Yeah I definitely think so. I just read over the first passage with Draco Malfoy at Madam Malkin's and I was surprised at how much Jo exaggerated his traits. In this case, I think it was so the younger audience would classify him in the same category as Dudley (selfish and rude), and as a possible antagonist to Harry. Whilst I think there is that element of Jo only just starting off and getting to know her characters so she can mould them and layer them more later on, I think that their apparent simplicity does make them easier to understand for children.
Not only that, but we see them as they were seen by Harry... a naive, socially inept 11-year-old boy who was being constantly bombarded with things that made him expand his mind, since they came from a world he didn't even know existed until July 31 of that year. It seems only natural that these impressions would be simplistic and exaggerated.*
Using the timeline from the HP Lexicon
, since it's been approved by Jo, would make that year be 1991.
You bring up a very good point about just how naive, and socially inept Harry would be at this point in his life. He mentioned earlier how he did not have very many or any friends, when the letters were coming in. His only real social interaction is hiding from Dudley and his gang, and being yelled at by his guardians.
Plus, regardless of age, I think we have a tendency to exaggerate and use simplistic ways to describe people we do not really know. Think of the times you have gone out, and met someone new. Maybe just bumped into a person in passing. When retelling the story to friends or family, you will likely be more prone to exaggerate your description of the person, focusing only on what little bit you saw and therefore "know" about said person.
And then we do have to remember that Harry is only eleven at this time and that does color how the world is perceived to us readers.
Derr... I feel like I went all over in this response. I blame being hungry,and always a bit socially awkward when posting the first time in a discussion.