Some notes on character
How helplessness causes the plot
Sophie’s absent mother thinks beauty is something you use to get good things from other people. She’s husband-hunting. This beauty turns out to hide callousness & more than a little evil. This comes from a sense of entitlement: If you’re beautiful, people treat you as though you were special. You’re therefore owed happiness by way of devotion.
Sophie’s sister, herself a beauty, is not looking to get money out of it, like their mother, but to give people pleasure–she sells cookies & seems to be much in demand. This also is about getting good things, but it’s not exploitative. She tells Sophie to beware wizards, because they’re heartbreakers. Her mother is reckless–she is cautious. All she can tell Sophie is to abandon her father’s shop–there’s nothing there for her.
I will offer you a suggestion: Sophie, who is no beauty, makes beautiful hats. But even plain or ugly hats are good for you, whether in sun or rain. Of course, it is not merely beautifying the good: hats for Sophie are tied up with shame, too, with concealing herself. She thinks she’s unlovable. Her characteristic observation is that her clothes finally suit her, once she is cursed. Her characteristic reaction to disorder is to clean up the place. Sophie’s lesson, if you’re looking to be taught something: Goodness is tied up with making use of the discarded. Sophie restores the worth of artifacts.
Now, the word around town is, Howl’s a heartbreaker. There seems to be some truth to this–he is at any rate shockingly vain about his own beauty, although there seems to be no connection between it & his magical powers. He seems to have been attracted to beautiful women immoderately, until he learned that beauty can conceal evil. While it is true that he is dismissive & inconsiderate of Sophie, it is also true that he is protective & in certain ways accommodating.
What’s at stake in all these cases is our perennial moral-metaphysical problem: That at which we are good is seldom all that good for us. Our being & our powers are in shocking ways divorced, or at least pulling in different directions. We think that being good at something is being good, but that really tends toward the acquisition of powers at prices we are bound to misunderstand. Whereas beauty does point the way to being, including our being, but our orientation by making use of things deludes about what possession really means.
Thus, with Howl it’s hard to say why he’s got all the stuff he’s got, because it seems like he’s imitating a world where he doesn’t really fit. But Sophie doesn’t understand why beings follow after her because they need her help & love.