Harry Potter and the Metaphor of the Socks
Harry Potter is a treasure trove of metaphors and my favorite one is the one centered on socks. Socks are a pretty everyday item, so it’s no surprise that in four thousand-plus pages of text, they’re mentioned … a lot. They’re mentioned almost eight times as often as pants are, in fact.
All those mentions actually build up a pretty powerful metaphor.
The two most prominent mentions of socks happen in the first two books: Dumbledore and Dobby. Dumbledore tells Harry that when he looks into the Mirror of Erised, he sees himself holding a pair of warm socks. The Mirror shows you what you most desire, and Harry realizes too late that Dumbledore was likely lying to him during this conversation. By the end of book seven, we learn that Dumbledore had a fractured family and that he feels responsible for crushing the last bits of that family. When he is tortured by Voldemort’s potion in the underground lake in book six, we learn that Dumbledore is carrying around an immense amount of guilt about his family.
The most likely conclusion is that Dumbledore sees his family, whole and healthy, when he looks into the Mirror. He sees himself holding onto his younger sister, protecting her, at the very least.
Yet he tells Harry that he sees himself holding a pair of socks. One can never have too many socks, he says.
Harry sets Dobby free by tricking Lucias Malfoy into giving Dobby a sock. It’s bloody, it’s dirty, and it’s hidden in an unexpected place, but it’s a sock. And it works. It sets Dobby free, despite its mangled state and the surprising way it came to him.
From that day forward, Dobby loves socks more than anything other kind of clothing. He collects them, he treasures them, especially if they come from Harry. His often wears them in unmatched pairs and in the wrong sizes, but he loves socks more than anything.
Socks, in the world of Harry Potter, mean something more than just socks.
On Harry’s tenth birthday, the last birthday the Durselys celebrated, they gave him a pair of Uncle Vernon’s old socks. They also gave him a coat hanger, but that’s just a coat hanger. Let’s look at the socks. Those socks come back around a few times, Harry eventually wraps his “broken” sneakoscope in them. Despite being old and ill-fitting, Harry hangs onto them for several years. Despite having a mountain of gold, Harry keeps these socks. Socks that had been gifted to him by his only living blood relatives.
Socks represent family in the Harry Potter series.
Dumbledore wishes he had his family back. Dobby wants more than anything to be part of a family, and in some ways, he becomes part of the Hogwarts family, even if it’s not a perfect fit, and the whole situation is a lot more messy and violent than Dobby ever expected. Harry knows the Durselys are his family, and he can’t seem to let go of them entirely, even though he knows his future doesn’t really lie with them.
In book seven, as the Weasleys are preparing for a wedding and Harry is preparing to go hunting for horcruxes, Mrs. Weasley drags Harry into the laundry room, trying to pry his plans out of him. Her pretense for this conversation is that she found a pair of socks that might be Harry’s. She keeps trying to give him the socks while simultaneously trying to convince him to stay, to let her keep him safe. He finally walks away from the conversation by insisting the socks cannot be his, they advertise a team he doesn’t support. Mrs. Weasley laughs it off; she knows this isn’t his team. She knows she isn’t really his mother, more like.
Going back to Dobby. Dobby gave Ron and Harry handmade socks for Christmas, and then Harry and Ron gave Dobby socks in return (in fact, Harry gives Dobby the ones he originally received from Uncle Vernon). After Dobby saves Harry’s life in the Triwizard Tournament, Harry promises to buy Dobby hundreds of pairs of socks, and we watch Ron and Harry pick out lots of pairs of socks. Dobby is saying to Harry and Ron, “You’re my family. I’m choosing you.” Ron and Harry belatedly respond in kind. Harry is fairly self-absorbed (he’s fourteen, give him a break), but when he does remember Dobby, he’s fiercely protective of the elf. Almost like a brother.
In the second chapter of the first book, the first time we see Harry awake and aware, he is in his cupboard, looking for socks. He’s looking for the familial love and support that he’s missing.
Over the course of the books, Mrs. Weasley washes Harry’s socks. She “fusses” over his socks. In the chaos of the Burrow, everyone getting ready to leave to catch the Hogwarts express, socks are specifically mentioned. Kids are running up and down the stairs, eating bits of breakfast, Mrs. Weasley is in the mix, carrying socks. Mrs. Weasley sends Ron a sweater and a pair of socks at Christmas. The Weasley kids have no shortage of socks. No shortage of family.
It’s interesting to note that when Hermione takes up knitting clothes to try to free the Hogwarts house elves, she mostly knits hats and scarves. There are a few pairs of socks in the mix, yes, but mostly knobbly hats and scarves. Dobby has already knitted socks for Harry and Ron, so magically knitting socks can’t be too terribly difficult, but she chooses hats and scarves instead. She’s giving them clothes, she’s setting them free, but there’s no promise of anything to come after that freedom.
Hagrid darns his own socks by hand. He’s on his own, taking care of himself.
When Tonks brags about her mother’s cleaning skills, the only trick she mentions specifically is that the socks match up perfectly. An experienced mother takes care of socks better than a young woman who is just starting out on her own. (Harry’s own socks wiggle feebly when Tonks tries the same trick, for what it’s worth.)
When Fred and George talk about being adults on their own, the only chore they speak of is washing socks. They’re financially stable, but they’re away from home, away from their family.
When burying Dobby, Ron gives him his socks. It’s all Ron has to offer him, and it’s all Dobby ever wanted anyway.
When trying to impress the Delacours, Mrs. Weasley made Ron put on matching socks. Their family is close and happy, but don’t make an impressive first impression, and Mrs. Weasley wants her family to present themselves at their best.
Hermione packed maroon socks for Ron in her beaded bag. When she’s trying to take care of him, one of the few things specifically mentioned is his socks.
In the very beginning of the last book, Harry cleans out his trunk. Specifically, he mentions “single socks that no longer fitted.” During his last days at the Dursleys, he finally gets rid of all the lonely, mismatched socks that don’t fit him anymore.
Socks represent family in the wizarding world of Harry Potter.