Dobby was a beloved character in the Harry Potter series who had developed quite the cult following, both in and outside of the books.
The quote, “Master has given Dobby a Sock” has deep connotations and is a turning point in not only the relationship between Harry and Dobby but the treatment of house-elves by their ‘owners’ throughout the rest of the series.
The “Master Has Given Dobby a Sock” Quote
The scene in which Dobby receives his sock is featured in both the book and the movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And, although the quotes differ slightly between film and book, they ultimately have the same meaning and significance.
Let’s take a look at both quotes side-by-side:
“Master has given Dobby a sock. Master has presented Dobby with clothes. Dobby is free.”
Dobby in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Film)
‘Dobby has got a sock,’ said Dobby in disbelief. ‘Master threw it, and Dobby caught it, and Dobby – Dobby is free.’
Dobby in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book)
In order to understand the significance, and to really grasp just how powerful this scene is, it is important to understand Harry & Dobby’s relationship in the context of the overarching relationship of house-elves and their masters.
What are House-Elves?
A house-elf is a powerful magical being, that is resigned to a life of complete servitude to its respective master(s) until it is released.
House-elves display an impressive level of magical prowess, and it is even observed by Harry that they are more capable of advanced magic than even most wizards or witches.
House-elves are normally kept within families and passed on through heirs or next-of-kin. They are treated very much like objects and are taught to value their unwavering obedience to their master above all else.
The idea of disobedience is abhorrent to the house-elf, and, although they might not agree or want to obey a command, they are bound by house-elf law to carry out their order.
The consequence for not carrying out an order is punishment — either at the hand of the house-elf’s owner or through self-harm by the house-elf themself.
Were House-Elves Mistreated?
Although the Ministry of Magic had clear and set guidelines for the proper treatment of house-elves, they were very rarely followed nor enforced. In fact, house-elves were taken advantage of, and, more often than not, blatantly abused.
A strong example of this was the relationship between Sirius Black and Kreacher. Kreacher, a once proud and stalwart servant to the House Black, had been reduced to a miserable and tragic figure through years of abuse and neglect.
Sirius Black despised Kreacher and treated him with utter contempt. Kreacher lived and spent most of his time in his ‘den’- a cupboard underneath the sink. In response, Kreacher had left the house to fall into complete disarray and neglect.
Kreacher was also sure to make his misery known as well, finding creative ways to disobey direct orders from his master at any opportunity.
This horrible mistreatment only ended after Sirius transferred ownership of Kreacher to Harry upon his death.
Can a House-Elf Be Freed?
It is revealed in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a house-elf can only be freed if it is given clothing by its master. Unless freed by their master, a house-elf is dressed in nothing more than rags.
However, house-elves do not necessarily prefer nor welcome their freedom. The servant-master relationship is taught to house-elves from birth, and to not have a master is very much to not have a purpose. This is especially true for the house-elf Winky, who is granted freedom (rather, fired) by Barty Crouch.
Winky becomes deeply depressed after her release and spends much of her ‘freedom’ drinking and indulging in self-harm and neglect. For Winky, she had failed her master and was a disgrace to not only her family but house-elf kind in general.
Winky’s case further complicates the complex relationship between house-elves and their masters.
Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W)
This long tradition of mistreating and abusing house-elves was not tolerated by everyone, however. Hermoine Granger became a strong proponent for empowering and liberating house-elves.
Hermoine was (rightly) of the belief that house-elves would be a lot kinder and happier if they were simply treated better. As such, Hermoine founded and fronted the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.
Hermoine lobbied for house-elves to be treated as equals, and not as servants. She pushed and fought for house-elves to be granted basic rights and freedoms, and to be paid fairly for their work.
While initially slow-going, Hermoine’s efforts would eventually bring positive change for the treatment of house-elves.
Harry was one of the first members of Hermoine’s Promotion of Elfish Welfare, and used the knowledge of giving clothes to a house-elf will free it to trick Lucius Malfoy into freeing their house-elf, Dobby.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry hands Lucius Tom Riddle’s diary encased in one of Harry’s own old socks. Lucius disgustedly removes the sock and casts it aside, tossing it in Dobby’s direction.
Dobby catches the sock, and, in doing so, is instantly freed from the Malfoy family. Lucius, of course, becomes furious with Harry.
The Significance House-Elves in Harry Potter
The liberation of house-elves was a crucial part of the Harry Potter series. Kreacher, Dobby and Winky, as well as all of the other house-elves of Hogwarts, joined in the battle and played a key role in the battle against the Deatheaters. Harry actually owes his life to Dobby, who sacrificed his own life to protect Harry.
It’s safe to say that Lord Voldemort and the Deatheaters would have been victorious if it wasn’t for the heroic actions and alliance of the house-elves.