Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Basilisk (Symbol)

The basilisk represents fear and hatred. It was placed in the Chamber of Secrets by one of the founders of Hogwarts: Salazar Slytherin. His intention was for his heir to one day release the giant snake to terrorize and/or kill everyone at the school without pure wizard blood. For much of the book, the identity of the basilisk is unknown. It is referred to as "the monster." The idea of it was as terrifying as the reality. Because the students are ignorant of what is petrifying their classmates, they make up rumors that perpetuate fear and prejudice.

Broomstick (Motif)

Flying brooms have been a symbol of witchcraft since the 15th century. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets brooms symbolize status in the wizarding world. Harry's Nimbus 2000 broomstick is far superior to Ron's Shooting Star, which was "often outstripped by passing butterflies." Harry's wealth has given him greater power. But he shares it, as they take turns practicing on his broomstick at the Burrow. Later Harry is dejected when the Gryffindor House Quidditch team struggles to keep up with the speed of Slytherin House's Nimbus 2001 broomsticks. These have been gifted by Lucius Malfoy as a bribe to place his son Draco as a Seeker on the Slytherin team, and so represent the unearned advantage of legacy wealth.

Car (Symbol)

Mr. Weasely's car represents the independence of adulthood. It provides the means of escape from Harry's childhood bedroom at the Dursleys. When Ron and Harry are unable to go to school on the Hogwarts Express, they steal the car, which gives them great freedom and joy at first, until they find they don't have the same resources that they did on the train: they get hungry and thirsty. The car's faulty invisibility booster represents the tenuousness of their adolescent position.

For Mr. Weasley, his car is a quiet rebellion from his wife and from the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Magic. It also represents his adult hybrid sensibility. He appreciates the Muggle design ingenuity of the vehicle and also has the magical chops to enchant it to have a bigger trunk and backseat, to fly and become invisible.

Ron and Harry make Mr. Weasley's quiet rebellion public, which has serious consequences for the Weasley family. When the car is seen by Muggles, Lucius Malfoy claims that Arthur Weasley is unfit to draw up their laws, and wants to scrap the Muggle Protection Act. This consequence displays Ron and Harry's adolescent position, unaware of the political world they inhabit.

The car is personified, but not anthropomorphized. Because it was enchanted by Arthur Weasley, it likely behaves towards Ron and Harry as a parent would. It is peeved when they crash it into the Whomping Willow, but swoops in to rescue them from death by Aragog.

Cauldron (Motif)

J.K. Rowling wrote of cauldrons on the Pottermore website: "Cauldrons have had a magical association for centuries. They appear in hundreds of years' worth of pictures of witches, and are also supposed to be where leprechauns keep treasure. Many folk and fairy tales make mention of cauldrons with special powers, but in the Harry Potter books they are a fairly mundane tool. I did consider making Helga Hufflepuff's hallow a cauldron, but there was something slightly comical and incongruous about having such a large and heavy Horcrux; I wanted the objects Harry had to find to be smaller and more portable. However, a cauldron appears both in the four mythical jewels of Ireland (its magical power was that nobody ever went away from it unsatisfied) and in the legend of The Thirteen Treasures of Britain (the cauldron of Dyrnwch the giant would cook meat for brave men, but not for cowards)."

In Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, two cauldrons have a special significance in the plot: Ginny's cauldron is where Lucius Malfoy plants Riddle's diary, which is the inciting incident that catalyzes the plot. And Hermione's cauldron is where she concocts the Polyjuice potion over a fire in the girl's toilet. In this Hermione uses her skills in secret, against the rules of the institution, to create magic to empower herself and her friends, as witches have done before her.

Sock (Symbol)

Harry’s sock is a symbol of Dobby’s service to Harry. The humble object is slimy from Harry’s ordeal. It’s of little value to Harry and disgusting to Lucius Malfoy, but for Dobby the sock is priceless. It sets him free. The sock also represents Harry's goodness. Harry tricks Lucius Malfoy: he frees Dobby by forcing his sock into Malfoy's hand, who in turn throws it to Dobby, and since house-elves are freed if their owner gives them an item of clothing, Dobby is thus liberated. Harry has followed the letter of the rule while showing no respect for its spirit, because he judges it to be cruel. One of Harry’s gifts is to see justice apart from the rules of societal convention. He has no problem disregarding authority when authority is wrong. Harry frees Dobby even though the elf has been an inconvenience to him, because he empathizes with him.

Colors (Motif)

On her website Pottermore J.K. Rowling explained the meaning of colors in Harry Potter:

"Witches and wizards often reveal themselves to each other in public by wearing purple or green, often in combination. In Britain (and much of Europe) purple has an association with both royalty and religion. Purple dyes, being costly, were once worn only by those who could afford them; bishops’ rings are traditionally set with amethysts. Green has long had a supernatural connection in the UK. Superstition says that it ought to be worn with care; the fairies are supposedly possessive of it, as it is their proper colour. It ought never to be worn at weddings, due to a further association with misfortune and death. Green is the colour of much ‘Dark’ magic; of the ‘Dark Mark,’ of the luminescent potion in which Voldemort conceals one of his Horcruxes, of many ‘Dark’ spells and curses, and of Slytherin house. The combination of purple and green, therefore, is suggestive of both sides of magic: the noble and the ignoble, the helpful and the destructive. The four Hogwarts houses have a loose association with the four elements, and their colours were chosen accordingly. Gryffindor (red and gold) is connected to fire; Slytherin (green and silver) to water; Hufflepuff (yellow and black, representing wheat and soil) to earth; and Ravenclaw (blue and bronze; sky and eagle feathers) to air. Colours like peach and salmon pink are distinctly un-magical, and therefore much favoured by the likes of Aunt Petunia. On the other hand, shocking pink, as sported by the likes of Nymphadora Tonks, conveys a certain punky ‘yes, I’ve got a Muggle-born father and I’m not ashamed of it’ attitude. Colours also played their part in the naming of Hagrid and Dumbledore, whose first names are Rubeus (red) and Albus (white) respectively. The choice was a nod to alchemy, which is so important in the first Harry Potter book, where ‘the red’ and ‘the white’ are essential mystical components of the process. The symbolism of the colours in this context has mystic meaning, representing different stages of the alchemic process (which many people associate with a spiritual transformation). Where my two characters were concerned, I named them for the alchemical colours to convey their opposing but complementary natures: red meaning passion (or emotion); white for asceticism; Hagrid being the earthy, warm and physical man, lord of the forest; Dumbledore the spiritual theoretician, brilliant, idealised and somewhat detached. Each is a necessary counterpoint to the other as Harry seeks father figures in his new world."

Diary (Symbol)

The memory of Tom Riddle is preserved in his diary for fifty years. It is enchanted to be interactive, a site of exchange of soul. As Riddle explained: "Ginny poured out her soul to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted...I grew powerful...Powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of my secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her." Ginny is weakened by this exchange. When Harry corresponds with Riddle in the diary, he is fooled into believing Riddle's bogus accusation against Hagrid, and into sympathizing with Riddle, which causes Harry to isolate himself and be manipulated by Riddle. This represents a mediated relationship, and scholars have seen parallels with the dark side of social-media relationships.

Forbidden Forest (Allegory)

The Forbidden Forest represents all that is dark, hidden, and mysterious. Both Carl Jung and Bruno Bettelheim interpret the forest in fairy tales and mythology to represent the human unconscious. Joseph Campbell writes about entering the forest as an essential part of the hero's journey. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Ron encounters his worst fear in the Forbidden Forest: Enormous spiders who want to eat him.

Glasses (Symbol)

When asked on the BBC why Harry Potter wears glasses, J.K. Rowling replied that she wore glasses throughout her childhood and wanted to write a bespectacled hero. She also said that his glasses have "a symbolic function: Harry is the eyes on to the books in the sense that it is always Harry’s point of view." Harry's glasses are repeatedly broken, especially in the Muggle world at the Dursleys, and then repaired by magic.

Golden Snitch (Symbol)

The golden snitch is similar to the winged sun symbol in the Ancient Near East (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Persia). it represents divinity, royalty, and power. Gold is also a metal that is traditionally associated with the sun.

Hogwarts Express Platform (Symbol)

Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, where students board the train to Hogwarts, is a symbol of magic: irrational, invisible to Muggle eye, it requires faith the first time Harry encounters it.

Invisibility cloak (Symbol)

The invisibility cloak, gifted to Harry Potter by his father via Dumbledore, represents the necessity of breaking the rules in order to do what is right. Harry uses the cloak to move about unseen by authority figures, which turns out to be ultimately essential to the survival of the school.

Lightning bolt scar (Symbol)

Harry Potter's lightening-bolt scar is a symbol of his difference from other wizards. When he defeated Lord Voldemort as an infant he became both chosen and cursed. It also represents the connection between Harry and Voldemort.

Mandrakes (Allegory)

The Mandrakes are a symbol of maturation, which fits with the coming-of-age theme. When they are babies, they have mottled skin and bawl at the top of their lungs, squirming, kicking, flailing their sharp little fists, and gnashing their teeth. When they are young children, Professor Sprout fits them with socks and scarves against the cold, as a mother would bundle up her child. As adolescents, they grow moody and secretive and have acne. Then as young adults, they throw loud and raucous parties and move into each other's pots. The growth of the Mandrakes also acts as a timeline in the book. The Hogwarts community, somewhat gruesomely, waits for them to mature enough to use them as a restorative. Their maturity coincides with the end of the term, and with the resolution of the mystery.

Number four, Privet drive (Allegory)

The home of the Dursleys represents the mundane or “Muggle” world. Number 4, Privet Drive is situated in a suburb reflecting middle-class values: determined to be conformist, and therefore hostile to magic. In this world, Harry is neglected, unloved, isolated, and powerless.

Owls (Motif)

In the Harry Potter books, owls are both pets and messengers. J.K. Rowling wrote: "Of course, owls have been associated with magic for a long time, and feature in many old illustrations of witches and wizards, second only to cats as Most Magical Creature. The owl’s association with wisdom was established in Roman times, for it is the emblem of Minerva, goddess of wisdom."

Parseltongue (Symbol)

Both Salazar Slytherin and Lord Voldemort are known for being Parselmouths, with the ability to speak to snakes in Parseltongue. Because this is a rare skill associated with these Dark Arts wizards, the rest of the wizarding world views the skill with suspicion. When Harry turns out to be a Parselmouth, he experiences both a crisis of identity and a social crisis. He worries that this is evidence that he is Slytherin's heir. And he experiences the same social exclusion he felt at the Dursleys, also as a result of prejudice against his abilities. His ability to speak to snakes is a symbol of his difference.

Phoenix (Symbol)

The phoenix is an ancient Greek symbol of renewal. Dumbledore’s description of Fawkes foreshadows the qualities that allow the bird to save Harry in the end: strength, mercy, faith, and loyalty. Harry’s friendships with Fawkes and with Dumbledore cause the bird to weep at Harry’s death. Fawkes' tears provide the grace that brings Harry back to life.

Polyjuice potion (Symbol)

The Polyjuice potion represents transformation through imagination. Its literary antecedent is Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where a special potion allows the benevolent Dr. Jekyll to turn into a violent man named Mr. Hyde. On the Pottermore website, J.K. Rowling writes, "I remember creating the full list of ingredients for the Polyjuice Potion. Each one was carefully selected. Lacewing flies (the first part of the name suggested an intertwining or binding together of two identities); leeches (to suck the essence out of one and into the other); horn of a Bicorn (the idea of duality); knotgrass (another hint of being tied to another person); fluxweed (the mutability of the body as it changed into another) and Boomslang skin (a shedded outer body and a new inner)."

Pure-blood Ideology (Allegory)

The pure-blood supremacist ideology espoused by Salazar Slytherin and Lucius Malfoy, and supported by the weakness of the Minister of Magic, has been read as a political allegory for historical fascist xenophobia, and applied to analyze contemporary politics.

Gryffindor Sword (Symbol)

Godric Gryffindor's sword is a symbol of bravery. When Harry asks for help in the Chamber of Secrets, Gryffindor responds with the sword, through the Sorting Hat. Harry's loyalty to Gryffindor helps him. His tribe helps him. The sword is an allusion to the legend of Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur which must be drawn from a stone by the rightful king. Harry must be fit to carry the sword, so it also represents his identity.

Sorting Hat (Symbol)

The Sorting Hat represents the combined will of the Hogwart's founders. The magic of the Sorting Hat is ambiguous. It is unclear if it sorts people based upon their true natures. If so, is nature is determined by blood? Harry’s anxiety about the Sorting Hat’s decision represents his anxiety about his place in the world, whether it is determined by fate or his own free will.

Wands (Motif)

In Harry Potter, a wand reflects both its owner’s personality and fate. Psychoanalytic critics have written about the wand as a phallic symbol, representing power. The disfunction of Ron's wand is part of his coming-of-age narrative.