Severus Snape, Redeemed? I Don’t Buy It.

To kick off Harry Potter Week, I’m going to dive right into controversy: is Snape good or bad? He may have fought for the good guys, but I still don’t think that makes him a “good guy.” Here’s why.

I never liked Snape—and I feel like I’m in the minority here.

A very good friend of mine is a huge Snape fan. I think she sees him as a tortured soul, someone to be pitied more than feared or hated. Someone we might need to work a little harder to understand, but someone who has depths to share once he is understood. Lots of Snape-lovers smugly point to the Pensieve interlude in Deathly Hallows, in which Harry experiences Snape’s memories of Lily Potter, and say, “See? He loved her. That’s why he protected Harry and fought against Voldemort. He’s good after all.”

I don't believe you Will Ferrell

Snape’s love for Lily isn’t as redeeming as Snape’s fans like to claim. Here are a few reasons why:

1. He obviously suffers from “nice guy” syndrome. What is more annoying than a self-proclaimed “nice guy” who whines constantly that none of his female friends—who he is soooo nice to and soooo supportive of—want to have sex with him? Nothing, that’s what. This is what Snape’s relationship with Lily amounts to: that male friend who you love, platonically, but who constantly denigrates your taste in men in order to puff himself up by comparison. And when she rejects him, he lashes out—as most “nice guys” do—and calls her a Mudblood. That’s not the way you treat someone you love. That’s the way you treat an object you covet.

2. He’s pretty much a sociopath. I understand, sort of, Snape’s dislike of Harry—having a student in your class who is a constant reminder of your old romantic rival who got the girl while you’ve spent your life alone can’t be fun. Fine. But instead of putting on his grown-up pants and acting like an adult, he constantly torments Harry with little to no provocation.

But it doesn’t stop there. Snape doesn’t just torment the son of his former romantic rival; he torments anyone who isn’t a Slytherin. He favors his house heavily over all the others—not just Gryffindor—and this begins well before Harry even gets to Hogwarts (when Harry is first sorted, someone—a Weasley twin?—points out Snape at the high table and mentions that Snape is the head of Slytherin House and always favors his own students). He even openly discriminates against Muggle-borns.

So Snape’s mad at the world, fine. But why would you put such an objectively horrible person in charge of teaching children?

3. He only grudgingly protects Harry after Dumbledore scolds his selfishness. After hearing Voldemort’s interpretation of the prophecy, Snape begs Voldemort to spare Lily in exchange for the lives of her son and husband! The only reason he goes to Dumbledore in the first place is because he doesn’t entirely trust Voldy’s word (rightfully), and the only reason he agrees to switch sides in the war is so that Dumbledore will help him hide Lily. He wouldn’t have cared if Harry and/or James had been killed, as long as Lily lived. And then, when she’s killed anyway, Snape only reluctantly agrees when Dumbledore suggests that the best way to keep Lily’s memory alive is to help protect Harry when Voldemort inevitably returns.

That is not the thought process of someone who deserves pity. That is the thought process of a man who is so gripped by his utter obsession with a woman that he doesn’t care if the two most important people in the world to her are tortured and killed by the darkest wizard of all time, as long as she remains alive. I’m not saying he should want her to die with them, of course, just that he should appreciate—and he obviously doesn’t—that her life is happy with James. And if you love someone, shouldn’t you want them to be happy, no matter the cost? That, in my opinion, is true love: wanting the best for someone, even if it hurts you. Snape doesn’t want what’s best for Lily. He just wants Lily, no matter the cost to her or to anyone else. And then when he loses her, you’d think he’d take comfort from the fact that her son, her legacy, is alive—but instead, his hatred of James actually overrides his love for Lily. And though he grudgingly protects Harry, he is never once kind to him, as I’m sure Lily would have wanted him to be.

4. HE’S A [BLEEP]ING DEATH EATER. Guys…did you forget that Snape was a Death Eater? He didn’t agree to work for Dumbledore/against Voldemort because he had a change of heart. He’s still a racist sonofabitch who thinks Muggle-borns are inferior to pure-blood wizards (despite his own half-blood pedigree). He still participated in who knows how many atrocities. Holding a candle for a pretty girl he had a crush on as a schoolboy doesn’t make him a good person. It adds a certain dimension that I wouldn’t have expected, sure, but his apparent capacity to love doesn’t absolve him of all manner of sins.

Besides, what he feels for Lily hardly qualifies as love. Desire, obsession, lust—sure. But if he loved her, he would have honored her memory by loving her son, which he refuses to do.

There’s no doubt that J. K. Rowling wrote Snape as an intriguing, well-rounded, exceptionally human character. He does have to get some points for fighting the good fight, even if he did so reluctantly. But his utter lack of empathy and the obvious pleasure he takes in humiliating non-Slytherin students leaves me unsympathetic to his plight. So many people lost so much more than Snape did in the course of the books and handled it so much better, Harry included. And we’re supposed to feel bad for Snape? I don’t think so.

Are you Team Snape or Team Snape Is A Douchebag? Why? Let me know in the comments!

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13 thoughts on “Severus Snape, Redeemed? I Don’t Buy It.

  1. Team Snape reporting for duty! Is he a perfect person? Absolutely not. But I find him redeeming, because I couldn’t STAND James Potter. James was a popular jock who bullied Snape and wasn’t even a decent love interest for Lily. I was bullied in school too, so I’m partial to the underdog.

    Does it excuse the whole being-a-Death-Eater thing? No, but I can understand how humiliation, insecurity, and low self-esteem can lead to anger and resentment. And since I’m one to hold grudges, I can sympathize with Snape treating Harry poorly, because he’s the walking, talking, spitting image of his father. But despite his retaliation, not once did I believe that Snape was a truly bad person.

    Then again, I don’t really care even if he was, given my preference for bad boys. My massive crushes on Draco and Lucius are proof of that! Slytherin for the win! 😉

    • See, I’ve always been a bit of a goody-goody, so the “bad boy” thing never appealed to me at all. (It did lead to bullying, particularly in middle school, though, so I feel you there.) James was definitely a jerk in many of the memories we see in the Pensieve, but you have to remember that a) they were Snape’s memories and probably colored by that, and b) James Potter was obviously generally more likable to everyone around him than Snape ever was. We see SO much more of Snape than we do of James, and we really only see James in Snape’s own memories, so I think it’s a little unfair to judge him based on a few memories of someone who (rightly or not) hated him.

      I guess I can sympathize with Snape hating Harry due to his likeness to James, but first of all, you’re an adult, get over it, and second of all, he’s Lily’s son. A better man would have at the very least tolerated Harry because of who his mother was. That’s another memory we get from Snape as he dies: he rants and raves to Dumbledore that Harry is just like James, but Dumbledore reminds him that everyone else—everyone who isn’t biased by what they *expect* to see—believes his disposition to be much more gentle and kind, like Lily. But Snape couldn’t look past the simple fact that Harry *looked* like James, which is his own failing, not James’ or Harry’s.

      Mostly I just find Snape to be weak, wielding what little power he has—over his students—in the worst possible way. I stand by my statement that many more people suffered much worse losses and sacrificed much more in the war against Voldemort than Snape did, and that Snape does not deserve nearly the amount of pity that he gets. That’s not to say, though, that his actions and reactions aren’t rather more realistic than most people’s, and he is certainly a more multi-dimensional character than many of the others. I can appreciate Snape for what he is. I just don’t think that the fact that he apparently did have the capacity to love after all (which, honestly, is questionable at best) means everything is okay now.

      Also, can I just say I really enjoy how we can discuss this like he’s a real person 🙂

  2. I’m both. I think he was a hero, was very brave, and at the end, very selfless.

    However. He’s a total douchebag. You don’t treat a CHILD the way he did. And not just Harry, but what about poor Neville? What’s his excuse there?

    Also, James was just a teenager. He did some not nice things, but he was… 15? He grew up. Snape didn’t. He let himself become bitter, and held on to that anger like a child.

    • I agree. And Snape wasn’t exactly ever blameless in school, either—certainly in that one memory we see, but who’s to say he didn’t torment James as much as James tormented him? Not that either of them are right for doing it, but I don’t think it was nearly as one-sided as that Pensieve memory would have us believe.

      Hero or not, he’s sort of a sociopath who gets off on using what little power he has as a teacher to demean the few people who are beneath him in the food chain: children. Like you said, Neville in particular tends to feel Snape’s wrath more than he ever could have deserved. Is that all forgiven because Snape had a crush on Neville’s mom, too? Please.

  3. This might be ridiculous, but I think Snape showed that he truly loved Lily by his patronus. Yes, he was totally a douchebag. But I also think he was a douchebag who tried to do the right thing – at least after he realized that Voldemort truly was evil and didn’t care about what Snape wanted. Yes, he became a Death Eater, but he was maybe 18 at the time? He was rejected by the only friend he had so he sought relationship and protection from the group around him. That doesn’t justify his actions, but it does make them somewhat understandable. So he gets sucked in and does some truly horrible things, and then realizes what he’s doing when the tables are turned in a way and he is the one who suffers. So yes, then he’s a douchebag to Harry and the majority of the students, but he also protects them at great personal risk. He tried?

    • Hmm, I didn’t think of the Patronus thing. (Which reminds me—on a semi-unrelated note, it always bothered me that we’re never explicitly told that Lily’s patronus was a doe until Harry says it. We’re apparently just supposed to assume when he casts it in Dumbledore’s office during the “Always” scene that it’s Lily? I never caught anything that explained that until a few chapters later, but maybe I’m just missing it every time.) That’s definitely supported by Tonks’s patronus becoming (presumably) a werewolf when she falls in love with Lupin. I’m not totally convinced (I imagine obsession would do something similar to a patronus, but I guess I can’t say for sure) but yours is probably the first argument that makes me wonder.

      I just wish he could have been strong/kind/secure/whatever enough to have expressed that love more openly, or at least in a way that honored Lily’s memory by being kind to Harry instead of working to dishonor James’ memory by tormenting Harry.

  4. My sticking point was the realisation that he told Voldemort about the prophecy and only revolted when he found out who was the target. He was fine with the deaths of anyone-but-Lily.

    • So true! That always got me too. If Voldemort had decided to go after Neville and his parents instead, would Snape have cared? I bet not.

  5. Wow great post and discussion. I’m loving it as I’m rereading Potter this year. Finally up to book 5.

    I’m voting douchebag. Sure he may save the day here and there but his general personality is douchebag asshole.

  6. Great thoughts! Snape is definitely a polarizing character. While I find *most* of his actions to be understandable (if not justifiable) I still would like to give him a good, hard slap. He made some good choices and some really bad ones, too. On the whole, I think he’s someone who has suffered an extremely large amount of disappointment in his life, and who is not a very nice person. I would not want to befriend him. And yet, he’s also someone who tries, in his way, to do what he thinks is right. His moral compass was definitely off when he joined up with Voldy, but the fact that he turned against Voldy before his downfall says a lot. I’m not saying that he’s a “good guy.” But I don’t think he’s all bad either.

  7. I think you’re analysis of Snape is spot-on, and I also think most HP fans are unfair to James. Let’s be real, okay? Throughout the entire series, we see one, I repeat, ONE memory of James being a prick. How is one memory enough evidence to form a fair judgement of someone? And on top of that, James may or may not have been a bully at school (again, we only have the one memory, so we don’t know if anything had happened beforehand that might have provoked James into attacking Snape), Snape was an even worse bully as an adult. As peers, Snape could have easily fought back, but then he chose to bully students who were powerless to do anything against him. I understand why he doesn’t like Harry-I don’t agree with it, but I can understand it-but what did Neville or Hermione ever do to him? He repeatedly humiliates Hermione just for knowing the answers to his questions and cruelly ignores her needs when Malfoy hexes her in fourth year. He ridicules Neville in front of another teacher, and bullies the poor kid so much in his own classes that Neville’s biggest fear is actually Snape! No student should ever be that scared of their own teacher.

    (And let’s be honest, how many Snape fans were ACTUALLY Snape fans before they found out he was supposedly in love with Lily? Unless they spent hours psychoanalyzing Snape or just really hated Harry, I can’t imagine many of them were.)

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