Please note; You don’t have to like this, or even agree with it. But understand that i’m trying to rationalize Snape’s behaviour based on his life and experiences with those around him, not completely ‘saintify’ him as many other ‘in defence of’ posts do:
I’ve been reading a lot of character defence posts recently, and to be fair, I don’t see what there was to defend really.
I’m the kind of reader that accepts that all characters have a light and dark side, a good and bad side. Characters that are all bad, or all good are boring. Multifaceted characters that have good and bad aspects are bloody interesting. (Yes, I can say bloody-I’m English)
But one thing I have been moved to do is to defend Snape after reading some rather unfair appraisals of his character.
Yes, I agree, he was a bully. Yes, he was racist. Yes, he was downright nasty at times. But like all people, he had a good side and a bad side.
It gets me particularly mad when people insist on sitting him next to ‘Saint James Potter’, glorifying Potter and condemning Snape for everything he has ever said that was wrong as if James Potter (or any other character) has never done a bad thing in their life.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Snape.
Snape was born to a muggle father and a witch mother. His family was poor and he was largely neglected. Being left to wander around Spinners end in clothing that was ‘so mismatched it looked intentional’. His father was a violent man who terrorized Snape and his mother.
Now, let’s consider this. Snape, a wizard was brought up in a poverty stricken home with a mother who was afraid to practice magic in front of her muggle husband. This would have imprinted on Severus at a very early age that muggles were cruel and ignorant. This too may have been reinforced by his mother whom we know was a Slytherin. Let us understand that children learn by example and without a differing example would not have been able to form a differing opinion.
We can also assume that the other children at Spinners end may have mocked, teased, and bullied Snape for the way he looked. Petunia Evans was such an example. And a muggle who was frequently cruel to her witch sister.
Snape learned that Lily was a Muggleborn child and grew close to her because she did not shun him. He told her, with hesitation that muggleborns were accepted in the Wizarding world.
Snape was under no delusions after living with his Slytherin mother that muggleborns got a rough ride at Hogwarts from Slytherin house. Snape, seeing Lily as a Muggleborn who was both kind and powerful changed his mother opinion on what Muggleborns were like and led to a long friendship between them, despite the house differences.
Snape was mocked by James Potter, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew (Note: Remus Lupin never actually indulged in the bullying but then again, did not actually stop it, despite his role as prefect—another example of dark and light in all people)
Snape was a Slytherin and therefore a mortal enemy of Gryffindor. What made him more of a target was the fact he was not only a close friend of Potter’s love interest, he was also poor, wore shabby robes, had greasy hair and was very into his studying. This made him public enemy number 1 for Potter. Potter is stated in the book series to have had a very loving upbringing, the miracle son for an aging witch and wizard and had every privilege money could buy. He actually mocked Snape for what he wore. Think forwards to what Harry used to wear when in muggle clothing. His cousins hand me downs that were several sizes too big.
James had friends, and the kindness of friends that encouraged him to be loyal, brave and strong. Snape had nobody but Lily, and was afraid of losing her to Potter who he hated so much for the constant ridicule he exposed him to. Let us remember that Snape was only human. Was embittered at being denied fairness and justice. That Hogwarts was his salvation away from home and that he wanted to belong.
Snape called Lily a Mudblood.
After being accepted by Slytherin friends (who would later go on to be death eaters). He found a new strength, a new safety net. Friends that would back him up whatever. It was a power that affected him profoundly and naturally, he absorbed some of their values. Despite still being friendly with Lily, she grew worried for him after seeing him hang around. It is possible she grew worried for herself too. James Potter initiated this incident by ridiculing Snape so badly that he got riled up (as anyone would do) and acted without thinking. How many times have we called someone something we later regretted as a teenager? How many times have we been allowed to apologize and move on from the incident? How many times have we still felt terrible for the incident?
Lily, Snipe’s only true friend, dropped him like a bruised apple and refused to see him again. All because of a moments madness fuelled by anger at being teased and bullied yet again. Nobody called Potter out on it, nobody told him he went too far, everyone just accepted it was: ‘Potter being Potter.’
He was the star Chaser for Gryffindor, the one all the girls fancied, and he was the jock. The star Quarter-back who picked on the awkward nerd because it was ‘good sport’—however you look at it, this is what it was. Yes, they were teenagers—and so was Snape.
Snape let his dark side show, and it was punished instantly.
Snape joins the death eaters
With only his Slytherin friends left to fall back on, Snape threw himself in to fitting in with them. Cutting his losses and having nothing left to lose, he later joined the death eaters. Snape’s dark side. Every character in the series has one. Dumbledore, a great man who manipulated those around him to do his will. Ron Weasley, who had problems with his jealousy and often abandoned his friends, but always came back. Sirius Black who couldn’t resist the call of battle and ended up dying for Harry. It is my belief, and the reason why I love JK Rowling that she helps the characters redeem themselves in the story.
Snape’s information of the prophecy was the catalyst for the story and he lived to regret—bitterly regret, what he told the dark lord.
All of us want to belong. Lupin himself wanted to belong so desperately that he turned a blind eye to rule breaking and allowed the marauders to ’pick on’ Snape. Lupin himself regrets allowing them to do that. Why should Snape receive negative treatment for going to people who showed him friendship and kindness, even if it was malevolent friendship
Snape finds Lily dead
Snape finds that his actions have taken away the only thing that he has ever had that was good and pure in his life. The love of his life. The girl who was his friend, and his unrequited love.
He knows that he is directly responsible for her death, and for James Potter’s death, and whereas he won’t be crying a river for Potter. He knows that he has killed the woman he loves and left her child an orphan.
Now, sadly, we will never see what followed. We only know from the book, and from the film (a beautiful scene by the way). But we know that for the rest of his life, for 16 years he carried the burden of being the reason that Lily Potter was dead.
So what happens when he is vulnerable, at his lowest ebb, suicidal? (‘I wish I were dead.’—The Prince’s tale)
Dumbledore manipulates him, using his love for Lily to protect Harry when he gets to Hogwarts. He doesn’t just ask him, he full on manipulates him. Dumbledore is sad by Lily’s death, but seems to have little sympathy for Snape. Even going as so far as to use emotional blackmail in saying: ‘If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.’
Snape bullies Harry
Harry was often a victim of bullying from Snape, and so was Neville Longbottom (amongst other students). But how should a man who sees the eyes of his unrequited love and the face of James Potter react? A man who see’s the face of his bully, the attitude of his bully, the general disregard for everything that matters—even his own life, that he swore to keep safe. How should he react?
I’m not saying Snape wasn’t a bully, but there are reasons for it. Be they childish reasons, silly reasons—yes. He should have been the better man and let it go. But please remember what Dumbledore said about ‘Merope Gaunt’.
“But do not judge her too harshly, Harry. She was greatly weakened by long suffering…”
Snape had never known parental love, he had never known true friendship, he had loved and never been loved in return. He had known cruelty, and bitterness. It was all he knew.
He bullied Longbottom for the often disregarding reason that if Voldemort had chosen Longbottom as the chosen one, Lily would still be alive.
I concur, wholeheartedly, that it was cruel of Snape to belittle a boy who had lost his parents to insanity and was being punished for something completely out of his control. But pain and hurt makes people do stupid things.
Snape kills Dumbledore
Snape agreed to end Dumbledore’s life for him after he was cursed terminally. He agreed on the understanding that he would be doing it to save Malfoy’s soul, to save Dumbledore from being killed, or tortured to death, and on the understanding his own soul would remain in tact.
Through killing Dumbledore he lost any respect he had gained with his friends of 16 years (the staff at Hogwarts), the students, and the wizarding world. He died to many, as a coward and a murderer until Harry put things right.
He agreed to give up everything to a man that led him blindly through the plan he had devised. Not questioning, nor disagreeing when the plan twisted and turned.
And after all, he had to kill the one man he could tell everything to. Dumbledore was Snape’s confidante, his friend, his mentor, his teacher, his headmaster, his boss. He had to kill; in front of the boy he was protecting Albus Dumbledore.
He sacrificed not only his reputation as a trusted member of the order of the phoenix, as a teacher at Hogwarts, as a friend to the others, he sacrificed his one link to someone he could trust.
When Harry first ran to Snape’s side when he was dying, Snape looked at him with something short of surprise as for the first time; he saw not only Lily’s eyes, but Lily’s nature. Lily’s kindness. Lily’s gentleness. For the first time to him, Harry was not simply: ‘Potter’s son’…he was Lily’s son too.
I believe he knew that he was going to die from the time Voldemort summoned him to the shrieking shack.
He didn’t try and change Harry’s opinion with his dying breath, he didn’t try and explain, and he didn’t try and apologize. He just completed his mission with a quiet and precise manner before dying.
I think in his final moments, he knew that Dumbledore had led him too, ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’
Snape was never meant to be the hero, the good guy. He was the anti-hero. The bad guy who turned good.
He made mistakes (often terrible ones), and he tried to make amends.
He isn’t a saint, nor is he a scoundrel. Like all characters that are flawed, and yet celebrated, he wasn’t an angel, and he wasn’t a demon.
He was the man who tried to put it right. He was the man who redeemed himself. He was the man who wanted to fix what he had put wrong.