Snape Apologists: Is Snape the Greatest or the Worst?

snapeI’m not going to lie; when I was reading the Harry Potter books, I loved Snape. I even have a t-shirt that says, “I trusted Snape” on the front, and on the back it says, “Oh, the cleverness of me. *smirk*”. So yeah, I really liked Snape. I mean, I’m a self-identified Slytherin, so of course I did. But now that I’m older and consider myself a feminist (I knew nothing about feminism while reading Harry Potter), I decided to go back and look at Snape from a critical feminist lens. And now I wonder if I was too kind to Snape.

These two are not mutually exclusive.

These two are not mutually exclusive.

Okay, let’s be real. The story of Snape’s love for Lily fulfills the nice guy trope to a tee. Snape and Lily had been childhood friends, but Snape’s inability to express his feelings for her, partly because of his abusive childhood and partly because of (I assume) Lily’s blood status, leads Lily to fall for a different guy. Granted, James Potter started out as an utter asshole who bullied Snape mercilessly, but Snape’s response to the situation is just awful. Snape lashes out at Lily because she likes James, and he does so in the worst way possible, by making a derogatory comment about Lily’s blood status. On top of this, we can assume as Lily and James became more serious, Snape delved more into the Dark Arts and hung out more with his pureblood friends, who would eventually become Death Eaters.

tumblr_lzxkppeFGQ1r19909o1_r1_500You could retell Snape and Lily’s love story by replacing Lily with a woman of color and Snape with a conflicted white supremacist who eventually joins the KKK—it would pretty much be the same story. And in that light, Snape’s “Always” love for Lily seems really creepy and immature (at the very least). I really can’t regard Snape’s “love” for Lily as actual love. Infatuation, admiration, and lust, maybe, but certainly not love.

I don’t think Snape really loves Lily because he doesn’t respect her. He doesn’t respect her heritage, and he doesn’t her ability to make her own choices as far as who she dates or who she hangs out with. He respects her so little he joins a group of people whose sole purpose is to hate people like Lily. I think Lily definitely saw Snape as a friend, and do think they could have been something more, but where James apparently grew and matured, Snape never did. Yes, we never actually see James grow and mature, but it’s at least implied. Snape however, we do get to see all grown up, and he hasn’t matured. He still jealously covets Lily, whom he never had to begin with, and punishes Harry for the mere fact of his existence. But I’m jumping ahead now. So let’s talk about Harry and then I’ll expand on this a bit more.

While Snape’s bad childhood and lack of romantic experience may be enough for some people to sympathize with him, it’s what happened after that that makes most people like Snape. For those of you who might not remember, Snape hears that Lily’s family is being targeted by Voldemort, so he goes to Dumbledore and turns spy. Of course, Lily still dies and Snape dedicates his life to protecting and looking after her son, Harry. However, Snape’s way of caring for Harry turns out to be largely made up of verbal, emotional, and mental abuse. On top of this, Snape seems pretty damn abusive to most of the other students, except of course the Slytherins.

Lily_e_Severus Now the main problem with Snape is we only get a few snatches of who he is, but based on what’s in the books, Snape definitely felt entitled to Lily’s affection and made derogatory comments to her when she didn’t return his feelings. Snape was always a pureblood supremacist, and considering how he treated Lily later on, it seems he felt she was the exception to blood purity and not the rule. Basically, you can see Snape saying something like, “But Lily, you aren’t like the other dirty Mudbloods or Muggles.” We see that in Snape’s own flashbacks when Snape insults Petunia and Lily yells at him. To me that’s the only thing that makes logical sense. You don’t go from being rejected romantically by a woman of color to joining the KKK unless you’re already a racist. Remember, you don’t have be an active bigot to still be a bigot. What I am saying is Snape didn’t have to actively be killing Muggle-borns or promoting Death Eater agendas to be a pureblood supremacist. In the books, Snape hesitates before telling Lily that blood doesn’t matter. Snape is raised in a bigoted environment/society, and you can tell he struggles with it as a half-blood. But those little microaggressions toward non-purebloods comes out in his treatment of Petunia and even his hesitation with Lily.

On top of this, Snape doesn’t seem to change even after he becomes a spy. He becomes a turncoat only because Lily is in danger and protects Harry because he feels he failed Lily. And as a teacher he treats only the Slytherins, a predominantly pureblood house, with any sort of dignity. Now I have heard some people argue that Snape just hates the stupidity of his students in general, but if that were the case then he would show people like Crabbe and Goyle the same contempt he shows Neville.

Hell, in book three Snape tries to get Sirius’s soul sucked out even though he knows he’s innocent of the crime he was convicted for, and, when he doesn’t get his way, throws a tantrum and reveals that Remus is a werewolf, relying on the Wizarding World’s bigotry to get him fired. And I’m sorry, but the fact that Remus and Sirius bullied him when he was a kid is not an acceptable excuse for Snape’s actions. Now, someone’s going to yell “Sirius tried to kill Snape!” and yes, Sirius did. And yes, Sirius was never punished for it when he should have at least been expelled (at least). I am not excusing Sirius’s behavior in any way. I could even write another post about how Sirius is also a terrible person. However, Sirius was a teenager when that happened. Even in our own justice system there is leeway for offenders under the age of eighteen. Snape, during book three, is an adult and still behaving like a whiny teenager even when there are much bigger issues (like Peter Pettigrew) to deal with.

Sirius, you are not helping.

Sirius, you are not helping.

So even after Snape joins forces with Dumbledore and is teaching at Hogwarts, he still is a bigoted asshole. Maybe a conflicted and confused bigoted asshole, but you know, still a bigoted asshole.

Now, I’m not saying Snape is all bad. Certainly looking back on much of Harry and Snape’s interactions, you can tell that Snape was trying to help Harry even if he went about it very poorly. But that doesn’t excuse Snape’s other actions at all.

ia6jUmNSo let me get back to the famous “always” love that Snape has for Lily. As I said before, I don’t think Snape really loved her, and I believe that largely because of how he treats Harry. Let me lay down some facts: no mother would believe a guy when he says “I love you” while he simultaneously treats her child like shit (unless she’s in an abusive relationship, but Snape and Lily were never in a relationship, so the point is moot). Lily loved Harry so much she made the choice to die for him. If Snape really respected and loved Lily, he would have treated Harry like a precious gem. But he doesn’t, and right near the end of book seven, just when you think Snape has started to care about Harry, he’s very adamant in saying that it’s just about Lily. I like to think (hope, pray, dream) that Snape did care about Harry before he died, but I don’t have any evidence to back this up.

Don't worry Dumbledore. He hasn't.

Don’t worry, Dumbledore. He hasn’t.

Snape’s story is not one of the poor “friendzoned” guy who protects the child of the love of his life and saves the world. Snape’s story is of the bigoted sixteen year old who never matured and now slaves away trying to protect the son of the girl he was infatuated with out of obligation and guilt, because he blames himself for her death.

Yet despite all this, Harry calls Snape one of the greatest men he ever knew and even names one of his children after him. Now, it should be pointed out that Harry also names the same kid after Albus Dumbledore, who is arguably as much of an ass as Snape. I mean Snape is an ass, but at least he’s honest about it, whereas Dumbledore’s a manipulative bastard. But I digress. The point is, Harry realizes that Snape redeemed himself at the end of the book. Snape’s redemption arc doesn’t end when Snape becomes a spy for Dumbledore. That’s the start of it. Snape is in no way reformed until the end of the books and Snape’s reform largely happens because of Albus Dumbledore. Now again, I hate Dumbledore, but I have to give it to him with Snape; he really helped Snape out. Dumbledore is arguable the only person who knows Snape’s whole story. I think that Snape eventually respects Dumbledore and even develops something of a friendship with him. Then of course he has to kill Dumbledore, arguably his only real friend at this point.

1182636_1361272550795_fullAnd then Voldemort really starts to take over and for the first time Snape realizes that the world Voldemort promised him, that he used to believe in, isn’t really what he thought it would be. I believe Dumbledore’s death really forces Snape to finally mature from the angry teenager who didn’t get the girl into an actual adult human being. Harry sees that and despite how Snape treated him, Harry also sees how much Snape helped him, and how much he changed. I think Harry preferred to honor the man Snape became at the end of his life and not the one that tortured him through school. No, I don’t think Snape was truly redeemed until book six. If the story was told through Snape’s perspective, killing Dumbledore would certainly be the climax, and all of book seven would just be falling action.

I don’t want you guys to think I hate Snape. I’m not a goodie-goodie Gryffindor, after all. Snape is certainly an interesting and complex character, but he’s a redeemed villain or anti-hero at best. He certainly isn’t the tragic hero some people paint him to be. I don’t think he would have been better off with Lily and I certainly don’t excuse Snape’s abusive behavior in the books, but he isn’t completely bad either. I suppose the reason that Snape is so interesting to so many fans is because J.K. Rowling created a truly human character. And like most humans, Snape can be a terrible, terrible person, but you know, he can be kind of all right too. He did good things for the wrong reasons, but the wrong reasons don’t nullify all the good that he did, and the good things don’t nullify all the wrong things he believed in. Let’s not talk about Snape as the greatest or the worst—let’s talk about him as a layered, human character.


23 thoughts on “Snape Apologists: Is Snape the Greatest or the Worst?

  1. It depends what you like,for example I really like Snape like a character ,cause he has the dark mystery in “his pocket”… So I would say yes!

  2. I agree with your analysis of Snape overall and think he was mainly a horrible person, but one detail–

    Lily was asked to join the Death Eaters as well, so the white supremacist who joins the KKK despite claiming to be in love with a woman of color analogy doesn’t really work. I once read an analysis that concluded that Voldemort’s organization wasn’t really founded for racist reasons–it’s just that Voldemort was an opportunist and the largest group of powerful, vile people he could get to follow him were the blood supremacists, and the organization during the first war was probably a lot less centered on racist acts than it was with its leadership during the second war. I don’t know how convincing that is based on the overall textual evidence, but otherwise it’s hard to explain why Lily would be recruited (or Severus, who didn’t pass as pureblood, for that matter). Another reading of teenage Severus hanging out with cruel blood purists could also be that Lily was embarrassed with him/didn’t like him anymore after years of the Gryffindor/Slytherin divide, and seeing her housemates devalue him so much, but couldn’t bring herself to say that and lied that they were still best friends despite not hanging out with him. Given that he was bullied for his house and probably other factors, he turned to the only people actually willing to hang out with him. Yes, he grew up racist and chose to believe in that, but if the members of the lauded, supposedly non-racist house, purebloods themselves, hadn’t targeted him for years of serious bullying, would he have grown out of his racism?

    I don’t think that his favoritism of Slytherins being fueled by racism holds, either, your example being a pretty good one–Neville’s pureblood. He hates Harry because of his pureblood father. If it was racism, he’d be targeting Hermione. I’d guess the Slytherin bias is mainly because he’s not a good person in the first place, he wants revenge for having been bullied because he was a Slytherin, and he needs to favor their children to stay in with his Death Eater connections and continue spying for Dumbledore.

    But, yeah, his “love” for Lily was creepy as hell, he bullied children, and who knows what he did as a Death Eater. I also resent him on another level because Rowling took her huge cast of characters and a large bin of backstory and drama and gave 90% of the backstory and drama to the male characters. Wouldn’t it be great if LILY’s complex characterization had been anywhere near as important as Snape’s or James’s? If people wrote fanfiction about Harry working out his high-conflict relationship with Trelawney, whose prophecies shaped his fate? If Rita Skeeter was necessary for the Order of the Phoenix and bickered with Molly, Sirius, and Snape in that creepy house where those three bickered with each other? If Hermione weren’t the only one of the golden trio whose family story was irrelevant? Disappointed with Rowling and the fandom over Snape. Sure, she likes deeply flawed characters who have little insight into their own issues, but, well, okay, actually that’s a major impediment to me liking an author’s work. Such characters should be used sparingly IMO.

    • She wrote a backstory for every character. Only some (Harry,Dumbeldore, Snape and Voldy) actually fit in with the story.Sheis,however, releasing them with pottermore.

    • Hermione’s family story is irrelevant to the plot (except when she obliviates her parents in Deathly Hallows) because she is muggleborn, not because she is a girl. But I agree with the rest of this. And Snape hates Neville because if he was the ‘chosen one’, Lily would have lived.

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  4. Okay, so let me set this straight.
    Did it ever occur to you that he was mean to Harry because Harry kept accusing him of being evil? And that picture about Snape loving Lily? Wow. We all get angry at the ones we love, and don’t you dare deny it. We lash out. He was NOT a stalker. Also, remember, Voldy was watching Snape, and he HAD to be rude to Harry. Also, if you do not recall, Snape saved Harry’s life. Several times.
    People like you who just hate things for no good reasons tick me off.

    • Yes, but to call her a mudblood? Also, he didn’t respect Lily, he joined the Death Eaters and took an interest in the Dark Arts. He didn’t love her enough to mature and become a better person, which is what James did. And Harry had reason to accuse him of being evil. But he did love Lily. He loved her very much, and cares for Harry, at least a tiny bit.

    • What tick me off is people like you who are always finding excuse to absolve him from all his crimes. Snape began to bully Harry since the first day because he was jealous of James and hated him. JKR confirmed it in a recent tweet but I guess this isn’t a good reason to you. And no insulting Lily like he did isn’t justified at all just like insulted others muggleborn isn’t.

      • Bully Harry from day one? No, he just quizzes him when Harry was talking in class, and makes a slightly rude comment when Harry cannot answer and then tells him how to run his class. I really wouldn’t call that bullying – it’s just a moment of unpleasantness. A bit impolite, but really not bullying – or if it is, I can only imagine that the ‘bullies’ you have encountered have all been surprisingly mild-mannered!

  5. And also, why would his Patronus take form of a doe- Lily’s too, mind you- if he did not TRULY love Lily?

    • Exactly!!!! Severus Snape truly did love Lily. He was NOT an obsessive stalker! HE LEFT LILY ALONE AFTER SHE TOLD HIM TO LEAVE HER ALONE!!!! That is not an obsessive stalker!!! It infuriates me that people claim the Snape was only an obsessive stalker when that is not true in Potterverse canon.

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  7. This is definitely an interesting post, and has made me reflect on characterization in the Harry Potter series.

    JK Rowling did a good job with mixing in flaws and strengths with various characters(James Potter, despite being a bully is still a loyal friend while Snape despite his bigotry ultimately did protect Harry at various points). But I’m left with a bit of a bad taste as to how static characters can be. Maybe it reflects how it can be so hard to change human nature, but it feels like lots of characters really didn’t change but just were less openly antagonistic towards each other.

    It also makes me reconsider the recurring theme of love in the series. To what extent did Rowling intend it to be a redeeming factor? If love for your family is meant to just show that people aren’t all bad, that’s fine(as with Snape and the Malfoys). But in the context of the series it makes some of the emotional revelations fall a bit flat; Snape’s actions ended up doing some good despite his bigotry, but it makes the whole “portrait business and naming my child after you” seem a bit much.

    Sorry for the confused post, but in short; the themes that are trying to be conveyed sometimes constrain the characters.

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  14. I must confess that I almost exited out of this article at first, but I am glad I didn’t. You do have a point, Severus was a deeply immature, callous individual. It wasn’t a case of the “friendzone”; he did leave Lily alone after she told him to piss off. It’s heartbreaking how he grew up, but eventually one has to find the moral compass that was buried under the shit of childhood. Sadly, that’s a more difficult task for some than others.

    Remus Lupin was in a similar situation, where he had to play nice with Sirius and James or possibly be exposed/isolated/humiliated like Severus. James and Sirius were too operating out of prejudice I believe they picked up from their own insulated upbringings: classism. I don’t think Remus and Severus’ situations are quite the same (Remus had people who cared about him which can drastically change someone’s life), but in the way they both tolerated and often went along with acts of bigotry, they mirror each other.

    Remus was afraid of being outed, of having his whole life ruined should the wrong people know his past, of being alone. So he went along with the abuse.

    I bring this up because there is something that, while not confirmed in canon, would make sense and I believe is worth considering.

    I’m fairly sure sexual abuse in British boarding schools was rampant at the time. Severus was an ideal target for that kind of abuse: no one other than one muggleborn girl cared about him, he had no money or real influence in the magical community, and he had nowhere to escape should he be harmed. It could explain some of his indoctrination by the older students and the possible fear motivating his political views. Again, not confirmed canon, but something to think about beyond just the obvious fears of isolation and in House harassment.

    James and Severus were both assholes, in different ways and to different people, but still both assholes (tragic assholes. Kids who do what James and Sirius did do not come from happy homes). I think that’s been established. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why the did what they did, the end results are the same. But all this talk about Severus and James I think obscures the significance of the persun whose objectification is at the crux of much of their antagonism.

    I really wish canon had had more focus on Lily, considering it was only because of her that the fucking books could exist. Dying isn’t easy. What she did in the (she probably thought) vain attempt to buy her baby just a few more seconds of life was phenomenal. She didn’t know that she would be saving her child (unless you believe that she did some preparatory spell beforehand like some theorists do). I wish she could have been presented as more than just some idol of ideal womynliness.

    I’d like to point out, that it’s implied during the flashbacks that Severus gave Harry that some of the Slytherin boys sexually assaulted one of the girls. Severus brushes it off as a joke, but Lily, in a school and society where sexual assault is treated like a lark, actually is bothered by it and says so to her male peer. Standing up to friends is hard, particularly when they don’t seem to get it, and particularly when you are a child.

    She wasn’t perfect, she did leave Severus to be assaulted after she was insulted. But considering the world she was in, she was a very brave and insightful young womyn. No one else thought to even *say* anything, let alone help, so I applaud her for that. And I am glad she severed her ties to someone she thought was toxic (Severus), rather than stay and try to “save him”.

    Lily grew up in a likely impoverished neighborhood as well (she lived very near Severus after all). Her parents (according to Petunia) seemed to treat her like the “golden child”, which is not healthy. She was subjected to horrible sexual harassment and coercion from James (and her peers and teachers who all thought his abusive treatment of her was charming). He threatened her then-best friend with sexual violence should she not agree to date him (Snape’s Worst Memory). Despite all the awful things he did to her, and after 6 long years of resisting social pressure, she eventually began a romantic relationship with James and married him.

    I really cringe whenever I think about how that would have been. Lily is never described as having any close friends apart from Severus. After she married James, it would be very easy for her to become totally isolated even before she went into hiding.

    I kind of wish Lily would have divorced James after having Harry and fled just her and her baby. I think that would have been an interesting story. The two of them fleeing the country in order to escape both Voldemort and her husband (and the Order, who would want to pressure into returning to her marriage). A story (or even a flashback) from her perspective would I think be interesting. So often even the discussions about how shitty James and Severus fail to acknowledge and treat Lily as an actual persun. Instead she’s often used as exhibit A to defend or undermine one of the male characters. Her experiences as a whole are rarely taken into account.

    Sorry for the digression, but you got me thinking. You article was very good.

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