Peg Kerr (pegkerr) wrote in hp_essays,
Peg Kerr

Remorse and transformation of character

Cross-posted from my own journal.

I've been mulling HP7 over some more, specifically about remorse. I told gina_r_snape I'd like to do an essay on the subject.

Before I could get started, however, I ran across this essay, about Snape's story arc in book 7. I really urge you to read it, it's excellent. And I'm going to riff on some of what she was saying in that essay in the remarks I have that follow, so read it first.

Anyway. Remorse. Rowling has always said that that series is about choosing what is right over what is easy. What I started thinking about as I read DH is that, especially in this book, Rowling has as much to say about the people who initially chose wrongly, and then went back to correct their mistakes. Choosing rightly the first chance you are given is best, of course. If you don't make mistakes, you don't have as much to fix. Some mistakes are enormous, and they can create consequences that are permanent.

Rita Skeeter represents a mindset which does not believe in redemption, in which you only ever have one chance to decide anything. The only thing you ever need to know about a person to discern their true character is to learn what mistakes they have made. It is clear that she believes that when people discover Dumbledore's mistakes, for example, they will lose whatever respect they might have ever had for him. Dumbledore followed Grindelwald's discriminatory anti-Muggle policy. Dumbledore's mistakes led to his sister's death. According to her, all you need to evaluate Dumbledore's character at age 140 is to know what he did at age 17. He can only ever be seen as a contemptible hypocrite.

Is it still possible to go back and choose again, differently? To say, I was wrong, I take it back. I want to now move in a new direction, the first one I should have chosen"? Since it is our choices that make us who we are, Dumbledore tells us, changing our choices means transforming our character. Is this possible, even when our initial mistake was enormous, leading to permanent consequences, even death? I think Rowling believes that it is possible to redeem oneself by choosing anew. We see this play out in this book for Remus, Percy, Peter, and Ron. We especially see it in the case of Harry, Snape and Dumbledore, who made the biggest mistakes of all that had particularly terrible consequences, the death of people that they loved (for Harry it was Sirius, for Snape it was Lily, and for Dumbledore it was Ariana).

What is needed to change course and correct an earlier mistake?

First, you need remorse. Remorse can be so magically powerful, Hermione tells us, that it is the only thing that undoes the damage of a soul which has been ripped apart to make horcruxes. (This is why Harry asks Voldemort to feel remorse during their final confrontation).

I am intrigued by rexluscus' analysis of the silver doe as the physical embodiment of Snape's love for Lily, AND how it simultaneously symbolizes the transformation of his character, due to love. I started to think about the other person in that chapter who was led to the sword because he also followed a light: Ron Weasley, using the Deluminator. Even more specifically, just as the patronus was the guidance provided by Snape's love for Lily, the light of the Deluminator was the guidance provided by Ron's love, I suspect for Hermione in particular.

I'm not quite sure I have a handle on exactly what the Deluminator itself represents. It turns out other lights and then creates a ball of blue light, rather like the light around a portkey. It "activated" when Ron heard Hermione's voice coming out of it, when Hermione spoke his name (for the first time since the quarrel that lead to the breach between the members of the Trio). This is an interesting inversion of the taboo against speaking Voldemort's name: it is when Ron hears Hermione speak his name that he realizes that she can still thinks of him, and it enables him to come to her. Perhaps the Deluminator represents hope then, the hope that there might be some forgiveness for him. The Deluminator's blueish light at first bobs along outside of himself, waiting for Ron to follow. But only when it actually enters his heart is there a chance for Ron to rejoin the others. "And once it was inside me, I knew what I was supposed to do." Think about what part of remorse hope represents: the thought that even thought mistakes have been made and damage has been done, there is still a way back to that point of the road where the path forked and the wrong road was taken.

Perhaps when the Deluminator turns out other lights, it is turning off "false lights," perhaps false preconceptions or the illumination that one used when following the wrong path. I'm not quite sure. Ron (or perhaps Ron-as-affected-by-the-horcrux) had been frustrated because it seemed the Trio had been blundering around without any purpose. But once he hears Hermione's voice, he realizes anew where it is he really wants to be: by her (and Harry's side), no matter where they are or what they are doing. Just as with the doe patronus, it is love that is guiding him. That love, once he opens his heart to it, knows what to do. It guides him to return to the people he had once spurned.

(Of course, when he finally does rejoin the Trio, the forgiveness that he had hoped for from Hermione doesn't occur immediately, to say the least. But she eventually does come around.)

So: remorse (which includes hope for forgiveness) is needed to step from a wrong path and choose again. What else is necessary? You need the willingness to seize the opportunity to correct your mistake as soon as it comes. Don't wait, because the window of opportunity to change direction may be open for only a very short time. This is why Dumbledore begged Draco to choose to go into hiding at the top of the tower in Half-Blood Prince. Draco's tragedy was that he waited a split-second too long to decide, and the Deatheaters showed up and the decision was taken out of his hands. As soon as Ron hears Hermione's voice saying his name and the light from the Deluminator appears, he doesn't wait around to mull things over: he immediately grabs his rucksack and goes.

What else? You also need humility. One point that is made during Percy's story arc is that it is harder to forgive someone else for being right than for being wrong. Swallowing one's pride enough to say, "I'm sorry, I made a mistake" is extremely difficult but essential. Snape's pride led to the breach between him and Lily: he called her a mudblood when her friends insulted him. Once he realizes his mistake, he has to humble himself to go back to Dumbledore, just as Percy did to rejoin his family and Ron did to rejoin Harry and Hermione.

Finally, you need courage. Harry tasked Remus for cowardice when he abandoned Tonks. In order to go back to her, Remus had to muster up his courage and face all those fears that his son might have inherited his curse. If the initial mistake was very great, you need even greater courage to undo it. Snape's mistake led to the murder of Lily and James, and that is why, perhaps, the most is asked of him: to act as Dumbledore's spy to Voldemort, an incredibly dangerous task. That is why Harry tells his son that Severus was the bravest man he ever knew.

As rexluscus says, when you change direction, you may be doing it initially for the wrong reasons. Remus may have gone back to Tonks originally because he was stung by Harry's accusation that he was being a coward. But like Snape, if you continue doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, eventually, in the dark night of the soul, when you realize that you are really on your own, you may start doing what you should for the right reasons, not because you are blindly following someone's else's guidance or because anyone is shaming you into doing it, but because by choosing to do right, you have transformed yourself and you discover that the light you needed to follow is now inside of you. Like Ron, you will know exactly what to do.

Comments are welcome.
Tags: books:deathly hallows, characters:dumbledore family:albus, characters:hermione granger, characters:potter family:harry, characters:remus lupin, characters:severus snape, characters:weasley family:ron, other topics:morality, other topics:themes

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