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24 June 2008 @ 01:35 pm
The Triumph of Severus Snape  
The death of Severus Snape in Deathly Hallows was not unexpected but was untimely, unpleasant, and somehow unsatisfying. It seemed to leave important issues unresolved, both for Snape himself and for the reader trying to understand this perplexing character and what moved him. His death was brutal, right down to the tiny moment when he believed he might be reprieved. It was a miserable end to what remained a miserable life. It was shocking, it was unjust. It robbed us of the revelatory confrontation between Snape and Harry that the story seemed to demand. Rather than illuminate Snape’s life it cast it into shadow. What sort of life must it have been to deserve a death like this?

No life could deserve a death like this. It was, though, the sort of death that Voldemort was quite used to inflicting on those who came within his reach - Peter Pettigrew and Charity Burbage come to mind - and it was the sort of death that Snape had witnessed and knew he faced as a follower of Voldemort. The horror and injustice of Snape’s death should not be allowed to obscure our understanding of his life. He may not have confronted Harry in person but he told him what he wanted him to know through the memories he gave him. When we unite these memories with everything we have seen of Snape throughout the story we can understand that Snape’s life was not unfulfilled, and that though he died in pain he died in triumph. The project which was the purpose of his life was at its conclusion, and through it he had transformed himself - not from villain to hero, but from loser to winner.

Snape, hatred, and revenge.
Throughout the books Snape was defined by hatred. He hated other people - even children. He was without compassion, and blind to his own and others’ humanity. He never had a good word for anyone. He was contemptuous, spiteful and petty. He picked on Harry, was prejudiced against Hermione, and tormented Neville. He spat venom at Sirius, and nurtured his loathing of James, dead for ten years and more. He even sniggered at Filch’s distress when he thought his cat was dead, and bitched at Tonks over her love for Lupin! The books led us to understand that Snape’s hatred of others was related to being picked on at school by James and Sirius. We learnt much about this in the course of PoA and from the pensieve memories that Harry observed in OotP. The pensieve also showed that Snape’s family was an unhappy one, and that his life with his parents neither compensated for nor equipped him to deal with the attentions of James and Sirius. But the memories that Snape gave Harry in DH - finally - showed that, though he certainly hated James and Sirius on their own account and Harry for being James’s son, above and beyond this Snape’s hatred stemmed from his love for Lily. He turned his anguish at losing Lily into hatred for those he held responsible for her death. He hated Harry for being the boy in the prophecy, James for being Harry’s father, Sirius for betraying the secret of Lily’s location, Voldemort for killing Lily, and Dumbledore for not protecting her. He was even able to hate Neville for not being the boy in the prophecy.

Did Snape hate himself for his part in Lily‘s death? Did he feel any responsibility? One would tend to answer, “Of course!” because how could he not? - It was he who had told Voldemort of the prophecy that put Lily’s life at risk. And why else would he have agreed to protect Harry? But his memories in DH do not bear this out, nor do his words and actions in the rest of the story. Snape was an unhappy man but his hatred was for others not himself , and the terrible anguish he suffered was solely at losing Lily. Why then did he agree to protect her child, whom he hated? For Snape it was a way of keeping Lily in his life, but more than that it would help him obtain revenge for her death.

Snape, love, and Lily.
From the memories given to Harry we know that Snape loved Lily before ever he spoke to her. She embodied the beauty of magic for him - this is what his memory of her on the swing showed us. She was muggleborn, didn’t know she was a witch, yet magic was part of her nature, and she could perform magic naturally and with grace. One might even say that she was his vision of what his life would be once he was able to leave Spinner’s End for Hogwarts. But Snape wasn’t moved by the beauty of magic alone, he was moved by its power too, and perhaps more so. At Hogwarts it was Slytherin for him, an interest in the Dark Arts, and an admiration of Voldemort. Life at the school was not all it had promised to be for Snape, once he had met James and Sirius on the Hogwarts Express and seen Lily sorted into Gryffindor. Lily did not share or understand Snape’s fascination with Voldemort and the Dark Arts. Snape did not understand that he would have to make a choice between them and Lily, that he could not have both. Finally, Lily gave up on Snape: “You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine”, she said. In fact Snape hadn’t chosen at all, he had failed to choose. So Snape lost Lily, and left the way open for James, his enemy, to win her.

When Lily’s life was threatened by Voldemort, Snape - an adult by then - was still unable unequivocally to choose Lily. He did not act on his own behalf for her, rather he went to Dumbledore for help. Having inadvertently handed Lily’s life over to one powerful wizard, he then quite deliberately handed it over to another. Snape’s memory of his interview with Dumbledore on the wild heath was illuminating as much for what Snape did not say as for what he did say. There was no indication in his words or actions that his anguish about the threat to Lily caused him to question Voldemort’s aims and methods, or question his own desires, beliefs and actions - examine his conscience, if you like. He was not concerned about the fate of Lily’s husband and child. He did not think about the effect of their deaths on Lily herself were she to survive. He showed no qualms about murder generally, even the murder of a child. It was the death of Lily and only the death of Lily that was unbearable to him. It hardly seemed that it was Lily he was concerned about, but himself - Lily’s death would be his loss not hers. No wonder Dumbledore could say, “You disgust me.” Snape grudgingly accepted the protection of James and Harry as the price that had to be paid for Lily’s life, but was taken aback to discover that in fact Dumbledore required him to pay more. Snape realised - and said - he’d pay “Anything” for Lily’s life, and so made himself the servant of Dumbledore as well as of Voldemort.

Snape, revenge, and hatred.
Dumbledore failed to protect Lily, and Voldemort killed her. Snape was destroyed. He’d lost his love and had been betrayed by the power he so admired. He wished to die. What was there to live for? His dreams were dead. Dumbledore offered him a reason to live: protect Lily’s son against Voldemort’s return, of which Dumbledore was certain. Dumbledore put this to Snape as his duty if he really loved Lily. Snape agreed to do it, squirming under the shame of protecting James Potter’s son, and insisting that no-one should know. For Snape there was another and more compelling reason to accept Dumbledore’s offer, another reason to live. If Voldemort was to return then there was the possibility of revenge - against Voldemort, and against Dumbledore too. Snape would protect Harry from Voldemort in honour of Lily and because it would buy him Dumbledore’s protection and support, essential if he was to survive and achieve his revenge. Snape did not articulate any of this in his memory - we are shown only that he considered the offer before accepting it, not what his thoughts were. But we did see him express his desire for revenge on another occasion, in PoA, in the Shrieking Shack with Sirius at his mercy. “Vengeance is very sweet,” he said. “How I hoped I would be the one to catch you.” Keeping Lily’s child alive was revenge in itself, of course, because it thwarted Voldemort. Feigning to serve Dumbledore was revenge too. And every sarcastic comment, every slight, insult, punishment Snape visited on Harry throughout the story, and every petty cruelty he inflicted on Neville was both an expression of Snape’s great love and great hatred, and a small triumph on his journey towards complete revenge for his terrible loss.

Snape never stopped hating. His hatred of Dumbledore was clear enough from the expression on his face as he killed him. He continued to hate Sirius, even after he must have known it was Peter who betrayed Lily to Voldemort. (And whom he now added to his tally of hatred.) After all, it was Sirius who proposed Peter as secret keeper. That Sirius was himself betrayed, that he felt responsible for Lily’s death (and James’s) and suffered for it, and that he endured imprisonment in Azkaban, made no impression on Snape, nor that Sirius died before ever enjoying freedom. Snape felt no compassion for him. Even after Sirius’s death Snape hated him, and in HBP used detention as an opportunity to taunt Harry with his father’s and godfather’s deaths. Snape continued to hate James and to hate Harry. He never witnessed Harry’s bravery or suffering, only his lucky escapes, so he was able to go on dismissing him as mediocre and arrogant, not worth the price Lily paid for him. (Snape wasn’t in the graveyard when Voldemort returned, for example, and Dumbledore sent him away before Harry told the story of what happened.) In his memory of Dumbledore revealing Harry’s fate Snape sneered at the idea that he might care for Harry, and went on to conjure his patronus to show his continuing love for Lily. He contemptuously likened Harry to ‘a pig’ raised for slaughter. (A pig, not a lamb, which would have had a quite different connotation!) Snape’s love for Lily remained, constant and undiminished, to the end, and so did his hatred of everyone he connected with her death. In DH he sobbed over the photograph of Lily he found in Grimmauld Place, and tore Harry and James out of the picture. He took the page of the letter with Lily’s signature and her love, and discarded the page that showed the love was directed to Sirius.

Snape, love, and compassion.
Although he didn’t ever come to love his enemies Snape did discover he could feel some compassion for some others, and though he didn’t ever stop loving Lily, he had another love too. His other love was Hogwarts. Perhaps this had always been the case but it only really began to be evident, in small ways, during OotP, with the school threatened by Umbridge and the Ministry. Snape did not co-operate when Umbridge wished to interrogate Harry, and in the same scene he stopped Crabbe’s throttling of his fellow student, Neville, from going too far. Later, Snape went unhesitatingly to Professor McGonagall’s aid when she returned from St Mungo’s, where she had been recovering from injuries sustained in defence of the school - or of one of its staff, Hagrid. Snape’s memories showed that he promised Dumbledore he would protect the school from Voldemort after Dumbledore‘s death. We saw how, as Headmaster, he was able to curb the cruelty of the Carrows, when he punished Ginny and her friends by sending them to the Forest with Hagrid, which he knew was no punishment at all. And when attacked by McGonagall and Flitwick, Snape was careful to use only defensive spells against them. Harry came to understand that Snape loved Hogwarts, just as he did, and Voldemort did too. On his way to meet Voldemort and his death Harry thought about the school, “Hogwarts was the first and best home he had known. He and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned boys, had all found home here …”

Perhaps it was his love of Hogwarts that led Snape to begin to feel compassion for others, and his actions above do speak of compassion. Snape himself made claim to compassion in his memories. Dumbledore, surprised by Snape’s reaction to being told of Harry‘s fate, asked him “How many men and women have you watched die?”, to which Snape replied, “Lately, only those who I could not save.” His memories reveal that he acted to protect Lupin from a Death Eater’s curse in DH, but that ‘could not’ in Snape’s reply carried a lot of weight. For Snape compassion came second to the achievement of his revenge, as is clear from Charity Burbage’s fate: murdered in front of Snape’s eyes and begging for his help. Only once did Snape - perhaps - allow compassion to endanger himself and his revenge, when he swore the Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco. His love for Lily and for Hogwarts was influential in this. Draco was a Hogwarts student, from Snape’s own house. Narcissa’s plight would have reminded Snape forcefully of Lily, and in committing himself unequivocally to Narcissa, without reference to his two masters, he was doing what he had failed to do for Lily. He was also antagonised into action by Bellatrix’s sneering attitude towards him, and proving her wrong would have been a powerful motivation. Killing Dumbledore was not contrary to his aims - but the time had to be right. Still, Dumbledore would not have wanted Snape to risk his life in this way - he needed him - and Voldemort would surely have looked on the vow as treachery. These points and Snape’s care of the distraught Narcissa, suggest that compassion played an important part in his vowing to protect Draco.

Snape, revenge, and Dumbledore.
When Dumbledore asked Snape to kill him, he presented the killing as an act of compassion. It would prevent damage to Draco’s innocent soul, and would spare Dumbledore from suffering at the hands of the likes of Bellatrix or Greyback. But Snape killed Dumbledore for revenge, not out of compassion. It was what he wanted, and the time was right. Dumbledore had told him about the connection between Voldemort and Harry. Snape knew exactly what had to be done now, and didn‘t need the old wizard any more. Voldemort had returned and was in the ascendant, and killing Dumbledore would look like the ultimate proof of Snape‘s loyalty. The intensity of Snape’s hatred as it revealed itself on his face when he killed Dumbledore was shocking, but there was plenty for Snape to hate. Dumbledore had disappointed him monstrously. He had not protected Lily from Voldemort, had not kept his word. He had not acknowledged his failure or his responsibility for Lily’s death; he seemed unaware of it. Snape had served Dumbledore for sixteen years, and been slighted and tricked by him time and again. In his arrogance Dumbledore had asked him to kill him, as though Snape would do whatever Dumbledore wanted. But Snape had never been Dumbledore’s man. He had followed Dumbledore’s instructions for Lily and for himself, and he killed Dumbledore for himself and for his revenge.

Dumbledore can’t not have understood that Snape might have his own reasons for consenting to kill him. As we can understand from what Snape told Bellatrix in Spinner’s End, Dumbledore believed the best of him but could not entirely trust him. When Dumbledore spoke of sparing Draco’s soul Snape asked, “What of my soul?” and Dumbledore batted the question straight back to him. Dumbledore was clear that Snape’s soul was Snape’s responsibility. He had the choice of what he wanted to do and be. After Lily’s death Dumbledore had offered Snape the opportunity of understanding and atonement, and pointed out Lily’s and Harry’s shared humanity - “He has her eyes, precisely her eyes” - but it was entirely up to Snape what he did with the opportunity. There were occasions when Snape could have reflected on himself and his actions. His memories show his dismay when, at the Yule Ball, Dumbledore had praised his bravery and mused, “Sometimes I think we sort too soon.” - Snape’s entire self being questioned in this one statement. And there was the description of him after he had killed Dumbledore, when Harry had just called him a coward, “… his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling, dog stuck in the burning house behind them …”. But Snape did not allow himself to reflect on these instances of doubt. He chose to put his soul aside, as he put everything aside, in favour of his revenge.

The triumph of Severus Snape.
Snape’s death was horrible but his life was not unfulfilled. He never realised his childhood dreams of love and power. He never overcame his hatreds. He never understood these things and never understood himself, but he didn’t want to or acknowledge the need to. He lived and worked and died for what he loved - Lily and Hogwarts - and what he wanted - revenge for the loss of Lily and for his disappointment with power. He protected Lily’s child to adulthood, and in committing himself to Narcissa he succeeded where he had failed for Lily. At the time of his death his revenge was almost complete. He had outlived James, Sirius, Wormtail and Dumbledore - he had killed Dumbledore himself. He had kept Hogwarts safe from Voldemort until Harry’s return. Harry and Voldemort were still alive but there was no doubt that their deaths were imminent: Voldemort’s confidence that Harry would come to him was as strong and true as had been Dumbledore‘s that Voldemort would return. At the last moment - miraculously - Snape was able to give Harry all the information he wanted to give, certain that Harry would follow its lead to his own and Voldemort’s deaths as resolutely as he had followed the doe in the woods to the pool of icy water. (And that a friend would pop up to help if Harry looked like messing it up!) Snape did not need to witness Harry’s and Voldemort’s deaths - he already knew how it would be, Dumbledore had told him - and there was nothing for him to live for after them. Snape left this world looking into Lily’s eyes. His victory was complete.
finmagik on June 24th, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)
That was a very good essay.
pathology_docpathology_doc on June 24th, 2008 01:15 pm (UTC)
I would respectfully disagree with your opinion regarding Snape's hatred of Dumbledore. Certainly he must have hated what the old man was making him do, but ultimately IMO Dumbledore was right - Snape would do it if it meant he was doing it for Lily. Else he would refuse. (And of course agreeing to fill in for Draco if the boy couldn't kill Dumbledore was also part of Dumbledore's plan - he spoke the absolute truth when he said "I think he means for me to do it in the end anyway" - there was no way for Narcissa or Bellatrix to know - and they would not have believed if told - that Snape was talking about Dumbledore himself! He risked nothing by taking that vow, because he meant to fulfil it anyway, at Dumbledore's orders.)

I interpreted his loathing as he killed Dumbledore as loathing at having to kill the only man who could vouch for him, and at having to play, essentially, the role of Judas - and probably being doomed to die as Judas, loathed and hated, with nothing to mitigate matters. His own soul was quite safe if he killed Dumbledore as an act of euthanasia rather than as hateful murder - Dumbledore had told him so.

THAT BEING SAID, I think you've argued your points very well, and certainly shown a deeper side to both Snape and Dumbledore. Bloody well done.

ETA: And all of what you've said notwithstanding, I would like to hope that one day Harry's younger son ends up in the headmaster's office where Snape's portrait hangs, and he can see Harry Potter's child, with Lily's eyes and Severus' name. No, it won't quite be the same... but it will be better than nothing, and it will at least give Snape the comfort that his sacrifice was not unremembered.

Edited at 2008-06-24 01:29 pm (UTC)
I laugh therefore I am.notmonica on June 24th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
*waves at doc* I posted practically an essay myself in the comment below your.....

I would like to hope that one day Harry's younger son ends up in the headmaster's office where Snape's portrait hangs, and he can see Harry Potter's child, with Lily's eyes and Severus' name...it will at least give Snape the comfort that his sacrifice was not unremembered.

*sob* Not only is this a bloody good prompt for a bit of fanficing it's also a beautiful statement of the love and hopes Snape had for Lily. Not their child but still, a merging. Funny how life gives us what we need (if not what we want).
(no subject) - woman_ironing on June 24th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 25th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - woman_ironing on June 25th, 2008 02:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 25th, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - woman_ironing on June 26th, 2008 09:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
continued - woman_ironing on June 26th, 2008 09:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: continued - (Anonymous) on June 26th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: continued - woman_ironing on June 30th, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
I laugh therefore I am.notmonica on June 24th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
That was an excellent essay. I've spent an embarrassing amount of time contemplating Snape and his character (and writing similar essays) so I always enjoy reading someone else's assessment of him.

However, I have to disagree with some of your conclusions. I think Snape was considerably more conflicted about himself and Dumbledore. Of course it was about Lily-always-but slowly along the way it became about more than revenge. Yes, I think that his goal was revenge and that goal was fueled primarily by hatred but I think he had considerable hatred for himself as well. But instead of dwelling on his self loathing he poured it into steely resolve regarding his goal, protecting Harry. A goal that he hadn't chosen for himself but that Dumbledore had chosen for him, a goal he had committed to fully nonetheless. He was both self-loathing and arrogant. Every time he pulled one over on Voldemort he could pat himself on the back that he was smarter than the greatest Dark Wizard of the centuryand thereby hold his self loathing comfortably at bay. And why did he choose this course? Because Dumbledore told him it was the way.

I think Snape's relationship with Dumbledore had definite parental overtones. Snape wanted to earn Dumbledore's respect so he could regain his self respect but he also resented the power Dumbledore had over him and the knowledge and expectations he had of him. Dumbledore knew more about Snape's character, good and bad, than anyone. And just as there are changes in the nature of a parent/child relationship as the child moves from childhood to adulthood so were the changes in Dumbledore and Snape's relationship. When we see them on the heath Dumbledore is the punishing, disappointed father, a VERY familiar father figure for Snape. But by books 6&7 we see a far more adult and peer like relationship between them. Snape can hold his own with Dumbledore, he can express disappoint, doubt and disagreement with him. And like every adult child he is dismayed by finding out that the parental figure is human and fallible. But, make no mistake, there is never really any question that he will disobey Dumbledore, and they both know it. Snape asserts his independence but ultimately does as Dumbledore says. And yes, as he kills Dumbledore he draws on his hatred of him, but he loves him too. He hates and loves Dumbledore just as he hates and loves himself. Just as every child hates and loves the parent who knows the child better than he knows himself.

For the emotionally stunted Snape, Harry fulfills an almost sibling like role for Snape. Harry was competition for the love of the mother (Lily) and the love of the father (Dumbledore). Dumbledore hadn't just set Harry up to carry on alone, he'd set up Snape similarly. And he had entrusted the continuing protection of Harry to Snape. He had told both of them in essence, you don't need me anymore, you can do this without me. That's why Snape unleashes such anger on Harry when he calls Snape a coward. After all, what more courageous act than severing from the parent and continuing on alone, and for Snape, without any other close relationships, he is truly alone.

I think that Snape showed evidence of growth during his lifetime. I think that his comment of "Only those whom I could not save" is evidence of it as is the complexity of his relationship with Dumbledore.

woman_ironingwoman_ironing on June 25th, 2008 09:10 am (UTC)
Snape is an intriguing character who has been enveloped in a kind of miasma of fandom longing! I've been trying to write this essay for months, and in the end it's still little more than thinking out loud.

Snape and Dumbledore's relationship is certainly open to interpretation. About the only thing that's clear is that DD was far from honest with Snape and exploited him. My problem with the DD as father figure for Snape is that Snape's too old for it - he's a grown man not a teenager. It doesn't make him any more sympathetic a character, it makes him rather weak and ridiculous. But maybe that's what he is. Snape continued with DD's plan even after DD told him it's goal was Harry's death, and it's hard to square that with a Snape who was committed to protecting Harry.
(no subject) - shyfoxling on June 25th, 2008 09:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - notmonica on June 25th, 2008 01:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - notmonica on June 25th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mistress_kabuki on June 25th, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - woman_ironing on June 26th, 2008 11:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
Peg Kerrpegkerr on June 24th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
Extremely interesting essay, although I agree with other commenters that I don't quite buy the argument that he killed Dumbledore filled with a sense of hatred (other than hatred over what Dumbledore was asking him to do) and revenge, but out of loyalty.

I'd recommend that you look at this essay, too, about Snape's story arc and development of his ethics, AND his part in the story. I think you'd find it quite interesting.

Quite interesting point, that Snape was thinking about Lily when he made the unbreakable vow to Narcissa. I hadn't seen that aspect before.

Edited at 2008-06-24 04:52 pm (UTC)
Peg Kerrpegkerr on June 24th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
See also my essay on remorse, which riffs off the essay by rexluscus, although it's more about Ron than Snape.
(no subject) - woman_ironing on June 25th, 2008 10:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mistress_kabuki on June 25th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - woman_ironing on June 26th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 24th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
Oryx from the LeakyLounge here.

I disagree Snape was so full of hatred and lacking in compassion as you describe him. In POA he had Sirius at his mercy on the lake - and what did he do? He did not sic the dementors on him as he supposedly intended, he conjured a stretcher for him and brought him safely to the castle (much more compassionate than Sirius' treatment of the unconscious Snape - banging him against the walls of the tunnel). And the way he talks to the injured Dumbledore when he treats his cursed hand - it is the way a loving parent would talk to a child who stupidly endangers himself.

Overall, while Snape talks with bitterness and hatred, his actual actions show compassion and care to many, especially students, whom he has to save time and again from themselves and incompetent or irresponsible teachers. In COS he saves students from damage inflicted by messing around in his class as well as from their duels gone wild (while Lockhart is totally ineffectual), and is anguished when a student is taken to the Chamber. In POA he seeks to protect students from a werewolf who resists, and eventually neglects to take his Wolfsbane and who appears to be in collaboration with a presumed mass murderer. In GOF he puts off the investigation of a break-in into his stores because he hears screaming, and only reverts to arguments and accusations when it turns out the screaming was not of a hurt person but Harry's egg. In OOTP the only times he leaves his memories with Harry is when he hears a woman in pain (Trelawney) or when he receives a report that a student (Montague) seems to have suffered brain damage.

His teaching methods are not to everyone's taste but there is a long tradition of using 'tough love' both by parents and teachers, and Snape appears to follow that method. He has high expectations from his students and hates incompetence, but more than that, hates it when people disregard safety. Even his preference of Slytherins over Gryffindors is consistent with this attitude. Slytherins are naturally self-preserving, while Gryffindors have proven to him time and again (the Marauders, the twins, the trio) that Gryffindor boldness often translates to wanton endangerment of self and others. He hates Harry on sight - but think what that first sight was - a boy recoiling as if in pain upon first looking at him. Snape must have thought Petunia had already poisoned Harry against the 'awful boy' who had taken her sister from her. And later Harry managed to reinforce Snape's opinion by repeated incompetence in class and acts of foolhardiness. Neville is not only incompetent, he even brings his (uncontrolled) pet to class. And Hermione, while a capable student, by sticking to the known does nothing truly inventive (which she might have been capable of), and she doesn't do enough to curb Harry's dangerous acts but gets dragged along with him. The trio preferred to trust Lupin when he admited to repeated breach of trust over himself who had always done his best to save them. No wonder he was bitter with the three of them.

His comment to Tonks about her Patronus - may have been a warning that she was unwise to pursue a relationship with a weak man (and was he right about that!).

Snape was a demanding man. He hated or despised, but at least since we met him in PS never without reason, and while he said hateful words, there were very few times acted on his hatred (and even if/when he did, those actions never had lasting consequences). He had 2 great loves - erotic love for Lily and filial love for Dumbledore, and both his loves were unrequited and unappreciated. Even to those he hated with a passion he was caring and compassionate when it mattered - even taking a great risk in attempt to save Lupin in DH. And through his work as a teacher and double agent he came to love broader humanity as a whole - at least to the extent he did not want them to die needlessly, whether becasue of their own stupidity or because of the acts of a madman.

Snape was Rowling's best creation. He demonstrates challenges, achievements and limitations of moral strictness, of countering negative proclivities with discipline born of understanding. I'd take Snape over Sirius, Lupin, Dumbledore and Harry any day.
woman_ironingwoman_ironing on June 25th, 2008 11:30 am (UTC)
Snape was beside himself with rage when Sirius escaped the Dementor's Kiss.

Snape was aghast that DD had been distracted from his plan, and was anxious that DD might die before he was in a position to get his revenge on Voldemort.

The Snape who thinks and speaks and the Snape who acts are the same character, and Snape acts as he speaks and thinks, as someone whose main concern is the wrongs that have been done to him.

The trio were right to trust Lupin - he believed Sirius about Pettigrew and he was right to; Snape didn't and was wrong.

Can it ever be acceptable for an adult - a teacher - to hate and despise the children in his care?

Why on earth would Snape love Dumbledore?

Snape was quite willing to send Harry to his death at the hand of that madman, Voldemort.

Snape is a great creation. He demonstrates the nightmare existence of someone who fails to take responsibility for himself and his actions. You can keep him. I'll have Harry!
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 26th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
:) - woman_ironing on June 26th, 2008 10:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
mary_j_59mary_j_59 on June 24th, 2008 10:07 pm (UTC)
It will not surprise you that I disagree strongly with much of what you say here. This, in particular, lost me completely:

Throughout the books Snape was defined by hatred. He hated other people - even children. He was without compassion, and blind to his own and others’ humanity. He never had a good word for anyone. He was contemptuous, spiteful and petty. He picked on Harry, was prejudiced against Hermione, and tormented Neville. He spat venom at Sirius, and nurtured his loathing of James, dead for ten years and more. He even sniggered at Filch’s distress when he thought his cat was dead, and bitched at Tonks over her love for Lupin!

I basically do not agree with a single word of this. Looking at it statement by statement, this is what I see:

1. Snape is defined by hatred; he feels no compassion for anyone and even hates children, never having a good word to say to anybody.

This is demonstrably false. One of Severus Snape's salient qualities is loyalty, and we see this particularly with the Malfoy family. He praises Draco's work in Potions (which, btw, we know to be genuinely good - Draco gets a "O" in Potions on his own merits), seems genuinely disturbed when Harry names Lucius as a Death Eater, and is gentle and compassionate towards Narcissa in the Unbreakable Vow scene. His reaction there is described in the exact same words that are later used to describe Harry when he sees Lupin weeping. He most certainly does have good words for Lily and also for Draco and Narcissa.

2. He was contemptuous, spiteful and petty. Yes, certainly. He was not alone in this; so were Lupin, Black, Dumbledore and Harry himself (smirking at Marietta's disfigurement, for example). Snape is a rather immature person, in canon, but those traits do not define him. Nor do they particularly separate him from other characters in canon.

3. He picked on Harry, was prejudiced against Hermione, and tormented Neville. Um - yes. And Harry was consistently rude, hostile and rebellious; Hermione helped the boys to cheat and undercut their learning (doing their work for them all the time). As for Neville - well. Someone called Helen Ketcham, in a fascinating essay called "Good Snape is Not a Squared Circle" pointed out that several interesting things are going on with Neville (whom I love). Suffice it to say that Severus reacts to him extremely emotionally and is often unfair - but he is also, *always*, physically protective of the boy. Always. That is not hatred - not in my book.

4.He spat venom at Sirius, and nurtured his loathing of James, dead ten years and more.
And when did James and Sirius ever repent their treatment of him? When did Sirius ever fail to spit venom at Severus? As you know, I see Sirius and Severus as spiritual twins, and have written an essay about that. If you are criticizing Severus for his vengeful spirit, you must criticize Sirius, also. But there is this difference between them. At the end of POA, each young man has his enemy helpless and at his mercy. Sirius bangs the unconscious Severus's head repeatedly, and treats him without the slightest dignity. Severus gets Sirius on a stretcher and carries him up to the castle.

One more thing to note about this scene: Severus's motives for hating Sirus are *exactly* the same as Harry's in this scene, and their reactions are - again - quite similar. As for James, it actually was his arrogance that got himself and his wife killed and orphaned their son. Severus's blame for him is - again - very like Harry's blame for Severus when Sirius dies, with this difference: James is actually more responsible for the disaster (from Snape's pov) of Godric's Hollow than Severus was for Sirius's rushing off to the ministry.

(to be continued)
Vashtivashti on June 28th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
Ketcham's essay seems to have vanished completely from the interwebnet, but through the wonders of the Internet Archive, here it is. You might need to turn off stylesheets in order to view the text.
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mary_j_59mary_j_59 on June 24th, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC)
(part 2)
5 He even sniggered at Filch's distress when he thought his cat was dead.
No, he didn't. He was happy to see *Harry* caught in the act. After all, Harry, having committed a crime which should have gotten him expelled, had been let off with a slap on the wrist. I also think Severus has an "elder brother's" jealousy of Harry, and was quite thrilled to be proven "right". Immature, as I said before; a bit nasty, certainly, but not as bad as what you are seeing here.

6. And bitched at Tonks for her love for Lupin!
Here again, when Severus Snape tells Tonks her patronus is weak, he is absolutely right. Remus Lupin is a weak person, a liar, and a coward. anyone who cared for Tonks might well be sharp about this love affair. But I wrote an essay about that, too. It was not entirely right - I no longer think Severus was being protective of Tonks. He was just sniping at Lupin through her, but he had very good reason to, IMHO. I am utterly repelled by all the marauders after what we learn about them (timelines, etc) in DH.

I have to admit that I was so turned off by that opening paragraph that I couldn't give the rest of your essay the fair reading it deserves. Just a couple of things I noted:

You criticize him for not rescuing Lily on his own, but instead going to Dumbledore. I truly do not understand your point. For one thing, Severus had in fact risked his life to beg for hers from Voldemort. This is why Voldemort gave her the option to stand aside, and why Harry survived. Snape was 21, at most, at the time. Lily was married to a man who hated him and would surely refuse to listen to him. What action could he have taken, not trusting in Voldemort's promise, other than going to Dumbledore and giving himself up? Yes, it was very callous of him to agree to let James and Harry die, provided Lily could be saved. He deserves to be criticized for that, but how can you criticize him for failing to rescue her?

Then you say he hated Dumbledore. Again, I do not see this in the text at all. What I see is a young man desperate for love and belonging, and seeking a father figure. Voldemort was his first choice; he then latched on to Dumbledore, and constantly seems to seek his ear, his approval, his validation - and never gets it. His reactions to Dumbledore throughout the books are very like Harry's - compare Severus in POA to Harry in OOTP and HBP.

My final point: you say he is hateful because his goal is vengeance. But what is Harry's goal? Doesn't he want to kill Voldemort personally because he killed his - Harry's - parents? How is this not vengeful?

I do apologize if any of this sounds harsh, but you are making sweeping statements about Severus's motivations and development while ignoring evidence from the books that goes against you. I think there is evidence that he is by far the most loving person in these books. He certainly sacrifices far more for the cause of good than anyone else, including Harry. And I also think, as Rexluscus has said, that he develops emotionally and morally.

Sorry for the length! You did give me a lot to think about, in any case.
woman_ironingwoman_ironing on June 25th, 2008 01:33 pm (UTC)
Re: (part 2)
I wrote this essay as a way of understanding Snape for myself, and what I ended up with wasn't what I'd expected when I began. It's less sympathetic. I think it might be too simplistic, but it's worthwhile as an antidote to the widespread view of Snape as a hero.

I think my view of Snape in the first paragraph is sustainable. Praising Draco in potions is perhaps the one swallow that doesn't make a summer. I don't know why Snape should be loyal to the Malfoys, or whether such loyalty would be a good quality. He can't not have known that Lucius was a Death Eater, and I don't know why he'd be disturbed by the fact; he was one himself. Snape shows a brisk compassion towards Narcissa in Spinner's End, and my essay talks about this.

2. I can only say that Snape's spite and pettiness is universal and more sustained than anyone else's, to the extent that it characterises him.

3. Snape is protective of Harry because that's what he promised DD. I think he has it in for Hermione because she is so demonstrably not Lily.

4. I certainly wouldn't argue that Sirius stopped hating Snape. James didn't have the chance; he died. Their behaviour does not excuse Snape's. It's Snape I'm writing about. If one is to see him as somehow good his visceral hatred of Sirius is a big problem. Snape was beside himself when Sirius escaped the Kiss, and he hated him to the last.

To call James's trust of his friends 'arrogance' is terribly cruel, and I think, unjustified.

5. You may be right about Snape and the smiling, but it's hardly in his favour. It's difficult to reconcile a commitment to protecting Harry with a desire to see him expelled.

6. Poor Lupin! Poor Marauders!

There's a lot more in my essay, and I hope you'll be able to bring yourself to read it more closely. I have tried very hard to back up my sweeping statements with evidence from the text. At heart I see Snape as someone concerned with the wrongs done to him rather than with his own actions and responsibilties. He does not try to understand himself, he's too caught up with the faults of others. His love of Lily is most interesting. It's not a love that is concerned with the beloved's welfare, only with the lover's.

Snape may well have thought he was doing the right and clever thing going to DD, but he was wrong - he had the wrong idea about DD, as he quickly found out when DD demanded payment from him. Being a northerner he should have thought on the saying, 'If you're looking for a helping hand, you'll find it at the end of your arm'. He should have taken responsibility himself, despite the risks, but he didn't because he wanted both Lily and Voldemort.

I can't see why Snape should look on DD as a father figure. After what happened to Lily? He'd have to be an idiot!

There are parallels between Harry and Snape, but maybe the point of them is the differences not the similarities.

Harry wants to kill Voldemort because Voldemort wants to kill him, which is why he killed Harry's parents. In the end, of course, Harry doesn't kill Voldemort, he gives up his revenge, his victory and himself to Voldemort. He wins by giving up.
Re: (part 2) - pallojaketju on June 25th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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mistress_kabuki: Mrs. Lovettmistress_kabuki on June 24th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
Very interesting essay. I'll admit upfront that I am still very much conflicted about not only the role of Severus in the series, but of the overall story itself and whether or not JKR succeeded in creating characters that were realistic and whole, that is, round characters as opposed to flat ones. I think that, because of the gap between books as the series progressed, readers were asked to fill in blanks to make up for the wait. And with each subsequent book providing more questions than answers, it became very easy to be completely blindsided by the final book and the behavior of the characters within. So forgive me if my response is a bit fuzzy. It's going to take me a while to digest everything and come to my own solid conclusions.

That said, I'm a bit baffled by those who have responded above stating that Snape's killing of DD was not an act of revenge as well as the expeditious end to a phase DD's plan for Harry. I think back to POA where DD mocked Severus in front of so many people when he flew into a pretty understandable rage about Harry and co helping convict Sirius Black to escape. I think of DD's tendency, from what we've been shown in canon, to give orders or manipulate people into doing what he wants. I think you hit the nail on the head too, when you said that DD failed to protect Lily. I doubt Severus Snape ever forgave that betrayal any more than he forgave the Marauders or himself. Severus is a powerful character who had great potential but was neglected and who turned to the Dark as a way to gain the respect and power over his own life that he seemed to crave. We are shown even in OotP that he can hold a grudge for decades -- why not hold one against DD? I think that notmonica is onto something when she says that Snape and DD loved and hated each other, but I think that in no way dismisses the idea of killing for revenge. Love itself is complicated enough to inspire all manner of responses.

Again, my thoughts on the whole thing are still pretty numb/shocked/jumbled. I liked your take on Severus' motivations, though. I'll be thinking on it for a while, I expect.
mary_j_59mary_j_59 on June 24th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
I am one of those above, and it is, again, Rowling's language that convinces me Snape's act is not one of revenge. His expression - revulsion and loathing - is described in the *exact same words* as Harry's feelings in the "poisoning" scene when he forces Dumbledore to drink the potion. Both the young man and the boy are *obeying* Dumbledore at this point, very much against their own will. Are we meant to think that Harry hates Dumbledore, or that his act is one of revenge, even though Dumbledore has ignored him, allowed his abuse, manipulated him and (though he doesn't know it at the time) lied to him?

If Rowling did not intend us to think Severus's feelings and motivations were similar to Harry's, she should not have used the same words to describe them. My two cents!
(no subject) - mistress_kabuki on June 25th, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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kestrelsparhawkkestrelsparhawk on June 25th, 2008 03:23 am (UTC)
Fascinating essay -- and fascinating responses. I'm one of the ones who finds Snape a loathesome but interesting character.

I do disagree that he hated Dumbledore -- we see the "hate" from Harry's perspective, and Harry doesn't read people all that well. It could have been (and retrospecitvely, almost certainly was) fury at Dumbledore for making him kill him. Anger and hate are not the same thing, but young people seldom understand that.

Except for that, however, I think you're pretty on target concerning the center of his life -- hatred and revenge. Although it's presented that Snape became "good" -- ie left Voldemort's side -- for love, there's not much reason to think that love is what drove him. Protect Harry? Physically, somewhat. emotionally, he abused him constantly. (Emotional abuse is the common experience for Harry among significant adults -- either direct verbal abuse, like Vernon Dursley and Severus Snape, or emotional abandonment, like Dumbledore, or boundary sliding, like Sirius. Only McGonagall is someone who seems to hold him to clearly defined standards, rewarding him predictably, and punishing him predictably. (The exception being first year Quidditch.))

As to Harry being ... well, snarky to Snape, certainly he was, though not beyond the pale. The BIG difference is that Snape was his teacher -- and abused his power to hurt and humiliate a child, encourage children to target each other, and make blatantly unfair decisions which further undermined adult authority by emphasizing the powerlessness of the students to resist, In my (imaginary) essay, JKR's world as one of powerlessness and adults vs. children is the center of the problem. Harry was right when he told Snape that he was trying to hurt Harry out of hatred for a man who'd been dead a long time. It was sad. What Harry missed is that Snape HAD to hate James, and hate Harry, and hate the Marauders, because he didn't want to hate himself, and couldnt' hate Lily.

I read Snape as

kestrelsparhawkkestrelsparhawk on June 25th, 2008 03:25 am (UTC)
And I have NO IDEA how to edit a comment, or I'd take out the last four words, which don't belong there! Sorry.
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Snape and Class - kestrelsparhawk on June 25th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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woman_ironingwoman_ironing on June 25th, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, Snape's death could be just one of those dreadful things, like Sirius's death, and it's definitely a very powerful moment in the story. I did say in the essay that we shouldn't let Snape's death cloud our understanding of his life. One of the things that started me off writing the essay was wondering what might be going through Snape's mind as he looked at Nagini in the Shrieking Shack. It seemed to me he must have known his life was in danger yet he kept on just saying to Voldemort, 'Let me bring Potter to you'. It seemed that getting Voldemort and Harry together was more important to Snape than his own life. Or, maybe, he was so focused on getting them together that he didn't notice his life was in danger! Perhaps there isn't any sense to be made of Snape's life and death, but it's worth having a try.
the ghost of Alex Krycekcs_luis on June 25th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
Really interesting essay, thanks.

My question is that if Snape is solely concerned with his own revenge, etc, then why does he demonstrate compassion to Ginny, Luna and Neville in DH? Why would he tell Phineas Nigellus not to call Hermione a Mudblood?
woman_ironingwoman_ironing on June 25th, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

The first because of his love for Hogwarts and his promise to Dumbledore to protect the students, and the second because that's how he lost Lily.
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Mia: Painting with lightmialuthien on June 26th, 2008 01:38 am (UTC)
I haven't read the comments above, but I'm sure that someone has already voiced their disagreement with this one statement: Snape never stopped hating. His hatred of Dumbledore was clear enough from the expression on his face as he killed him – if not, have you considered that this expression of hatred on Snape's face as he killed Dumbledore might have been self-directed? I am absolutely convinced that he never, ever, hated Dumbledore and was in fact horrified and agonized over the fact that he had to do this appalling deed. And Dumbledore's plea is an indirect proof of that. I mean, would the proud, powerful, and wise Albus Dumbledore abase himself with pleading for his life? Not likely. He would, however, plead to a friend to carry out what he'd promised. And Snape felt torn, entrapped and conflicted, as he understood he had no other choice but to see it through to the end. What about his soul, indeed.
mary_j_59mary_j_59 on June 26th, 2008 02:47 am (UTC)
Thank you. Exactly.

It only makes things worse that Dumbledore *knew* Voldemort would kill Severus in order to gain the power of the Elder wand. There is no other logical way to read it. That is a particularly horrible betrayal, IMHO.
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heidi∞: Housesheidi8 on July 1st, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)
Hi - you've done an amazingly intriguing job in creating something thought-provoking - I was wondering if you'd be interested in posting it to HPInkPot?

Edited at 2008-07-01 02:53 pm (UTC)
woman_ironingwoman_ironing on July 2nd, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks!. I'd like to do that.
snapesforte on July 9th, 2008 08:03 am (UTC)
This is without a doubt the best post-DH Snape essay I've read. I agree with you completely. The more I read this, the more I felt as if the schism that DH caused in Snape's character was being repaired, that he was being made whole again. You have made it possible for me to, finally, reconcile books 1-6 Snape with book 7 Snape -- in fact, you have made them the same Snape, which JKR failed to do well, so I thank you.

To lend a little support to your arguments and research -- JKR did say in a post-DH interview that Snape was (paraphrasing) "all about revenge".

elaborate blue tentacles of hilarityvalis2 on July 10th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
Here from snapesforte's journal; excellent essay. I've been thinking of rereading the whole series, because I think it would illuminate a lot more of Snape's character for me, and I had been thinking about things since DH, especially about how DH's events explain why Snape was so unhinged by Sirius in PoA and so excited about the Kiss.

This essay really pulled a lot of things together and makes terrific sense. I am quite fascinated by everything you've put together here--it's a great essay!
woman_ironingwoman_ironing on July 14th, 2008 12:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you both! This Snape makes a lot of sense, but...! At several crucial times - in Spinners End with Narcissa and Bellatrix, in the pensieve memory of him with Dumbledore after Lily's death, and in the Shrieking Shack with Voldemort - we can see that Snape is thinking and we're not being told what he's thinking. We are left to try to work it out for ourselves, and so much is open to interpretation. I'm still wondering what Snape was thinking when Voldemort was talking to him in the Shack, and if there was a particular understanding that sparked Harry into honouring him so much.