Monday, July 23, 2007

How Good Was Snape?

Nymeth says:


Speaking of Snape, I saw someone asking this in a discussion forum and I thought it might be fun to have a post in which we discussed it: how "good" was Snape? He only had a change of heart when someone he loved, Lily, was threatened. Would he have cheerfully continued to be a Death Eater if Voldermort had gone after the Longbottoms instead?

37 comments:

Nymeth said...

I'll answer my own question now :P

I think Snape was a very ambiguous character, and I liked that about him. He was not a very pleasant person, he could be petty and unfair (his treatment of Harry just because he disliked his father), he could be deceptive, etc.

But at the same time, the things Harry saw in the pensive, his closeness with Lily, his past - it all made me think he was just an awkward and lonely person who joined the wrong crowd because he was desperate for acceptance. Lily Evans seemed to be very good-hearted, and I don't think she'd have been best friends with Snape if he hadn't had some qualities.

I think that in a way, he was a little like the Malfoys - unpleasant, yes, and prone to do things that are not very nice, but not really evil deep down. By the end of the book the Malfoys were terrified of Voldemort, and they were unable to remain indifferent to the horrors he was causing. I think that even if it hadn't been for Lily, the same would have happened with Snape.

So - I wouldn't say he was the greatest guy around, but he wasn't a bad person either, and he was certainly very brave.

Dewey said...

I liked that Dumbledore said, "Sometimes I think we sort too soon." It was a hint that Snape could have done well in Gryffindor.

What I found most interesting was wondering how much a good person can have a bad influence in someone else's life. Lily had such a good soul, which Dumbledore stressed when he said Harry was more like Lily than James. I know that Snape's love for her led to his wanting to protect Harry, but Snape stayed miserable all his life. Did Snape's love for her and eventual rejection by her lead to bitterness that caused some of his more unlikeable behavior? Maybe without Lily, he would have met a different girl and would have remained content and uninvolved in all this.

Melissa said...

Those are interesting points...

Perhaps he was bitter because of his rejection of Lily, but you have to remember that he was already dabbling in the Dark Arts before she rejected him (in fact, that's why she did). I think his childhood came into play here -- perhaps he was captivated by Voldemort because Snape hated his Muggle father so much.

I don't think he was evil deep down (if he was, he wouldn't have been that affected by Voldemort). But I do think he was insecure and petty. He was always prone to making fun of those he felt were less than him (like Petunia). Think about it as the abused child becoming the bully because he hates his abuser so much. I think that has a lot to do with Snape's character.

But he was brave for Lily. I've decided his death was like his life: pathetic, yet somehow noble.

Dewey said...

That's true, he did show those bad qualities (dark arts, looking down on Petunia) before Lily rejected him.

I was sort of interested in how Petunia ended up how she was as an adult, but that's just one more thing left unadressed. I think my interest in Petunia in general stems from the fact that she's portrayed as just as much a bullying jerk as Vernon in the book, but in the movie, she's far more passive.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Let's give Petunia her own thread.

As for Snape and the dark arts, it makes sense. Just like troubled kids often turn to heavy metal music 'cause it's a place where people accept you, especially if you can strap on a guitar and shred, so to with the Dark Arts. Gain command of them and you have instant respect because people are afraid of you.

Plus, there's something cool about the danger inherent in them.

Eventually, I think Snape would have realized that the Dark Arts couldn't give him what he wanted, and he'd have turned to potions anyway. He'd have fought for the good side, too -- for the same reason. The realization that the Dark Side (so to speak) isn't fulfilling.

Which is where it deviates from heavy metal music. *wink*

Anonymous said...

Dean again.

Snape has always been my favorite character, I think because he always struck me as a tragic hero, and I'm satisfied with what we saw of him in the Pensieve. I rather like that he remains a mixed bag.

Alyson said...

I agree with Dewey that Dumbledore's statement -- "Sometimes I think we sort too soon" -- is greatly important here.

In the scene where Snape, Lily, James, and Sirius, are going to Hogwarts for the first time, Snape already wants to be sorted into Slytherin. If choice is as important as Rowling has told us it is, then Snape has already made his choice about Slytherin. Would he have chosen that route after a few years at Hogwarts? We don't know. If Lily had been sorted somewhere else, and he with her, and he hadn't been surrounded by Death Eaters, he probably would have become more like those surrounding him.

He clearly had the potential for noble acts and love, but he needed someone to pull it out of him. How few people there are in this world who act with goodness on all occasions. Lily was his inspiration for goodness, and after she rejected him, he had no link outside his fellow Slytherins. But he mourned that loss, I think, which is why his dying wish is that he could look into the same eyes as those of one he loved.

JMC said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the mistreated child now in a position of power idea. That is what got him started as a young man in the Dark Arts, and that's what maintained the pettiness and mistreatment of the students in other houses, particularly Gryffindor, when he was a teacher. He took Draco under his wing because he saw himself as a young man. He despised Harry and his friends because it was James and his crew all over again.

But at the time he saw the error of the Death Eater ways and turned to Dumbledore, he was completely on Dumbledore's side. As a teacher in a position of power, he never truly hurt Harry or his friends, but in fact protected them, and kept an eye on those nasty kids in the Slytherin house.

I think Snape may well have been the true hero of the book:

1- He protected Harry even though Harry was a constant reminder of the fact that his most hated nemesis, James, had won the heart of the girl Snape loved.

2- He grew up with derision and ridicule and so if he couldn't find acceptance, of course he would be drawn to the power offered by the Dark Arts. But he saw the error of his ways and began to work for good. He willingly faced the same ostracism he had endured as a child, as an adult, so that he could more effectively work for the good guys. They thought he had betrayed them and treated him accordingly, when in fact, he was still doing all he could so that they would succeed.

3- NOTHING ever worked out for the poor guy. He didn't get the girl, he had no real friends, he couldn't get the Defense Against the Dark Arts job. The only time he seemed to get to hold the positions he wanted was when he seemed to be on the side of Voldemort, and yet he STILL remained loyal to Dumbledore.

The guy had no one and nothing, yet he put all that aside and worked for the good of wizardkind. And he did it all without appreciation, without thanks, without notoriety, and without support of friends or family (all the things Harry DID have). Ultimately, Harry couldn't have done it without him.

cj said...

In spite of Snape's horrible childhood, which I wish we would've learned more about, I think his friendship with Lily would've continued and I think he may have seen the error of his ways through her.

Almost everyone who starts down a wrong path can, at some point in time, be drawn away from it by the intervention of another person.

Lily was Snape's savior in death. Her death caused him to leave the dark side. I believe she would still have been his savior in life.

cjh

Dewey said...

JMC's number 2: I thought that Rowling was showing that we should have compassion and understanding of Snape's early embracing of the Dark Arts when she showed us that even Dumbledore was attracted to something we'd consider negative as a young wizard.

Yeah, I would have liked to see more about his childhood, too. It seemed like a parallel to Harry's childhood with the Dursleys.

Journeywoman said...

I've said it before. If Harry Potter was instead Heather Potter with light brown hair and of course the Green Eyes, I think Snape would have bent over backwards to make sure that she had everything she needed.

Dewey said...

My son just finished today, and I just can not convince him to see Snape in a positive light. He's never liked Snape.

SFP said...

Isn't there a scene in one of the earlier books where Snape is actually abusive to Harry? I know that at some point Snape crossed the line for me and all my usual root-for-the-misunderstood-outcast tendencies just wouldn't swing into action anymore. My son never liked him either, Dewey.

Melissa said...

The whole liking/disliking of Snape may be a male-female thing. In another forum where I'm chatting about this, the lone man holds out that Snape was still bad, in the end. All us women are more inclined to forgive and allow for the good in him.

Wonder what that says about us?

Nancy Lindquist-Liedel said...

My son is being teased in school by a nasty little rat. He's very stoic about it, but I watch him like a hawk. I think it's easy for some people to be very bitter about abuse. Can't say I don't get it. I think Snape was Snape. Not good, not bad, just who he was. Doing what he needed to do to survive. Just like the rest of us.

No one is good, no one is bad. We just are. Each of us trying to do what we can do to get out of this as best we can.

Imani said...

I actually like that the Sorting Hat keeps on getting mentioned. I find the whole placing into Houses-deciding-your-character thing very disturbing. I know of the sort of characteristics that makes one marked for Slytherin but it was a Hogwarts House and it stretched credibility for me that at the end not one Slytherin house member stood up for Harry at the end, or stayed behind to fight Voldermort.

Dewey said...

Something I always wondered is if Hermione was almost placed in Ravenclaw. It's the house for intellectuals (and I loved how the "password" was answering a question) but she's also brave, and Gryffindor is for brave kids.

Nyssaneala said...

I thought one of the points Rowling was trying to portray with Snape (through the whole series, not just this book) was that just because you don't like someone, or they portray negative qualities, does not mean they are a bad/evil person. It also goes to show that judging a person by their outside demeanor (a more shallow view) is often not very accurate.

That's why I never lost faith (even through the beginning of DH) that in the end, Snape would be proven to be Dumbledore's man.

Dean said...

Yeah, I was also bothered that none of the Slytherins came back to stand up for the side of good at the battle of Hogwarts. I never thought that the sorting hat might've suggested Ravenclaw for Hermione, but I've always considered myself to be a Ravenclaw at heart.

Kitty Glendower said...

Speaking of no Slytherins coming back to fight, what do you think of Phineas Nigellus comment on pg. 747?

...and Phineas Nigellus called, in his high, reedy voice, "And let it be noted that Slytherin House played its part! Let our contribution not be forgotten!"

LOL! Yeah. Slughorn.

Dean said...

Maybe he was trying to claim house credit from Snape?

Ted said...

Snape lived with unrequited love - first because Lily went for someone else and then because she died, so he was used to romance through fantasy. He really did watch out for Harry but he could be manipulated easily because he lived in his head. I felt his story as it was played out in the final volume was one of the most satisfying things Rowling did over the course of the series.

Imani's points about the sorting hat are interesting because, of course, we (society as well as individuals do tend to sort people into groups based on different criteria. The hat reflected the whole school age set well because cliques are such a part of those societies and we test out our roles, and the criteria we might wish to apply or have applied to us.
Societies must and do evaluate people and literature, gives us a chance to revisit the acts within their context so that we can feel their impact, think of their meaning and re-evaluate our judgment again and again.

Nymeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nymeth said...

"Lechicaneuronline: Do you think snape is a hero
J.K. Rowling: Yes, I do; though a very flawed hero. An anti-hero, perhaps. He is not a particularly likeable man in many ways. He remains rather cruel, a bully, riddled with bitterness and insecurity - and yet he loved, and showed loyalty to that love
J.K. Rowling: and, ultimately, laid down his life because of it. That's pretty heroic!"

Nithya: Lily detested mulciber,averyif snape really loved her,why didnt he sacrifice their company for her sake
J.K. Rowling: Well, that is Snape's tragedy. Given his time over again he would not have become a Death Eater, but like many insecure, vulnerable people (like Wormtail) he craved membership of something big and powerful, something impressive.
J.K. Rowling: He wanted Lily and he wanted Mulciber too. He never really understood Lily's aversion; he was so blinded by his attraction to the dark side he thought she would find him impressive if he became a real Death Eater.

DebAnn said...

Snape was a good person. I think Rowling's theme throughout the series was to demonstrate that things aren't black/white, good/evil. Snape was an inherently good person who had some poor qualities and poor features.

Goodness doesn't equate with beauty or intelligence, nor does evil. Snape may have been a victim of poor circumstances, but he was responsible for his miserable life. His life was miserable, but not evil.

This is why I think women feel more inclined to nurture Snape and search for the goodness. We see his circumstances and pity him for not being able to rise up from them. The inability to triumph over past oppressions, however, does not evil make.

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