SPOILER ALERT: You’ve read all the Harry Potter books or seen all the movies, right? If not, you may learn something here you didn’t know. You’ve been warned.
While J. K. Rowling gave him a great secret and Alan Rickman made him someone we loved to watch, I cannot admire Severus Snape. In the books, he is downright abusive to Harry Potter. Not the most admirable behavior for someone who professes to love Harry’s mother.
Many people excuse Snape’s behavior towards Harry, pointing out that he had every reason to hate Harry’s father James. Yes, Snape had reason to hate James, but taking it out on his son is unfair. Maybe Snape couldn’t separate the two, since everyone says Harry reminds them of his father.
This makes Harry’s similarity to his father a liability. What if Lily’s child had been a girl instead of a boy? Harriet Potter would have gotten quite different treatment from Snape. Just being a girl would have made a difference. And the more she was like her mother, the more likely he would be to treat her kindly. She might even have become a favorite of his, if she had half her mother’s talent for potion making.
Imagining a kind Snape, or at least a Snape that doesn’t sneer every time he looks at James Potter’s child, opens the door to accepting him as he is, but I can’t walk through it. Even if I was willing to allow that James’ abuse of him is a justifiable reason for his abuse of Harry (it’s not), all I have to do is think of Neville Longbottom.
How do we explain Snape’s horrible bullying of this sensitive boy? As far as we know, Snape has no history with Neville’s parents to cause this behavior. Does he consider Neville weak? Stupid? Untalented? Even if he blames Neville for Lily’s death*, it doesn’t matter. He has no right treating anyone this way.
Snape has a broken heart and many disappointments in his life. He’s been bullied by his fellow students and grew up in an unhappy home. He takes great risks acting as a double-agent amongst the Death Eaters, and in the end Voldemort does kill him.
While his tragic and dramatic life explains his behavior, it doesn’t excuse it. Constantly picking on Harry and terrorizing poor Neville is not petty at best. It’s an abuse of his power as their teacher, and makes me lose my admiration for what he does accomplish.
That Harry forgave Snape in the end proves him a worthy hero. Though he suffered at Snape’s hands, he also recognized everything Snape had sacrificed and let that wipe away his actions of the past.
I recognize the grace and compassion Harry shows in making this choice, and yet I can’t join him in it. Snape’s bitterness mars his sacrifice. The power of his good intentions is lessened by the way treated Harry.
Do you admire Snape? Why or why not?
*There’s a fan theory that because the prophecy could have applied to Neville as well as Harry, Snape blames Neville for Lily’s death. If by some chance this is true, it makes me like Snape even less.