by Jonathan Pessin
Severus Snape. He has been called a hero, a bastard, a spy, a double-crosser, an ugly git, and several other sobriquets besides. Some feel he’s a good man who’s done bad things. Others feel he’s misunderstood, and that deep inside, he’s a caring soul who wants what’s best for his kids.
Not me. I think he’s a heartless jerk who takes entirely too much pleasure in the pain he gives his students. Why, you may ask, do I vent such bile against a fictional character? The intensity of this hatred can be traced to a single comment made by Snape. From GoF, US Paperback edition, pp. 299-300:
Ron… forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth … she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar…
Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, ”I see no difference.”
This comment, more than any other action the readers have seen Snape commit, shows a level of heartlessness totally unbecoming a teacher OR a worker for the Light. One could justify many of his other actions toward the students. He mistreats Neville because he feels that he is an unworthy student and a disruption to his class. Harry, Snape may feel, is a glory-hound, whose thoughtless grandstanding endangers Harry himself as well as others. Ron, in his ceaseless and distracting conversations with Harry, disrupts class as well.
All of these, while perhaps not sufficient in OUR minds, might be seen by Snape to be enough justification for his actions toward these characters. The insult against Hermione, however, is totally unprovoked, unnecessary, and vicious. Hermione is an intelligent, hard-working, and respectful student. She has never, to my knowledge, caused disruptions in class. She wasn’t even responsible for the injury – her only crime in this scene is having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet Snape takes it upon himself to maliciously insult something which is beyond her control. Unlike some of Snape’s other actions, this shows a total lack of concern for the students’ emotional health and self-respect.
But, you may say, Hermione had helped attack him in the previous book. In The Servant of Lord Voldemort, (PoA ch. 19, US Paperback page 361), she helps Harry and Ron cast the triple Expelliarmus which threw him against the wall and knocked him out. He’s justified in disliking her, too. The difficulty with this theory is that later in the book (PoA ch. 21, US Paperback pgs. 386-387), Snape claims that the children were under the Confundus Charm, and thus, I assume, not accountable for their actions. You can’t have it both ways. Either Snape believed his comment, which means that he has no grounds for his cruelty toward Hermione, or he didn’t believe it, which means that he knew that Sirius was innocent and was willing to condemn him to a fate worse than death anyway. THAT, in my opinion, is just as evil as the cruelty toward children, if not even more so.
During my years at school, I was subjected to all manner of verbal abuse from fellow students. I have intimate personal knowledge of exactly HOW MUCH a single word has the ability to hurt. Luckily for me, however, the adults around me were supportive and kind. I can only imagine how scarring it would be to receive this sort of abuse not only from ones classmates (and Hermione is most definitely not the most popular person in her class) AND one’s teacher. I, for one, am truly happy that Hermione is part of the trio; if she were not, we couldn’t foresee to what depths this comment may have driven her.
Yes, I know that this was only one remark. One remark may not have the power to destroy a student’s life, or to cause a complete emotional collapse, but this one remark, I think, provides a peek into Snape’s inner soul. It is a disturbing view.
I theorize, from Snape’s appearance, character, actions, and demeanor, that he himself was once the victim of childhood taunts. I could picture him among the students of my early years, and I can say quite certainly that his peers would have roasted him alive – at least, if they were anything like children in MY day. Despite his own possible experience with verbal abuse, abuse which led to much of his character today, Snape STILL feels that he has the right to abuse the students under his care, and I don’t care what other actions he may take, that is something I just cannot respect.
Now, I’m not saying that he’s evil. Snape might truly be working for the Light. He might even be helping Dumbledore to work off a life-debt, or he might just be a good old-fashioned pragmatic. I don’t deny that Snape may be a good character, or a character who is working for a good cause. He may even give the final sacrifice to defeat Voldemort in the end, for all I know. I still hate him, though. Snape could kill Voldemort with his own hands and hand his head to Dumbledore on a silver platter, and I would still hate him – just because of four simple words.
”I see no difference.”