Rowlings Cave Allegory: Dumbledores Death is Not What It Seems
An original editorial by Jo Cutler
The Snape is Evil argument is in danger of becoming purely academic. Will we truly find the answer to the riddle of Dumbledores strange
and unexpected death at the hands of Snape in the finer points of ethical theory? Should we stand on precedents set by earlier books, or the
reliability of character traits? Should we rely on our own instinctsour sense of certainty that Snape is no good, or our devotion to the
infallibility of Dumbledore?
As usual, it is not that Rowling has failed to give us all the necessary clues. It is that, again as usual, she has kept us distracted with
her artful slight of hand. The genius involved here is really her best yet, but we are not meant to be kept from the truth, we are only
meant to work hard to find it. I believe I have found the key to the truth in the chapter entitled The Cave which immediately precedes the
chapter in which Snape kills Dumbledore. It is in that chapter that the clues given throughout the book culminate, showing us that Snape is,
in his final scene, clearly acting on Dumbledores orders.
Clue #1: Platos Cave
The title of the chapter is surely a wink to Platos cave allegory (remember Rowling studied classics, whichfor those of us who live in the
U.S. and arent familiaris centered around Greek and Roman history, culture and philosophy). Platos cave illustrates the single most
pervasive theme in the Harry Potter series: reality and appearance are not the same thing. Can we trust the betrayal that appears to
occur in the next chapter to be a reality?
Clue #2: The Promise, The Command
Once Harry and Dumbledore reach the lake within the cave, we are walked through a scene which meticulously pre-creates the events in the
following chapter. Harry is put in precisely the same situation in which Sna pe will be put atop the lightning struck tower.
Before they embark on their adventure, Dumbledore had required that Harry swear to follow any command he gives. His examples were run and
hide, but the only actual order Harry receives is, essentially, hurt and possibly kill me. Dumbledore surmises that the potion must be
drunk in order to reach the Horcrux, and that it is probably some sort of poison, which will likely cause pain and/or damage and eventual
(perhaps preventable) death.
It may be objected at this point that Dumbledore was confident that he was not asking Harry to kill him. If he was confident, however, that
the poison would not kill him, he would have asked Harry to drink it. Dumbledore would have known he, Dumbledore, would be more likely to
succeed in getting them safely out of the cave with the Horcrux once Harry was incapacitated. Dumbledore could have rushed him, Harry, much
more effectively to immediate medical care. Indeed, Harry had the same thought:
Why cant I drink the potion instead? asked Harry desperately.
Because I am much older, much cleverer and much less valuable.
(Rowling 2005, 570, italics added)
Dumbledore expects that the poison may well be unavoidably deadly, and he is drinking it because he considers his own life to be less
valuable to the cause than Harrys. Additionally, we are to realize that he is willing to ask another to take his life 1) to advance the
cause and 2) as an alternative to taking Harrys. These are crucial hints.
Clue #3: The Protest
Harry protests, and one is reminded of the argument between Dumbledore and Snape overheard by Hagrid earlier in the book. Snape protested
against doing something Dumbledore had ordered him to do, to which, according to Hagrid Dumbledore told him flat out hed agreed ter do it
an that was all there was to it (405-406). Dumbledore is equally firm with Harry: You swore, did you not, to follow any command I gave
you?...Well, then, you have my orders
Your word, Harry (570).
Clue #4: The Plea, Obedience and Self-Loathing
Harry must obey, because he has promised to obey Dumbledore. Dumbledore pleads with him as he feeds him the poison. Please, please, please,
not that, not that, Ill do anything (573). He begs Harry just 22 pages before the horrible Severus
(595). He obeys Dumbledore
against his own will hating himself, repulsed by what he was doing (571), just as Snape obeys Dumbledore by killing him, revulsion and
hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face (595). It is himself, the action he is forced to take, that fills Snapes face with revulsion
If it had been Dumbledore he hated, if he had been glad to kill Dumbledore and be done with his work at Hogwarts then why, when Harry calls
him a coward, would he respond as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them? One
would expect a smooth, sarcastic response, of the sort more typical of Snape, especially in a moment of victory such as this. The
explanation is that he is still full of revulsion, rage and pain after obeying Dumbeldores last, most difficult, most horrible, order. Not
only has he committed a horrible act he did not wish to commit, but he knows he will be hated and hunted for committing it. He will never be
at ease to grieve his loss, but is sentenced now to permanent residence with the Death Eaters who will celebrate the death of his friend
(perhaps his only friend) and master.
It is from this place of exile that he will continue to carry out Dumbledores plan, helping Harry and thwarting Voldemort as invisibly as
possible, at war with himself and trusted by none of his true allies. A circumstance worthy of Shakespearean tragedy. Bravo, Rowling, Bravo.
Posted by: Sharon