ABSTRACT: Lily Evans is painted as perfect, and this is unfair. Unable to see the wood for the trees, fans remember her in all her glory, unmarred by her human flaws. This essay addresses why this is horribly unfair, and remembers her as she probably was, imperfections and all.
The problem with dying, other than leaving those whom you love on Earth, is that all your bad traits are lost too. When Lily Evans, Harry's mother, died, she went from regular girl with a lot of talent, to "One of the brightest I ever taught. Vivacious, you know. Charming girl." (Deathly Hallows, page 70), and it isn't fair. Who are we to selectively erase angry memories, simply because they are no longer there? Her character, known for her prickliness, becomes radiant, razor sharp, gorgeous - in other words, anything other than what she truly was.
A twenty-one year old doesn't want to die, and one with Lily's vivacity and courage would never stop fighting for her right to exist, something proven by her personal defiance of Voldemort no less than three times. She selfishly clung to life as we all do, and sometimes she was sad, angry and unreasonable, but the series barely recognises this. As if she never gossiped bitchily with her best friends. As if she never lied. As if she never ignored the cries of her infant son so she could rest for one more minute in her bed. She probably resented James his freedom at times. Probably hated him when she was locked in the house in which she was doomed to die with nobody but a needy toddler to satiate her fears and insecurities, hoping they would be safe until James returned. And yet, nobody remembers this. Her life is erased and rewritten, regrets and anger fading away to this picture of a saint. She comes a hazy memory of unforgettable goodness, and it isn't fair.
We glorify death as a culture, and Lily Evan's true character is forgotten in the romantic tragedy of her death. She sacrifices herself for her son - and in doing so immortalises herself as an angelic legend, kind, beautiful, brave and intelligent; she's Perfection incarnate. Aside from Petunia's obvious jealous rants, a bad word is never spoken about Lily in the entire series. She is seen as a model student, mother, and, indeed, person.
Is this the right thing to do? No. She wasn't perfect. And we need to stop pretending she was. Lily was human, and intrinsically flawed. It isn't fair that nobody remembers the self-interest, the temper, the grudges she could hold, the arrogant belief that she could condemn James Potter because she wasn't like him, she wasn't conceited, when in fact the condemnation was what made her so. The world views her as a martyr, and this dulls the sacrifice she made. Who cares if a Madonna ends her life to save her sons? It's what's expected. It would have been an unforgivable offence if she had done otherwise.
Her life was brilliant and unlived, and she clung to it like no other. She married someone she claimed she hated, and yet due to the regrettable shortness of her cursed life, spent more time loathing him than liking him. Her youth was spent with a wizard she would grow to despise, cold fury enveloping warm memories. Years later, Snape loves her still. "Always," he claims (DH 552), a remarkable testament to the woman that hasn't spoken to him for years. Her sacrifice becomes mundane, and we remember her abstractly; out of sight, out of mind, and over time, the bad parts fall away. Lily Evans becomes an undeniable martyr, unmarred by imperfection, the lonely truth buried with her in her icy grave.
It's time to remember the dead as they were, but especially Lily Evans. Her remarkable sacrifice is so courageous because she was so self-involved, arrogant, and obnoxiously brilliant. If we allow ourselves to forget the faults, we do her no services. If we paint just her virtues, the true meaning of her death is irrelevant. Of course someone like Lily would sacrifice herself, for her love was unsurpassed. But this love did not only extend to her son, husband, or friends - it was as much love for herself and her life that kept her fighting. By forgetting that in order to love others you must first love yourself, we make her death a little bit less poignant, and we need to stop. Lily Evans was not good because she was perfect; Lily Evans was amazing because she wasn't, but gave it all up anyway. Standing in front of her son, knowing that with her death her potential in life would die too, she must have been terrified, and she was probably a little unwilling to let go. The fact that she held her ground for her son is incredible, and honourable, but only because she did it in spite of her imperfections, not because she didn't have them. By editing her memory we wash away the true power of her offering to Harry. Glorifying The-Boy-Who-Lived's dead mother is no longer fair, and we need to stop.