Snape’s Got Issues

by Cynthia Parson

Snape is an intriguing and complex character because he is a study of contradiction. He’s good and he’s bad and that makes him mysterious. He isn’t rude to everyone, just those for whom he has no respect. Although distant, he is polite if not respectful when addressing Professor McGonagall, for example. Nevertheless, he is unfair and even cruel to students, particularly Harry and Neville. Yet, he has acted noble and loyal. He is strong in mind and body and a master at his craft (i.e. Lupin’s potion in Book 3) and uses these abilities to support Dumbledore and his political position in the wizard world. Although hardly described as a handsome man, he nonetheless reeks of strength and virility (the billowing robes thing and having Alan Rickman exude these characteristics on film doesn’t hurt either. In fact, he makes Snape downright irresistible).

The most important and basic contradiction though, is that the protection he renders Harry behind his back time and time again is not consistent with the public disdain Snape shows him. How can Snape be good, noble, loyal, intelligent, strong and virile, and still be mean and so disagreeable? Is he really just a bad egg as was powerfully argued in a previous editorial? It’s not that simple. I say he’s got issues.

Snape strikes me as someone in constant pain, physical and/or emotional. The source of his pain is the mystery. It’s more than just a troubled childhood. It’s more than just having an abusive father, who may have introduced him to the dark arts. It’s more than just hanging around the rough crowd while a student. Part of the key may include the Malfoys. Notice that Sirius called Snape “Malfoy’s lapdog” in Book 5 (p.520 Am.ed.). This might be why James, Sirius and the others referred to Snape as Snivellus. It was a derogatory term derived from the word snivel, which refers to a runny nose. Having a large nose, Snape was compared to a dog with a wet nose and maybe also because he was always sniffing around to see what the foursome was up to. At any rate, perhaps it was Lucius Malfoy that brought Snape into Voldemort’s inner circle. Although Snape and Malfoy certainly didn’t circulate in the same social circles (as it is implied Snape came from more humbler circumstances than Malfoy), they nevertheless have some kind of association hinted by Sirius. It is another mystery: just what is the relationship Snape had or has with the Malfoys? Something is there because we are subjected to reading about Snape’s brown-nosing type favoritism towards Draco.

We don’t know yet just why Snape joined Voldemort and we don’t know yet why he left. What we do know is that Dumbledore’s comments about Snape are our only clues that he knows what happened to Snape. He and Snape have some kind of understanding as indicated at the end of Book 4 when he sent Snape off on some mission. Indeed, the protection Snape gives Harry is perhaps not so much loyalty to Harry as it is loyalty to Professor Dumbledore, or perhaps a debt owed him. Dumbledore knows all about Snape and still trusts him. We only know what Harry knows, so like Harry, we have a constant creeping of suspicion. I think something significant happened to Snape that jolted him out of Voldemort’s circle, but it had to be something so painful that he still finds it difficult to take joy in life long after leaving the dark side.

Consider the following possibilities:

Theory One

There is a clue in the fact the two people he torments the most is Harry and Neville. Now we find out in Book 5 that they have something in common. They were two babies Voldemort suspected of being his nemesis (mortal enemy). But there had to be more than just Harry and Neville. Out of all the babies born in the English wizard world, were they the ONLY TWO born at the end of July? Not very plausible. Voldemort and his Death Eaters were on the hunt for all babies born at the end of July. In fact, I think the reason Neville’s parents were tortured by Bellatrix is because they had Neville in hiding and they were refusing to tell her where. They were willing to die to protect Neville too, but they didn’t die because Bellatrix didn’t want them dead until she got the information she wanted. She wanted to know where Neville was, but her torture of them eventually rendered his parents useless to provide that information. Then she left them mere shells of their former selves as examples to all others who oppose Voldemort.

Perhaps there were other babies killed at the time Voldemort tried to kill Harry. Remember the time Harry had to serve detention with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest inSorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone? They ran into Ronan who kept stargazing and said “Always the innocent are the first victims. So it has been for ages past, so it is now.” Was he referring to just unicorns in the Forest? I don’t think so. He was making a statement about the babies Voldemort murdered 10 years earlier.

What if Snape did have a son, as some have theorized? What if he had a son born at the end of July, too, but his son was killed? Could that possibly explain Snape’s inconsistant behavior toward Harry? He hates what Voldemort has done and is loyal to Dumbledore and protects Harry for it, but at the same time his pain is so deep he cannot face the loss of his son and resents that Harry and Neville were lucky enough to live. Having hated Harry’s father (face it, James was a smart face jerk at fifteen), it wasn’t too hard for Snape to resent Harry but not just because he is the son of his boyhood enemy. He resents Harry and Neville because they are the boys who lived. Maybe Snape didn’t lose a son, but still, something extraordinary happened to him and he continues to be tortured by it.

Theory Two

The other possibility is that Snape recognizes that these two boys have unique characteristics to have been involved with the downfall of Voldemort, and he’s just trying to toughen them up as they enter manhood. If Snape knew how powerful Voldemort was, he may have always suspected he would return. How then are these boys going to face Voldemort if they can’t deal with a grumpy teacher? Snape has a very different approach to life and teaching style than the headmaster. Dumbledore is calm, uses humor and is encouraging. He keeps his emotions in check but in a positive manner. Even when Dumbledore is dealing with hard-nose bureaucrats at the Ministry, he never lets them goad him into anger (something Harry needs to learn). Even when facing Voldemort in a wand to wand battle, Dumbledore maintains his composure, thereby allowing himself the powerful ability to think wisely in his battle (another thing Harry has yet to learn).

Snape has an extraordinary ability to maintain his composure too. He doesn’t allow emotion to cloud his thinking either. But Snape doesn’t even allow good or positive emotions like humor or love to be part of his personality. These things would open his heart. He’s working so hard at not allowing anybody to read his thoughts that he keeps ALL emotion out as much as possible. When he does show emotion, it is invariably anger, even when he is trying to teach. Whatever Snape’s job is for Dumbledore, it may be just too dangerous for him to allow anyone to read his thoughts and feelings.

Theory Three

Maybe Snape really is a vampire and it makes him sick, literally. That’s why his expressions and behavior always seem tortured. This discussion has been addressed quite a bit already. How he became one might be the secret Dumbledore and the Malfoys know about him.


Aside from talking mean and treating him unfairly in class, what has Snape really done to Harry? Not much. Harry developed a thick skin about Snape. It’s Neville that has suffered the most from Snape’s insults, but even he was toughening up by the end of Book 5. So really, Snape has not done any lasting harm to these kids. But our sense of fair play and decency tell us nothing justifies Snape’s cruelty to children, and so we are feeling that uncomfortable feeling every now then about him.

Because he is mean, because he always helps Harry behind his back, because in Book 1 Harry feels pain in his scar the moment Snape looked straight into his eyes for the first time, because it was Snape after all who betrayed Lupin and told students his secret, causing him to lose his job at Hogwarts, and even because we are feeling Harry’s suspicion the Occlumency lessons were actually weakening Harry, we have to wonder what is the true core of Snape’s thoughts (as addressed in yet another great editorial).

In Harry’s first year, he had the unsettling feeling Snape could read his thoughts. But Harry and the rest of us are constantly unable to perceive Snape’s thoughts until that fateful day we, along with Harry wander into the Pensieve and have a peek at Snape’s most painful childhood memories (Book 5). It’s hard to believe Snape didn’t have even more painful experiences as an adult to put into the Pensieve, but perhaps Harry was able to hone in on the memories that had something to do with him. It is important to note that Snape got more than just a little glimpse at all the humiliating experiences that happened to Harry while living with the Dursleys. Another important point is that when Harry sees Snape’s humiliation he doesn’t feel satisfaction that Snape got as good as he gives. He felt sorry for him, but it went beyond sympathy. He actually felt empathy for Snape, which surprised even him. It bothers me Snape did not return that empathy upon seeing Harry’s painful memories. Nevertheless, the fact that Harry could empathize with Snape’s suffering gave us a glimpse of the depth of character and goodness that Harry has when we can look past his anger (and mischievousness). Perhaps that is what we will see in Snape. He is either really, really bad or, he has made extraordinary sacrifices for a greater good and we will somehow have to look past his anger and pain or in other words, his weaknesses.

This is what I hope for the character Professor Snape. The thread of love being power is woven throughout the story. I hope Snape will somehow be redeemed (as was addressed in a previous editorial) for the vileness he expressed towards Harry, Neville and other Gryffindors. I hope he is some how touched by the power of love from either a woman or a loyal friend. I hope the power of love redeems him from his source of pain and that he becomes an even more powerful wizard because of it. Snape may be the biggest traitor yet in Harry’s life and I know I should prepare for the worst, but I prefer to hope for the best.