U-N-I-T-Y (That means the Slytherins too!)
I’ve been a fan of MuggleNet for a while now, and the editorials are, without a doubt, my favorite part of the site. But I must admit that I’ve experienced an incredible amount of exasperation at the people who assume that being a Slytherin is synonymous with evil. The one thing I’d like you to keep in mind reading this is that we are looking at the books from HARRY’S point of view. Harry is not omniscient. In fact, he is wrong quite often.
The first impression of the Slytherins comes on page 77 of PS/SS (American hardcover). It is introduced by none other than Draco Malfoy. At this point, Harry doesn’t know who Draco is, only that he is a stuck-up blonde who Harry “was liking…less and less every second.” Draco says that he wants to be in Slytherin, and that his whole family had been in that particular house. At this point, Harry doesn’t know what Slytherin is, but even so, having the house recommended by someone Harry clearly disagrees with and doesn’t like doesn’t do much for his opinion of Slytherin.
Three pages later (pg 80), Harry asks Hagrid about the houses, having not understood a great deal of his conversation with Draco. Hagrid then gives the line we all know: “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Harry accepts this at face value. He doesn’t know any better. Neither did we, at the time, but now we’ve read books 2 through 5. Now we know that this statement was downright WRONG. Hagrid says there wasn’t “a single” exception. What about Peter Pettigrew? He was in Gryffindor, JKR affirmed for us. And yet we can say with confidence that he, the man who was most instrumental in bringing back Voldemort, counts as someone who “went bad.” Also, we find out in CoS that Hagrid was framed by one Tom Riddle. Tom was the reason Hagrid’s wand was snapped, and the reason Hagrid was expelled. Tom Riddle, who later became Lord Voldemort, was a Slytherin. Isn’t it possible that this biased Hagrid against Slytherin house? All in all, Hagrid’s words have been shown FALSE. So why are we still using them to judge the Slytherins?
The next mention of Slytherin can be found on page 106, by a Mr. Ronald Weasley. Ron tells Harry that all his brothers were in Gryffindor, and that he’s afraid he’ll end up in Slytherin. It’s easy to see that this is all first-day-of-school nerves, but it is also an instance of Slytherin bashing. Ron, Harry’s first peer friend, is telling him that Slytherin is undesirable. Harry sees Ron as extremely knowledgeable, after all, he must know – his whole family are wizards. But that doesn’t mean the information is correct. Ron’s brothers were all in Gryffindor, and we’ve yet to meet a Gryffindor who likes Slytherins. Most of the Gryffindors we’ve met (like Fred and George), are in engaged in a kind of war against Slytherins. You can bet that this would carry back home, and that little Ronnie-kins would hear about it. Also, we’re again judging the Slytherins by the fact that Voldemort was once one of them. He was ONE of them, not ALL of them. Not all Gryffindors are heroes like Harry, and not all Slytherins are evil, homicidal killers, like Lord Voldemort.
Page 108, Draco comes back and reinforces the fact that he’s prejudiced and not a nice guy. Again, Draco becomes ONE of the Slytherins, but he is not ALL of them.
On page 118 we first hear from the sorting hat. It’s far more reliable than the other sources we’ve heard, and it seems to say that Slytherins are ruthless. I just finished reading quite a good article which analyzed the words used by the sorting hat, showing how the meanings of them can actually be quite positive. The editorial had a good point. Slytherins can be ruthless, but isn’t this ruthlessness just another kind of determination? Also, though, we have to remember that, in Book 4, the sorting hat tells us that it once belonged to Godric Gryffindor. Which does not make it the most objective of hats. Sure, a thousand years has made the hat considerably wiser. However, even in Book 5, it equates itself with Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw, rather than Slytherin. (“When old Slytherin departed/And though the fighting then died out/He left us quite downhearted…” OotP, pg 206). The sorting hat is more truthful than Hagrid or Ron, but don’t forget that even this hat has its predispositions.
Okay, on to page 121. Here, Harry is sorted. Have we all forgotten that Harry himself was almost a Slytherin? Yes, Dumbledore tells us later that it is, in part, because of his connection with Voldemort. But still. This connection had been with Harry for 10 years. Any changes that it wrought in him are, by now, a part of him. And what about Harry’s own personality traits? Doesn’t Harry show determination to equal any Slytherin? And he is ambitious, a Slytherin trait. The sorting hat says it’s “a thirst to prove yourself.” And Harry shows his ambition later. He wants to be an auror, a position of power, and that requires extremely high marks in a variety of subjects. He’s an ambitious Quidditch player, like in third year, when he wakes up from falling 50 feet, and immediately asks who won the game. Even Harry, star Gryffindor, does have his Slytherin moments.
A few pages later, page 124, Harry talks to Nearly-Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost. Nick introduces a competitiveness between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins, and explains how Slytherin won the house cup six years in a row. Then, “The Bloody Baron’s becoming almost unbearable-he’s the Slytherin ghost.” The Bloody Baron, by the way, is a truly frightening-looking ghost. He looks undesirable, is described as “unbearable,” and is the ghost of Slytherin house. All in all, he’s not likable. But wait-you’re forgetting about Peeves. Peeves holds a tiny bit of respect for the teachers, but he does respect the Bloody Baron. And that’s it…or is it? Do you recall book 5, where he takes a direct order from Fred and George, two Gryffindors? Hmm, there’s a little similarity between Gryffindor and Slytherin.
There does come the argument of parentage. Yes, many Slytherins do come from households who sympathize with Voldemort, or his ideals. However, judging them by their parents is like them judging a Muggle-born by their parents. It’s wrong. Surely, seeing James in Book 5, learning about his imperfections, and how he differs from Harry must have taught us something. Harry is nothing like his father at fifteen. So why do we assume that the Slytherins all take after their parents? Yes, Draco Malfoy seems to, but there is only one Draco Malfoy. He is the loudest of the Slytherins, but he is not the only one. We need to consider that Draco is the exception, rather than the rule.
Finally, Professor Snape. He’s my favorite character, without a doubt. Very intelligent, very mysterious, quite unbearable, and an undeniable question mark. To this day, no one can say with confidence whose side he’s really on. He’s a double spy, and he’s on his own side. Very “Slytherin” of him, one might say.
Harry first finds out about Snape at the Gryffindor table. Harry thinks that Snape makes his scar hurt. (Sorry, Harry, that’s Lord Voldemort poking out of the back of Quirrell’s turban.) Not a good first impression. Harry then asks Percy (a Gryffindor) about him. He is told that “He teaches potions, but he doesn’t want to-everyone knows he’s after Quirrell’s job. Knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts, Snape” (pg 126). This implies that (1) Snape is a backstabber who’s after someone else’s job, and (2) Snape has experience in the Dark Arts. Both true, as it happens, but, hey, Snape, whatever else he is, is not a nice guy. However, say it with me, folks: while Snape is ONE of the Slytherins, he is not ALL the Slytherins.
In chapter 8, we get our first close-up of Snape, in his class. Snape treats Harry unfairly, asks him questions he could not possibly know the answers to, and causes Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle to “shake…with laughter.” Is it because he’s a filthy, rotten Slytherin? No, it’s because Harry’s father was an arrogant, bullying Gryffindor.
So there’s clearly a good reason for Harry to hate Snape. This scene, as well as countless future scenes, shows us that. However, Snape, though he shows favoritism and is quite mean to Harry, is not altogether bad. We don’t know everything about him. We do know that he came from a troubled home, that he was teased and bullied at school, and that he’s not very nice because of this. But Harry leads on the rest of us. He focuses on all of Snape’s negative qualities, and ignores the positives. Positives like, in PS/SS, he saves Harry during the Quidditch match. In PoA, he tries to “save” Harry from Sirius Black, the convict who (according to EVERYONE, including Dumbledore, at that point) is a crazy homicidal murderer who led Voldemort to kill Harry’s parents, killed a dozen people with a wave of his wand, and broke out of Azkaban to find Harry. In every book, he helps Harry in some way, but since he’s not nice about it, Harry misinterprets. And when Harry misinterprets something, so do we. When Snape helps Harry, is he being un-Slytherin? No, he’s just showing a different facet of the Slytherin house.
To reiterate: When Harry is introduced to Slytherin House, it is by biased people, and he misinterprets the actions of many of the Slytherins. Many of the actions, though, are malicious. But, once more, say it with me, Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Snape, Riddle, they are EXAMPLES of Slytherins, not ALL of the Slytherins. Unfortunately, JKR hasn’t given us examples of any more Slytherins. She hasn’t shown them at their best, only at their worst. Harry’s first impressions of Slytherins were bad, so that’s how he sees them now. And how Harry sees something is how we see it.
In conclusion: Unity. Dumbledore has told us that our strength lies in unity. And yet, there’s no way for unity to come about until the houses accept each other. Slytherin needs to accept that blood means nothing, and lose their prejudices. But Gryffindor house, full of students who so often criticize the Slytherins for their bias, they too need to change. They need to look at the facts and learn that being a Slytherin or a Gryffindor is not important. It’s what you do in said house. Because choices are what JKR’s work is all about.