Abstract: This essay examines Harry’s reaction to the events witnessed in Dumbledore’s Pensieve in “Goblet of Fire,” in particular Harry’s judgment of Snape being a former death eater and Barty Crouch Jr. and his trial. This was selected for MuggleCast ‘Chapter by Chapter’ discussion (episode 222)
Throughout the Harry Potter novels, Rowling presents many instances of prejudice and the harm it can cause, however, Harry is shown to be one of the most prejudiced characters within the novel, allowing his hatred for Slytherines to dictate his actions. The most notable example is Snape, who from the very first book has been deemed second to Voldemort in terms of Harry’s dislike, despite the eventual discovery that Snape in fact saved his life. In light of the final events of Deathly Hallows it is clear that although Snape could never like Harry, who so much resembles the man who married Snape’s true love, his actions were motivated by the desire to save him.
In the Pensieve scene of Goblet of Fire Harry discovers that Snape was a death eater for the first time, but not only that, he also discovers that Snape turned against Voldemort. However, although Snape is the only death eater discussed who appears to have been cleared of his charges, Harry’s main concern is not the death eaters who he witnessed being condemned as death eaters, but Snape. Harry’s prejudice towards a man who bullies and picks on him is much more severe than on the man who caused Neville’s parents to go insane.
Snape, who from the first instance is described as ugly, with greasy hair and a hooked nose, looks the part of the villain, and although his unpleasant behavior disguises his heroic actions, Harry is quick to judge appearances as real. Throughout the series, Harry encounters many characters that are not what they appear to be, most notably by this point in the series Sirius Black, and yet when faced with the choice Harry chooses to believe Snape is villainous. Barty Crouch Jr. on the other hand is described as ‘a boy in his late teens, who looked nothing short of petrified. He was shivering, his straw-colored hair all over his face, his freckled skin milk-white’ (p516 GOF UK). This description of a fair young boy contrasts harshly against the dark solemn Snape, and his appearance of fear and proclamations of innocence easily sway Harry into believing him to be guiltless.
Upon leaving the Pensieve Harry questions Dumbledore about Barty Crouch’s trial, Dumbledore explains that considering the Longbottoms’ inability to give proper testimonies, the evidence was “none too reliable” (524 GOF UK) which allows Harry to hope that ‘Mr. Crouch’s son must not have been involved’ (524 GOF UK). However, when the topic of Snape arises, Harry has the reverse attitude; rather than seeking to clear Snape, Harry questions Dumbledore’s judgment posing the question “What made you think he’d really stopped supporting Voldemort?” (524 GOF UK). Harry is aware that Dumbledore has known Snape since before his birth and therefore should trust that Dumbledore has had enough time to judge Snape’s character, and possibly be acquainted with evidence in favor of Snape. And yet, Harry, on the other hand, forms snap judgments – he believes Dumbledore is wrong despite being better acquainted with Snape than he is because his first impression is that Snape is unpleasant. Likewise, Harry judges Barty Crouch Jr.’s innocence over a first impression formed in a matter of minutes, in a situation that might not be entirely objective considering it is a memory.
In the following chapter, Harry contemplates the idea that Neville’s situation may be worst than Harry’s considering what happened to his parents, and feels a ‘rush of anger and hate towards the people who had tortured Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom’ (528 GOF UK), however, barely a minute later Harry remembers ‘the milk-white face of the screaming boy’ and instead turns his hatred upon Voldemort. Despite Barty Crouches Guilty verdict, Harry does not believe it. As shown in the next book, Order of the Phoenix, it is right that we question authority in order to insure that corruption and injustice do not occur. Thus here Harry shows that his instinctive judgment is flawed and that first impressions are not always accurate.