The Secret Flaws of Severus Snape – Part 2
We know Snape’s ultimate loyalties; what’s less clear is what fans are to make of someone capable of deeds both heroic and – well – awful.
His bullying and his behaviors regarding Lily are frequently cited as the most problematic aspects of his character, but there are plenty of other flaws that add depth to who he is. Last time, we looked at some of his traits taken to extremes. This time, it’s how he doesn’t conform to his House that gets him into trouble.
Cunning Slytherins may be masters of playing the long game, but that’s one place where Snape falls short. He manages it sometimes – but only because he’s following orders from Dumbledore, who can strategize with the best of them. When left to his own devices, Snape is remarkably short-sighted. And while his early upbringing and youthful inexperience might be to blame at the start, those excuses vanish the older he gets.
Snape’s snide remarks to James and Sirius on the Hogwarts Express begin a rivalry that causes him lots of grief. While Snape couldn’t have known then how out of control their dislike of each other would become – nor should he be blamed for his bullying at the Marauders’ hands – he should’ve at least understood that greeting people with belittling comments doesn’t make a great first impression. (His relationship with Petunia was proof enough of that.) But rather than consider that he might not want to start making enemies even before the Sorting ceremony, he immediately disparages someone who expresses a preference different from his own. The rest, as they say, is history.
He also moves directly toward what his Housemates claim will bring him success without much thought as to whether it’s actually true or what that path will cost him. Now, it’s not fair to expect a child who’s eager to please and suddenly surrounded by wealthier, influential classmates to have the foresight not to listen to them. But Snape had years to open his eyes and use that famous Slytherin analytical thinking – and he didn’t.
Slytherin was not the only House churning out powerful, successful wizards. The shrewd choice would’ve been surveying all his options for success and seeing which fit both his liking and his chances of accomplishment. If he had, he might’ve seen that his difference in background from his Housemates was an obstacle – one that meant following their advice wouldn’t necessarily net him the same desired results.
He might’ve also seen that his interests were incompatible with a good relationship with Lily. Their conversations make her feelings about Dark Magic and the Death Eaters plain, yet the end of their friendship seemed to blindside him in a way it shouldn’t have.
Snape also had time to consider that swearing lifelong servitude – let alone to an extremist – had very little chance of ending well. How much power could he ever really have hoped for if he was bound to service? (And why wouldn’t someone who hated both Dumbledore and Muggle-borns target Lily, a Dumbledore-serving Muggle-born?)
By the time Snape goes to Dumbledore, he’s started thinking ahead a little more – he obviously doesn’t expect Voldemort to spare Lily. But Snape still can’t anticipate that Dumbledore will find his initial request selfish, and after Lily’s death, he practically has to be dragged along into Dumbledore’s plans for the future.
I often wonder how much of Snape’s ability as a spy came from pointers Dumbledore might’ve given him. Intelligent Slytherin Snape may be, but mastermind he is not.
He wanders the corridors looking for misbehaving students, constantly suspects others of being up to something, and is rightly closed off – even paranoid – due to his role as a spy. So how is Snape too trusting?
It’s not entirely his fault. Everyone has to trust someone else, however carefully, at some point. But he picks some terrible times to let his guard down.
His initial trust in his Housemates failed him. His emulation of their rhetoric and interests ended his friendship with Lily. It also cost him a path to true success – one unburdened by serving a dangerous master (or two) and being stuck in a teaching job he didn’t enjoy for the remainder of his life.
Snape’s trust in Voldemort was short-lived and probably weak at best – he likely trusted the hope of what he could gain more than he ever trusted Voldemort as a person. But it should’ve taught him lessons about manipulation that he doesn’t seem to have learned by the time he’s dealing with Dumbledore.
When he discovers that Harry must die, Snape feels used; his lifelong mission – and at his lowest point, the thing keeping him alive – has been a lie. Dumbledore seems surprised that he’s shocked – and for good reason: Snape’s been a bitter spy for nearly two decades; hasn’t he learned not to trust so strongly? But it’s clearly a deep betrayal for him, which is rather heartbreaking. You’d think someone who spends so much time in a den of snakes would be better about watching his back.
We’re not done with Snape yet – so keep watch for a continuation. Has anything surprised you so far? Let us know.