What Severus Snape Teaches Us About Forgiveness
Alright, let’s talk about Severus Snape.
We have a lot of feelings for the man, don’t we? Even a decade after the conclusion of the franchise, the debate over the virtues and vices of the Potions master is still very much ongoing. To his credit, he’s the only character who has managed to elicit the entire spectrum of emotions from readers. (Albus Dumbledore being a close second.)
But Severus Snape’s story is not one of victimhood. No, I like to think that the real Prince’s tale is one of forgiveness – or rather the lack thereof.
Severus Snape was never a gullible idiot – quite the contrary actually. Since Lily Evans was his best friend, he certainly did not lack a positive influence in his formative years. But even young Severus had an edge to him (courtesy of Mum and Dad). This darkness only festered in the company of some questionable characters all locked together down in the dungeons. I can sympathize with Severus’s troubled boyhood and in no way mean to absolve the Marauders of the part they played in it, but I honestly think he could have done better in his later years.
His thirst for revenge is so all-consuming that he never develops the ability to empathize. Empathy helps one see the situation from another’s perspective and is the first step towards forgiveness – a concept totally foreign to Severus. His resentment towards James is so strong that it outlives the man himself, being directed towards his orphaned son later on. Of course, he never took Harry’s tragic backstory into account as that functionality simply didn’t exist in him.
When Snape subs for Lupin, still full of spite for the man, he assigns the class an essay on identifying and killing a werewolf while knowing very well that the lycanthrope would have to read through the gruesome details of each one. Later, by outing Remus in blind anger, Severus sabotages not only his career but also his existence in the wizarding community that already isn’t too hot about werewolves. While adolescent Snape was troubled, adult Snape is straight up vicious.
Above all, Severus fails to forgive himself.
Severus has always been very aware of the part that he played in Lily’s unfortunate demise. His overwhelming grief over the loss of the only person he ever cared about is the reason behind his bitterness. His emotional faculties are so paralyzed by guilt that he just doesn’t know what else to do. As a result, he lashes out at everything and anything in his vicinity. He deprives himself of ever moving on from the grief because he doesn’t deem himself deserving of such a thing. It is his manner of punishing himself for his sins, which – in the process – stunted any emotional or personal development that he could have had. Dumbledore’s beyond pathetic human resource policy isn’t much help either.
Let’s, for a moment, imagine a world where Snape actually grows from his pain. He would still mourn Lily, but his love for her would make him try, in his own way, to uphold her values. For starters, he probably wouldn’t be as much of a meanie. I know, I know, he had to keep up his cover of a loyal little Death Eater and hence could not be all “live, laugh, love,” but the bullying that Neville and Hermione face at the hands of the Potions master seems more like a personal pleasure. Maybe he would’ve gone on to stand up to Dumbledore and his questionable methods. And who knows, perhaps he could’ve even found himself a special someone.
There is something we can learn from Snape – to not follow his example. Sure, the tragic backstory works as a great plot device, but it doesn’t make an enjoyable life experience. While Severus may have been dealt a tough hand, he chooses to be bitter and spiteful over growing up and moving on. We think withholding forgiveness punishes our offenders when, on the contrary, we are really giving power over our feelings to them. The longer we hold on to a grudge, the deeper it seeps into our identity, and before you know it, you are a bitter 30-something-year-old, bullying kids for laughs.
No matter where you started out, you get the chance to do better with every new moment. The choice is on you to either stay locked in your stale old narrative or to forgive, set yourself free of it, and move on to weave yourself a better story.
Whatever you do, please don’t be like Snape.