The Secret Flaws of Severus Snape – Part 3
You know the drill by now: We’re dissecting Snape’s flaws that don’t revolve around his attachment to Lily or bullying of students.
We know Snape can hold a grudge; there’s even a chapter titled so in his (dis)honor. But his inability to let things go runs deeper than his everlasting resentment toward anyone who’s ever done him wrong. As always with Snape, it’s far more complicated than it first appears.
In the right context, tenacity is admirable. It drives people to reach their goals, stand by their principles, and remain loyal to their duty (and their chosen people) despite hardship. It’s rather Hufflepuff at its core – and Snape demonstrates he has that same persistence.
Whatever you think of his reasons for switching sides, he had a lot of grit to see Dumbledore’s plans through to the end. After Lily’s death, Snape had 17 years to decide it wasn’t worth it anymore – especially as those plans put him in greater danger and saw him increasingly reviled and isolated at the end. But he didn’t quit even if that might have provided him a longer or happier life. His commitment to his path was a large part of ensuring Voldemort’s downfall.
But tenacity is also a very messy trait. There’s something to be said for knowing when to let go – and that’s a skill that Snape just doesn’t appear to possess. While no one should be obligated to forgive people who’ve harmed them, wallowing in past hurts isn’t healthy either. Allowing it to poison other interactions – particularly with innocent parties – is even worse. So no, Snape doesn’t get a pass on being a jerk just because people hurt him. (And he also might’ve found a little more peace if he hadn’t dwelled on his worst mistakes for nearly two decades.)
Forget the friend zone: Snape doesn’t have a deep, healthy relationship with anyone. To what degree this is his fault or makes him a bad person is a far murkier discussion.
From what we know of Snape’s childhood, he grew up poor – possibly in poverty, given the historical context of English mill towns in the 1960s, which seems implied by Spinner’s End. It’s also implied that he didn’t have a good relationship with his parents, especially his father. This doesn’t suggest someone who had a lot of good interactions with people early in life, and his memory of watching the Evans sisters shows a child desperate to make friends with anyone who has something in common with him – but he’s also so poorly socialized that he doesn’t make a great first impression.
It’s unsurprising that this leads to so many of his relationships being either antagonistic or codependent. With the Marauders, his Death Eater associates, and many of his students, he appears to have no expectations of them being pleasant or even decent to him, and he’s always ready to respond with his own vicious remarks. But when Snape finds someone important to him – Lily, his Slytherin Housemates, Voldemort, Dumbledore – it’s clear he thinks he needs to impress, often at the cost of what would be good for him.
His relationship with Dumbledore is particularly fascinating, and while it may be better than some of the others Snape has experienced, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely healthy. When he goes to Dumbledore as a young Death Eater, he expects rejection and leverages the most valuable thing he can think of – “anything” – for a favor. They may warm to each other in the years after that meeting, but there’s an inherent power imbalance between them, and Dumbledore often uses it. Snape takes pride in his usefulness to Dumbledore, but it’s not a stretch to think that may be partly driven by fear of being discarded when his usefulness ends – after all, it’s been his experience of relationships so far, probably exacerbated by his time with Voldemort.
Yet – to Harry’s eyes – Snape’s relationship with Dumbledore is the closest one he has in his adult life. His relationships with other teachers might be more balanced in power, but they lack the same trust. There’s nothing to suggest anyone else knew about the plan regarding Dumbledore’s demise other than Dumbledore and Snape themselves, much as I love fan speculation that other characters who’d known them for a while (such as McGonagall) might’ve been able to deduce that all was not as it seemed.
Spy career aside, Snape’s lack of healthy relationships presents a lonely existence. While undoubtedly some of that was due to his glowing personality, it doesn’t sit right with me to give him all the blame, given how so many of the early struggles beyond his control mirror very real issues that cause relationship troubles for Muggles too. Unfortunately, this is one flaw he could never hope to overcome alone, and he never really got the time to try.
We can’t drag Snape forever, so we’ll leave his flaws there for now. Let us know what others you see.