Also known as the most polarizing, most hated character in the entire franchise.
As a child, I never felt anything towards Snape. I was too busy thinking of Voldemort or Umbridge to actually pay Snape any attention. Granted, I started the series by watching the second movie, before watching the first 4 and eventually read the book for the first time, starting from book 5. And I read the translated version of the books, which I noticed now, some things will just get lost in the translation. Coupled with the fact that I was still a kid (I wasn’t even 10 when HBP was released), I was too engrossed with the story and adventure to pay deeper attention to the characters, let alone doing a character analysis.
The final book was released in 2007, I was 9 years old (imagine how small I was!). But for some reason, the reveal in this book hit me really hard and while I still felt nothing to Snape, I began to pay attention to him. When I read the series as a whole in middle high, I began to look for reason why does Harry hated him so much. But again, some things are bound to be lost in translation, and while Snape seems like a tormentor in the books, the translated version made him seems like an annoying, super strict teacher you hate, but not enough hate that you’re surprised he’s the good guy.
Rereading the series now, I realized why it’s easy for the wizarding community to suspect Snape or believe him to be loyal to Voldemort.
I don’t want to argue whether he’s a good or bad guy. It’s an endless debate that we all know won’t lead to anywhere, and will make you spend a long time on my blog (not that I’m complaining), but I want to look at his life as a whole and try to understand why he did everything he did.
Brace yourself, a long post full of spoilers is coming.
Let’s get back to the start. Severus Snape is a half-blood, his mother is a wizard but his father is a muggle who hates magic and seems to be abusive (he was to Snape’s mother, but unclear whether he was abusive towards Snape). He seems to be neglected, from his skinny appearance, lanky hair, and over-sized clothes. There had to be so many moments in his childhood where he wishes for his Hogwarts letter to came, for him to escape this hell and go where he will be accepted.
During this pre-hogwarts time, Snape met Lily, who turned out to be a wizard just like he did. She didn’t judge him, look down at him, or call him a creep as Petunia did. Instead, she befriend him. For a guy who has been abused, or at least witnessed abuse his whole life, her friendship seems like a saving grace and it’s not hard to see why he fell in love with her.
There’s little we know about Snape’s childhood, but we know this: Hogwarts, who’s supposed to be his escape, turns out to be a disaster. He and Lily went to a different house, ones with known rivalries. He couldn’t make friends with his fellow slytherins because of his friendship with Lily, yet he couldn’t get into gryffindors good graces anyways. Worse, James and co decided to pick at him for no reason at all. Hogwarts, who’s supposed to be his home, the happiest time of his life, turns out to be another hell for him. Everything he hoped for doesn’t happen. Instead, Lily has to see him humiliated so many times, he made a mistake that cost him Lily, and the end he had to watch the girl he loves married his bully.
We never knew why he joined a death eater. Maybe he thought Lily would be impressed with his power and came back to him, which if Snape knows Lily at all, would know it’s impossible. Maybe he thought if he became one, he could protect Lily from the upcoming massacre. Maybe he did it in a heat of the moment, in despair after being humiliated so much and losing Lily. Maybe he just tired to being lonely and decided bad company is still better than no company at all. We don’t know. Heck, we never even know whether he actually hates muggles or he did so to survive as a Death Eater. But he made that choice, and it’s a choice he regret for the rest of his life.
Once he realized that Voldemort was going after Lily, he risked his neck as a double agent to protect Lily. No one, NO ONE, can escape Voldemort, let alone deceived him. As we all know, that plan failed and Lily is still dead. But instead of getting angry and turn back as a death eater, he continue being a double agent. We can read it as an act of love, to protect Lily’s blood, but it could also because he’s trying to make up for his decisions being a death eater.
Fast forward 11 years later, it’s time for Lily’s child to get into Hogwarts, where Snape is now working. Imagine his surprise when he saw how similar Harry looked with James. It must’ve feels like he seen a ghost, his tormentor back walking the halls of Hogwarts. Harry is not James, people who actually knows him will see that’s he’s kind and considerate, and not a bully like James. But Harry has a rule-breaking tendency just like James, and even though it’s done to save others, it hits too close to home. The way all the teachers (especially Dumbledore) seem to give him a free pass (house cup, anyone?) will infuriates him even more. Especially since he’s the one under the most pressure from both sides, risking himself everyday trying to keep James jr alive, yet he keeps breaking rules, risking himself and his friends in the process.
Snape is known to be a fearsome teacher, but he’s especially vicious to Harry, Neville and Hermione. He’s especially nasty in the books. While Harry is obvious, Neville and Hermione took a while for me to understand. Hermione is a smart, hard-working, empathetic, and brave muggle-born. She’s not afraid to stand up for what’s right, and that reminds us of a certain muggle-born. Neville, meanwhile, is a what if situation for Snape. Something he wished could happen so badly and yet impossible. Neville is the other boy in the prophecy, if only Voldemort’s decided to go after him, Lily would still be alive. I think it haunts Snape even more that Lily could be alive now, if only Neville is the chosen one.
He should’ve known better than scaring his students, but years of bitterness and regret probably cloud his judgement. Or he just transferring his resentment, who knows. One thing for sure, for those of you saying he should get over his old bitterness with the Marauders: it’s not that easy. Sirius hasn’t, and he’s the bully. So while I love Sirius, saying Snape should get over it will be hypocritical of me since the bully himself is not over it. Just like JKR said about Harry and Malfoy: too much has happened between them for them to become friends. And that’s without a girl between them, with both of them have friends to support them. Snape didn’t have a friend, lost Lily (who’s both the girl he loved and his best friend). All that abuse in his childhood, bullying in his school years, violence in his time as death eater, and regret for Lily’s death accumulate and I guess he just need an outlet for all his dark feelings.
The fact that he dabbles in the dark arts doesn’t help his reputation either. But if he didn’t know the subject as well as he did, he won’t be able to survive being a double agent. And Dumbledore would’ve died so much earlier from the Gaunt’s ring curse. I think his extensive knowledge in the dark arts is what makes him favorable to Voldemort, and why he’s Dumbledore’s go-to person to talk about Voldemort and Harry. The fact that he receives first-seat information from both sides and able to keep it to himself
(well, not really. Voldy’s side is leaking to Dumbledore side whoops) is an impressive feat. Dumbledore also dabbles in the dark arts, as proven with the whole Grindewald fiasco, which is why he became an outstanding wizard, because he knows both sides of magic. And finally, as far as the series goes, we can see that Harry is also interested in the subject. DADA is always his preferable subjects despite the shitty teachers (not you, Lupin) and he doesn’t think twice to use levicorpus despite the shadiness of the book.
It doesn’t mean he’s an angel though. He tells the students that Lupin is a werewolf. And he insists that Sirius is a criminal. Probably because he resents Lupin for doing nothing to stop James and Sirius in their school days, as well as be there when Voldemort killed James and Lily. As for Sirius, it’s not hard to see him betray his friends when Sirius almost fed Snape to Lupin when he was in his werewolf form. And after years, I guess he just can’t accept another possibility where Sirius is innocent and it’s actually Peter the cowardly parasites that betrayed his friends. But when it comes down to it, and all hell breaks loose with Werewolf Lupin™, he protects Harry as best as he could.
I personally viewed him as a war hero for sure, without his undercover and precious intel there’s no way they could win the war. I think he knew from the start that there’s no scenario in which he would survive the war, yet he does it anyway. But whether he’s a good or bad person is another story, as he’s a complex one. He did a lot of bad things, but he also done a good things. In the end, there’s so much about him that we don’t know and as the story is not from his pov, there are things we will never know about him.
This is probably the longest post I’ve ever written, so thank you for reading until the end! If there’s anything I miss or you would like to point out, feel free to comment below.