It's taking me a long time to wrap my head around what exactly I want to say about Snape because I have so many feelings! I feel like he's one of the best characters ever, and I really adore him, but I know there are those people who still have reservations about him. So I have decided to dedicate a post to defend some of the things I've heard said against Snape since the end of The Deathly Hallows.
How you feel about Snape is usually based on whether or not you think he is a good person so it becomes an argument of action vs intent. One of the main complaints I've heard about Snape is that, even though he ended up willingly putting himself in danger on a daily basis in order to help save the world, in his core he is a selfish character. While I won't say that is wrong, I will have to say that I don't think that makes him a bad person and many things he did later on in his life out-weigh this flaw.
So overall it's stuff like this:
- He wanted Lily to be like him
- He was awful to Lily
- If he loved her then why did he hurt Lily's friends and her sister?
- He doesn't belong with Lily
- Snape is mean to Harry
- He takes out his hatred for James on Harry
- Snape is selfish
"...slight, black-haired like Snape, but with that indefinable air of having been well-cared for, even adored, that Snape so conspicuously lacked" (DH 671).This child didn't know what it felt like to be loved, and therefore never learned how to do it the right way. Did he love Lily selfishly, yes, but he didn't know any other way to do it. Not to mention, kids at this age and throughout high school are always selfish. I don't see that as being something to really hold against Snape's character to the end.
In fact, I don't think he even realized how flawed he was in love until he raced to Dumbledore to ask for him to protect Lily from Voldemort. When he revealed to DD that he asked Voldy to spare Lily when going after the child, DD said "You disgust me... they can die, as long as you have what you want?" (DH 677). I don't think Snape had ever thought of this before, that it's more important to let her have her happiness without him, than for him to have his happiness in expense of hers. It is here that I believe for the first time Snape understands true love and makes an active decision to be selfless towards Lily, aware that even if she survives he won't have her, but that's ok. Her life and happiness is more important. "Hide them all, then... keep her -them- safe. Please" (DH 678).
Some will argue that Harry had the same loveless upbringing and he didn't turn out like Snape. However, Harry inheritted thousands of galleons and when he came into the wizarding world he was well-known and popular at school and made friends easily. Plus he had the Weasleys and a ton of other mentors that took him and loved him, took an interest in him, and guided him (not saying Harry would have turned out badly without them but he did have them). I am not saying Harry’s life was easy; we all know is sucked, but Snape didn’t have any of these things. He was poor, he remained poor, and unloved. He was not popular and hardly anyone liked him. Not to mention, Harry had abilities that allowed him to join sports while Snape didn’t, which again, helped Harry gain popularity where it did not help Snape. Honestly, you can’t pretend Harry and Snape’s paths were exactly alike. They were not. (In the end, I would say the reason Harry turned out so well was because he is so much Lily. Lily always seemed to know right from wrong and followed it as best she could.)
So let's travel back to Snape's school days. Did he hope that Lily would end up in Slytherin? Yes, of course he did. But I think his desperation and intensity towards her came from fear of losing her to the Marauders, to his arch enemies, and not really from the houses that separated them. Also, I think it's unfair to say that Snape actively chose evil as a student. First of all, he was much too young to have truly formed a complete view of politics and ideologies. From his experience and his perception of the hateful world around him he felt his friends in Slytherin were the right way to go. He was bullied by the so-called "brave and courageous" Gryffindors, who ganged up on him over and over. To him, they were the bad guys. Children who are bullied usually fall in with the wrong crowd because they seek acceptance, and in Snape's group of friends he felt accepted, he felt like a part of something, and finally he didn't feel helpless. What his friends did to others was certainly no worse than what the Marauders did to him, in his eyes. And didn't Lily hang around the Marauders (stated as Snape would have reasoned)? He wasn't choosing evil, he was choosing what he felt was anti-all the things that brought him pain.
(And can we just take one second and remember that Dumbledore made really stupid plans when he was a young kid, almost exactly like Snape, but then made a complete 180? I don't usually understand how the same people who rake Snape across the coals for this part of his life can praise Dumbledore like these two characters didn't share this motif in their youth.)
If he wanted to persuade Lily that his side was the right side, that it was at least no worse than what her fellow Gryffindors did to him on the daily, I see no fault in that. The error in judgment of choosing his friends was obviously in his naivety and bitterness and thirst for acceptance. It was not that this was just a bad kid. Plus, what's wrong with him trying to get Lily to see his side, when she also tried to change his perception to her own? They're really doing the same thing, the difference is just that we know how it turns out, that Snape was on the wrong side at first.
The true issue I think people have is when Snape uses phrases like "I won't let you-" when speaking to Lily. This controlling, desperate side of Snape emerges when he feels most threatened to lose her. The characters that make him feel the most like that are Petunia, Sirius, and James which is why he lashes out at them (not to mention they all treat him like excrement). When Petunia is taunting Snape and a branch falls on her (DH 668), I don't think he meant to do it to her. I think, like Harry at that young age, he couldn't contain his anger. Just like later on, after years of enduring James and Sirius, he lashes out in the middle of them TORTURING HIM and causes the breaking point in his and Lily's relationship (OotP 643-648).
We all know he wishes he could take that moment back, and yet it happened because he couldn't contain all the pain, embarrassment, and anger. (Just a side note, I just re-read "Snape's Worst Memory" and it is 100 times worse than I remember it. James and Sirius must have used 7 hexes against him, including one that had him choking on soap. And he didn't even have his wand! Just AWFUL.) I think that moment is Snape's worst memory because he allowed the people he hated most, the people he worried would take Lily from him, to bait him into ending his relationship with her himself. I also think this is where most of his self-loathing comes from. I do not think these things mean he was awful to Lily as much as he was just misunderstood and completely misplaced his anger.
Which leads us to the argument that "Snape does not belong with Lily." Do I think they should have ended up together? Well if they had, Harry Potter would never have existed. So there's a hard NO right there. Do I wish there was a way? In my heart of hearts, yes, because I wish Snape could have been happy. I mean he deserves it; he had such a miserable life. But seriously, my argument is not about me thinking they should end up together, because I don't. I do, however, think there was much more of a chance of it happening than many realize.
One of the justifications of James' hatred for Severus is that Severus was into the Dark Arts, claiming their relationship mirrored the relationship between Harry and Malfoy. This is just a crap argument because we see first hand in the Pensieve, in book 5, James' and Sirius' atrocious actions (And it wasn't a biased interpretation of that scene. It was exactly what happened. The pensieve doesn't show biased perceptions. It shows exactly what happened, which is why it's so reliable and why DD uses it. And if it had been tampered with, we'd notice because it would be warped like Slughorn's memory in book 6). Harry never would grab Ron and seek out Malfoy to bully and humiliate him in front of an entire group of people. In fact, it's absolutely the other way around, making Snape the Harry figure in this scenario. The only times Harry and Ron ever seek out Malfoy are times when they wanted to confront him on something they believed he had done wrong, not for a sick ego trip. So, no, the Dark Arts were NOT why James and Sirius went after Snape, time after time.
"How come she married him?" Harry asked miserably. "She hated him!"James picked out Snape, not just because James was an egotistical prick, but also because James Potter felt threatened by Severus Snape. Severus was a very close friend with Lily, the girl James fancied. He wanted to make Severus look weak and stupid in comparison to himself, so he humiliated him and cut him down, hexed him and tried to show him up. There are moments in "The Prince's Tale" that I am sure I can breathe more relevance into than actually exists there when it comes to finding textual evidence to support Lily having feelings for Snape (such as "The intensity of his gaze made her blush" [DH 674]), but nothing makes me feel there was something between Lily and Snape more than this fact: James was afraid there was something there.
"Nah, she didn't," said Sirius.
"She started going out with him in seventh year," said Lupin.
"Once James had deflated his head a bit," said Sirius.
"And stopped hexing people just for the fun of it," said Lupin.
"Even Snape?" said Harry.
"Well," said Lupin slowly, "Snape was a special case for James" (Ootp 591).
And so their rivalry continued. Snape could never shake the hatred for the person that not only treated him worse than garbage but also stole the love of his life from him. And honestly, if someone treated me like James treated Snape, I would hate them forever, too. There would be no way I would ever be able to see through what James had done to me and understand that he may have grown up, changed, and was no longer the person who choked me with subs and hung me upside down with my underwear exposed. I would never be able to not associate him with the pain and anger of losing the one person on Earth I ever really loved. This was Snape's reality.
Therefore, when a newly spawned version of James walks into Hogwarts, it's no surprise that Snape reacts negatively towards him. Harry looks just like Snape's old nemesis, and he does break the rules like James, leading Snape to believe he is just like his father. And of course, Snape projects a lot of his own anger onto Harry. It's not fair of him to do that, but Harry doesn't usually make it easier on Snape, either. Yet despite their differences Snape continuously protects Harry. He was bitter and destroyed; Harry was like all his regrets, his mistakes, and the memory of the woman he lost to his greatest enemy personified. There was so much conflict within Snape every time he interacted with Harry, and yet he risked his life every single day to keep doing it.
The argument I will never understand is the one that state's Snape is selfish because he only helped Harry because he loved Lily, that it wasn't a sacrifice because he did it for selfish reasons (seriously wtf). Maybe I could understand this logic if he only did it so he could get back with Lily, but Lily is DEAD. There is no pay off for Snape. NONE. Not even the knowledge that one day everyone will know what a great sacrifice he made when it's all said and done, because the only man who KNEW he was a double agent, putting his life on the line every day, had to be killed. BY HIM (which can we take a moment and talk about what an enormously loyal person you would have to be to agree to kill your friend at their request? I mean COME ON).
There was no pay off. So someone explain to me how that makes Snape a selfish being in what he actively chose to do everyday for Harry and for the fight against Voldemort. Did he always do it with a cheery smile on his face? No, but I think we've established through what I've written that it was never in the cards for Snape to be a happy, cheerful, or loving teacher. He did what he had to do fiercely and methodically, every day suffering through the pain and regret Harry and Voldemort reminded him of. He wasn't always the nicest person, but no where does it say you have to be a ball of sunshine to also be a sacrificial and selfless person.
Which brings me to my final theory and thought. Throughout six books Snape and Harry are thrown together and have to deal with each other nearly every day. Snape sees Harry as James constantly. However, I believe in the 7th book (this is after the fan-favorite "Always" moment), having not seen Harry in the halls of Hogwarts every day, getting some space from the constant reminder of James, and only hearing about Harry's actions through Phineas Nigellus, Snape begins to realize that Harry is more like Lily. I believe in that last year of being away from him, he softens towards Harry. Does he grow to love him, I don't know. I don't think so. But I really think Snape forms some positive feelings for Harry. Since Snape has such a low opinion of James, for him to believe Harry will do what he has to do (knowing full well that Harry will be told to sacrifice himself), Snape has to believe Harry has more of his mother in him than of his father, in the end. Snape is bitter, wounded, and stubborn, but when he got the distance he needed from Harry to see the good things about him, I think Snape did.
I don't know if I achieved what I wanted to achieve with this post, turning any Snape haters out there to Snape lovers, but hopefully I made it easier to understand and sympathize with his character. Either way, I think this is at least true about my entry: