Welcome to Muggles and Mocha!
I LOVED talking about the Hogwarts houses with you guys last week. If you haven’t yet, check out that article and let us know which house you belong in.
In the video this week, we focus on… Severus Snape. Guys, I’m conflicted! Let me know what you think about this extremely complex character in the comments below.
In chapter eight, Harry experiences his first-ever week of classes. I distinctly remember this chapter as a kid because I loved learning about all the nuances of Hogwarts. You have moving staircases, ghosts (which we’ll talk about more later), secret passageways behind tapestries… it’s touches like these that make Hogwarts so fascinating. We also get to meet many of the professors as Harry has his first classes with them.
I will say, I’m so sad Professor Binns didn’t make it into the movies! I think the concept of his character is hilarious. And ya know, he’s the one who tells them about the origins of the Chamber of Secrets in the second book! Oh well… Just one of the many casualties of the movies.
Today, though, I want to introduce us to one of the biggest characters in the books, especially when it comes to the lasting effects he left on Harry and the wizarding world in general. He’s grumpy, mean, and apparently doesn’t wash his hair (I’m not sure why this is talked about so many times in the books)—our old friend Severus Snape.
However, we’re also addressing a very important question that I don’t want you to answer now. Dwell on it as we read through the series. Here it is: Is Snape a redeemable character?
Now, this is an intense question with many different answers. Let me explain. We all know there’s the big moment when we discover Snape’s true motivations—his love for Lily. But with all the cards laid out in front of us, does everything we learn about Snape make him truly redeemable in your eyes? And if so, in what ways is he redeemable or not? Honestly, with all the research I did about his character this week, I’m really trying to keep an open mind. I hold a lot of resentment toward Snape for the way he treated Harry throughout the books, but I’m trying to take a step back and analyze him as I re-read.
We won’t be giving our final answers for a looooong time (probably not until the end of the series), but I want you to be open with your thoughts as we read. Your answer may just change throughout the journey!
To start this discussion, let’s break down the first interaction in potions class between Harry and Snape in chapter eight.
Before this class, Harry’s noticed Snape one other time—during the welcome feast. As he looks at him, he gets the feeling Snape doesn’t like him. Not a hard assumption to make—as we learn, Snape’s disdain for Harry isn’t something he cares to hide.
Believe it or not, this brief moment is more important than Harry simply realizing Snape doesn’t like him, even though that in itself is interesting. This first look introduces an idea that’s present throughout the rest of the books regarding Harry’s thoughts about Snape: Harry gets the feeling that Snape isn’t on the good side. As he looks at Snape, his scar hurts for the first time. Now, we know this was actually because of Quirrell (and as a result, Voldemort), but I think this moment sets a tone for the rest of the book series up until Harry learns the truth about Snape.
After this point, even though many people tell him otherwise, Harry doesn’t trust Snape or believe he’s actually working for good; he can’t seem to shake the idea that Snape could be a villain. And honestly, Snape doesn’t do himself any favors when it comes to changing Harry’s mind throughout the books. Their enmity puts a rift between them that lasts until Snape’s death.
This is an important moment that begins with this first venomous look and solidifies during Harry’s first class. Let’s talk about it.
Almost immediately after Harry settles into the dark, damp dungeon for his first potions lesson, Snape begins the lecture by intentionally humiliating him. He mocks him then proceeds to ask him questions that Harry obviously wouldn’t know the answers to at this point. He ends the class by accusing Harry of intentionally not helping another student who failed (poor Neville) and took away Gryffindor house points as a result.
Now… this scene burns me up. We need to break this down and bring it into our world a little, into a situation we can relate to—Harry is an eleven-year-old kid in a new place during the first week of his first school year, and an adult (his teacher) chooses to humiliate him in front of his classmates.
But to accurately analyze this, we need to examine Snape, too. We’re not going to dive into everything—we have to save some for later—but we can look at Snape’s personality. He’s a pretty miserable person who is protecting the son of the enemy who married his true love. It’s obvious he holds some intense resentment about the nature of this responsibility. He’s most likely been dreading Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts, knowing he’ll be faced with the memories of what happened between him, James, Lily, and Voldemort every day. Then he meets him and what does he see? The eyes of the woman he loved, which will constantly remind him of the mistakes he made, the unknowing betrayal, the death… all in the face of James Potter.
We know, too, that Snape isn’t a kind person to most anyone, so this first interaction, though shocking on a real-world level, isn’t too surprising when we get to know him further.
Does dissecting Snape’s mindset give him an excuse for this first abusive interaction? To me, not really. But I like analyzing this man’s character! I think I’m really going to learn a lot as this process goes on.
This initial interaction is only our first step in deciding if and how Snape is redeemable. Something for us to consider—Snape is a complex character. Dare I say, I think he could be the most complex. Putting myself into his thought process has been surprising, tragic, and heartbreaking, and I’m eager to apply that to the rest of the book series. There’s a lot that goes on behind that sallow face, most of which is a torrent of negative emotion.
As we return to this question throughout the books, we’ll focus on the different elements that make Snape who he is and guides his behavior—his time growing up, at Hogwarts, as a Death Eater, and as a secret agent for the Order of the Phoenix. Will it make you sympathetic toward him? If you already hate him, will it make you hate him more? I guess we’ll see as we come back to each of these times of his life and zone in on them individually.
If you want to hear more of what I think about Snape at this point in our journey, please watch the video! I go on many, many rants about it. Consider your position carefully and keep an open mind. I’d love to hear your initial thoughts on this subject, so please post in the comments below. We’ll definitely be coming back to this question a couple of times and will make our final decisions at the end of the books.
Thanks for tuning in to Muggles and Mocha today! As always, it’s so fun to break down the Harry Potter series with you guys.
Make sure to read chapter nine, “The Midnight Duel,” (an exciting one!) in preparation for next week’s release!
Until next time!
Disclaimer: I do not own any element of the Harry Potter series.
6 Replies to “Is Snape Redeemable? – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 8”
Yes, indeed Snape’s character is very complex. I think he is a perfect example of what happens to a person who holds a grudge. His unwillingness to forgive made him so self centered and jealous of others, that he only felt good when he used his power and authority to put others down. He may have rightfully so, been angry and humiliated by James Potter but he allowed it to rule the way he treated others the rest of his life. Harry personified all that Snape hated about James. I think when he looked at Harry, he was reminded of what James gained and what he had lost. He did realize his responsibility to watch over Harry for the greater good but his extreme jealousy of Harry caused him to heave abuse on him as often as possible. My bottom line, Snape is a jerk that never stopped blaming others for his feelings of inferiority.
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Agree! Great thoughts!
I have MANY thoughts. I’m going to go about this the same way you are – one page, chapter, and book at a time in an effort to keep an open mind.
Also, I have to agree that Alan Rickman brought a little bit of genuine warmth to the character in the movies that we really don’t see in the books. The man was a treasure, and what’s kind of eerie is that much like Snape having intimate and important knowledge in this series that few others have, Rickman was actually the only person besides Rowling to know the truth about Snape’s double-agency at the time that the books and movies were still being released. She thought it important to share that with him so that he could properly portray Snape throughout the movies and I’M SO GLAD SHE DID. I think that IF Snape truly is a redeemable character, we’ll find it in Rickman’s Snape, and nowhere else.
Snape is easily one of the most complex and tragic characters in the entire series – his life nearly seems plucked straight from the mind of Shakespeare. We aren’t quite Oedipal (lol) but it’s still pretty tragic. It legitimately makes me sad every time I think about his entire life. Sad from beginning to end. He is absolutely unable to grow and move on from the loss of his first love, which drives much of what he does. He seems to me to be a cross between a reluctant and anti-hero (I’d love to know your thoughts on that opinion). There’s no denying that he VERY reluctantly accepts the role he has to play in the middle of this war, and there’s also no denying that his actions are quite heroic. He did in fact do what he needed to do for the ultimate good. BUT. He also most certainly lacks conventional heroic attributes and remains an incredibly nasty, vindictive, and childish person through his WHOLE life.
This scene in the first potions class makes me SO angry. See above for a reminder of how I think he acts during this class. This childish behavior is utterly appalling for a teacher of children, or even just as a fully grown adult man. I know that it’s ultimately a coincidence that Snape is looking at Harry when his scar hurts for the first time, but he pretty much brought Harry’s hatred (feels a bit too strong a word but I’m not sure what else to use) on himself anyway. This is the first hint to the reader of how the Harry/Snape dynamic was going to go, but I feel that even if Harry’s scar hadn’t hurt at that moment we would still arrive in the same place. That place being “Snape is a giant jerk”.
I’ll end with a thought about something that Summer mentioned in her YouTube comment. She posits that being a double agent would have been very difficult had he been a more kind, empathetic person. This isn’t something I’d considered, and I find it VERY interesting. Was Snape uniquely positioned/equipped to do what he did throughout this series? Would accomplishing those things be much harder (if not impossible) for anyone else?? I have to wonder that at the very least perhaps that’s what Rowling believes to be true? Look at me, leaving with more questions than answers…
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Oh Tyler… I feel your conflict! I think it’s very neat that Alan Rickman was the only other person to know Snape’s secret. For the rest of us, I feel that we’re sometimes stuck with the feelings we had of not knowing, just pure hatred for Snape. Of course, that might just be because he’s the worst…
I really like your thoughts on the reluctant anti-hero–I totally agree! As conflicted as we are about Snape, the conflict he dealt with was a war that raged daily. Like I said in the video, he’s a slow burner. He was dealing with avenging his true love’s death and protecting the son of his enemy. Tough stuff!
For Summer’s comment, that is very interesting… Honestly, if Snape hadn’t been the way he was, I don’t think he would have succeeded in his mission. Some of what he had to do was horrific and taxing, and I don’t believe a “softer” person would have been able to accomplish what he did. He was very, very brave in that regard. As Dumbledore says, “You know, I sometimes think we sort too soon.”
As always… thank you for your comment!