Let’s establish one fact – J.K Rowling has created some of the most complex characters known to us readers. In a book we generally categorize the characters into two – hero or villain. Good or bad. Protagonist or antagonist. Hero or not hero.
Yet, while reading Harry Potter (or watching it, if you’re the movies kind of person) we are left puzzled most of the time, wondering whether a character is good or not.
Let’s take Albus Dumbledore for example. A character who had always been the wise one since part one of the series, there are times when we doubt whether he is truly good or not. Yes, he died trying to protect Harry and defeat Voldemort, but there’s no denying that he had a shady background too. With everything that went down with Grindelwald and his sister Ariana and how he felt he was the sole person responsible for her death, there were times when he gave us the impression that he may not be as morally good of a character as we thought him to be.
But leaving all the back-story aside, he always gave the right advice, some which are even applicable to our daily muggle lives. He always looked after Harry, protected his students and made Hogwarts a safe haven for all wizards and witches. Not to mention, duelled with some of the greatest threats to the wizarding world, namely Grindelwald and Voldemort.
Sirius Black was another character who had us confused of his intentions. But not getting into his details too, I can assure you he was a hero at the end.
This was what I meant by the characters created by Rowling. They are complex and complicated, leaving us to wonder where to categorize them into. And one such character, whose intentions are debated till date was Severus Snape.
Hogwarts Potion Master, Head of Slytherin house and Former Death Eater, Snape easily surpasses all the characters in complexity levels, leaving us all confused of his intentions till the very end. We had grown to dislike him since the Sorcerer’s Stone itself and constantly wondered when he would show his true evil side. We cursed Dumbledore for not sacking Severus Snape, and for standing up for him always.
Well, I think Severus Snape was not a hero. He may have died one, sure, but he wasn’t a hero in life. He proved to us that he wasn’t a villain either. Severus Snape was what we call an Anti-Hero. An antihero is basically a protagonist who lacks typical heroic qualities such as idealism, courage or morality. Anti heroes may at times be the people who did the ‘right thing’ but it’s often done for the ‘wrong reasons’ and because it serves their self interest rather than being driven by moral beliefs.
Let’s explore Snape as Anti Hero by answering some of the basic questions of his background, shall we?
Why Did Snape join the Death Eaters?
Severus Snape didn’t have what we would call an ideal childhood. Often abused by his father and under the influence of his ‘precious death eater friends,’ as Lily called them, it was only a matter of time before he joined Voldemort as a Death Eater in search for power and wealth.
What Caused Him To Act Like A Double Agent?
Snape overheard the prophecy that stated the downfall of Lord Voldemort, and he was the spy to inform him about it. What he didn’t know was that the boy who would bring the downfall of Voldemort would be the son of Lily, a woman he could do anything to protect, even if it meant betraying Voldemort and acting as a double agent. He begged Voldemort to spare Lily’s life, even to the point where he stated it was okay if he murdered James and the baby, if that meant Lily could live.
That doesn’t a bit seem like a heroic thing to do, does it? Knowing that Lily would protect Harry until her dying breath, he went to Dumbledore, ultimately changing his allegiance.
Why The Hatred Towards Harry?
Well, it was only natural that he despised Harry, considering we established the fact that he was willing to let him die if that meant Lily would be spared. But after Lily’s death, overcome with grief and remorse Snape was consoled by Dumbledore and was convinced to protect Lily’s child for her, the child for whom she sacrificed her life.
But unfortunately for him, it didn’t help things that Harry resembled James a lot, and had acquired celebrity status on the first day of school, just like James had. We all know how much he despised James. Naturally, he was bound to act stiff towards him and with the belief that Voldemort might reborn soon; acting cold towards Harry could get him back into Voldemort’s good graces. The Order couldn’t afford to lose their double agent now, could they?
Why would he protect Harry even though he despised him?
As mentioned earlier, Dumbledore had convinced Snape to protect Harry, the boy for whom she died. So yet again, he was going the right thing, that is protecting Harry but for an entirely different reason. Not for Harry, not for Dumbledore, not even for Lily, but to assuage the guilt that he was responsible for Lily’s death. Him acting as a double agent was driven by his guilt and self-loathing.
What about His Racist Views?
It is believed that Snape eventually cast aside his racist views, at least to some extent. At leas, it was clear that he no longer favored the term ‘Mudblood’. That may also be out of guilt and regret he felt after having called Lily a mudblood and driving her away.
Snape was on the right side; he protected Harry and helped Dumbledore in doing so alongside defeating Voldemort. But he being on the right side wasn’t for the ‘greater good’. It had been all about him. Him fulfilling his needs of vengeance and redemption. Although Snape had some heroic traits such as ingenuity and strength, those traits could also have been one of a villain.
He was brave, smart and cunning and truly a complex character to understand. With a tough background, unrequited love and a life of regret, he chose the right path, although for the reasons that may or may not be justified as that of a hero.
What we do know for certain is that we all cried when he died. Probably a little more when we learned with who his true allegiance had been since the beginning of this all when Harry saw Snape’s memories through the Pensieve.
All we know is that hero or anti hero, Snape’s allegiance had always been with Lily. Alive or dead, he loved her till his dying breath and taught us more about love than all romance novels combined.
No, I’m not crying, you are!