“I can’t pretend anymore. You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine.”
-Lily Evans to Severus Snape, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
*WARNING:* Lots of Harry Potter spoilers, for all seven books.
Last time on Theology Thursday, I discussed the nature of disordered love and why Severus Snape is not a “good guy.” Today, I’ll continue what I started last Thursday, analyzing exactly where Snape’s love for Lily went wrong. (It’s a good idea to read Part I if you haven’t already.)
So let’s go through the story of Snape and his love for Lily, piece by piece, to pinpoint exactly in what ways Snape’s love was disordered. If you want to follow along with the narrative, get out your copy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and turn to chapter thirty-three, “The Prince’s Tale.”
Our first look at Snape’s memory is his first meeting with Lily Evans when he tells her that she is a witch. Severus is unkempt, and we find out later that he does not live in a stable home. As Severus watches Lily and Petunia playing, Harry notes the “undisguised greed” in Severus’ expression (Rowling 663). Later, we see Lily and Severus talking to one another as Petunia eavesdrops:
“What is that you’re wearing, anyway?” she [Petunia] said, pointing at Snape’s chest. “Your mum’s blouse?”
There was a crack: A branch over Petunia’s head had fallen. Lily screamed: The branch caught Petunia on the shoulder, and she staggered backward and burst into tears…
After one last burning look, she [Lily] ran from the little thicket, off after her sister[.] (668)
On the Hogwarts Express, Lily is crying after another fight with her sister.
“So what?” [said Severus.]
She threw him a look of deep dislike.
“So she’s my sister!”
“She’s only a–” He caught himself quickly; Lily, too busy trying to wipe her eyes without being noticed, did not hear him. (671)
What does this mean?
At home, Snape is lonely and neglected, and he desperately wants someone to whom he can give affection and from whom he can receive it. Lily, a witch of his own age, becomes that person. Before he even knows her, he wants her: not sexually or even romantically, but not quite as a friend either. I hesitate to say that he loves her–certainly he wants her and loves something, but it’s not the whole person of Lily Evans. If he truly loved Lily, he wouldn’t try to hurt her sister, whom she obviously loves. He wouldn’t try to turn Lily against Petunia. He certainly wouldn’t think that a member of Lily’s family didn’t matter because she was a Muggle.
Snape’s School Days
Lily and Severus are Sorted into different houses. A few years later, Lily confronts Severus about hanging around friends who use Dark Magic. Severus responds with an incoherent outburst of resentment towards James Potter and his friends, telling Lily that James has a crush on her. The moment Lily insults James, Severus stops listening to her criticism of his friends, and there is “a new spring in Snape’s step” (675).
Next is the unforgettable bullying scene first described in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–James and Sirius curse and humiliate Snape, and when Lily defends him, he calls her a Mudblood.
Finally we see Snape and Lily fall out for good.
There was no pity in Lily’s voice. “It’s too late. I’ve made excuses for you for years. None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you. . . You can’t wait to join You-Know-Who, can you?
“…But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?” (675-676)
Snape and Lily part ways. Next time we see him, he’s a Death Eater.
What does this mean?
At this point, Severus is interested in Lily romantically. However, this desire is not purely sexual. Severus is older and continues to want Lily, and this desire has manifested itself in romantic interest. I still wouldn’t call it love because he chooses an anti-Muggle extremist group over her friendship, but more on that later.
Clearly what James and Sirius did was inexcusable. But calling Lily “Mudblood” was not only something blurted out wildly in the heat of anger. For years, Severus has internalized anti-Muggle sentiments that he should have refused to entertain from the moment he met Lily Evans. This is the first time he has been forced to stare this choice in the face… and when push comes to shove, he leaves Lily and joins the Death Eaters.
He values the wizards nazis more than a girl who was once his best friend. That’s a disordered love if I’ve ever seen one.
Next Thursday, I’ll finish up with an analysis of Snape’s adulthood and how we should view Snape.
For now, though, I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel about Snape’s childhood and adolescence? Do you think his choices are justified? Let me know in comments!
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