Theology Thursday: Severus Snape and the Ordo Amoris (Part II)

“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.”

Snape’s Childhood

What happened?

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

What happened?

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!

Can’t get enough of Theology Thursday? Read all my Theology Thursday posts here.

9 thoughts on “Theology Thursday: Severus Snape and the Ordo Amoris (Part II)

  1. Yeah, definitely agree that the Snape/Lilly thing was more an obsession than anything else. I think his quote on quote redemption would have worked if HARRY hadn’t forgiven Snape so completely. Even in the Prince’s Tale chapter, Snape is presented in a nuanced, developed fashion; Harry is the one to forgive him completely, and sort of wipe over all his sins. And because Harry is the protagonist, it’s assumed that the reader will agree with him. Anyway, great post. I really need to look into reading some of C.S. Lewis’s nonfiction, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think Snape’s treatment of Lily is, of course, disturbing and even horrible at times. However, perhaps understandable, considering his home life. At the time he meets Lily, we can assume that Snape has really never been loved or seen love in action. He doesn’t know what it is. So it’s not really surprising that he doesn’t understand love as being an action that works for the good of the other. (Plenty of people today don’t make this distinction, instead conflating love with a feeling of butterflies. Thus, when their emotions change, they assume they are “no longer in love” and look elsewhere for excitement. Is it any wonder Snape might think love an emotion, too?)

    His desire to be friends with Lily despite her Muggle heritage is also very realistic. The phenomenon of the “I have a ___ friend,” that attitude that allows people to be friends with a member of a group they simultaneously harbor prejudice against, has been studied. The explanation I’ve seen is that people somehow consider their friends “different” and therefore not part of the group they see as inferior. Snape no doubt thinks Lily “isn’t like the others” and thus easily can separate her from the other “Mudbloods.”

    It’s not an attitude he should have or one that readers ought to admire, but it is one that, I think, is a testament to Rowling’s nuanced understanding of prejudice, which she deals with throughout the book. She’s signalling here that the prejudice is so embedded in someone like Snape (it’s what was drilled into him since childhood), that one friend isn’t going to be enough to help him change. At least not at this point. He has years of misconceptions to overcome and that’s going to take time, especially considering that he’s still hanging out with people who are reinforcing his prejudices. Probably because that’s what he knows best, that’s where he feels comfortable, and that’s what he’s been taught he has to do in order to finally be accepted. He’s looking for love, too. Just in the worst possible place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right! I think that the notion of love as a feeling rather than an action is not only at the heart of Snape’s disordered love–whih is why he still harbors anti-Muggle prejudice and mistreats Harry–but also at the heart of the fans who insist that he be absolved of all blame because he did everything “for love.” I also agree that it’s extremely difficult to overcome ideas that have been ingrained in one since childhood (speaking from experience here). In the end Snape did love Lily, but in a very disordered way. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such an interesting discussion! I’m not going to argue that Snape was a good person, but I do feel sorry for the man.

    Your first point about Snape as a child, I feel is a little unfair. Children at that age often don’t think about the consequences of their actions, especially when they’ve just been insulted. I think a lot of children would choose to drop a branch on someone’s head if they insulted or them.

    Also, you have to remember he didn’t have a very good home life. It’s incredibly difficult for a child to learn to communicate well and socialise with others when they’ve never experienced or seen love.

    I think, on the train, we see him starting to learn about friendship a little; he actually stops himself from saying something hurtful to Lily. However, when he gets to Hogwarts, obviously he is sorted into Slytherin, the first place he feels like he belongs, and his friends lead him back into a dark place again.

    I think it’s very easy to see Snape as just a character and throw him into the disturbed evil person box, but when you think of him as a person, and the psychology behind his upbringing and his later actions, he becomes much more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Mattie! I absolutely see your point. I feel very sorry for Snape as well; he obviously had a lonely and rough childhood. And I agree that his problem isn’t that he is a “disturbed evil person”–my “diagnosis,” as it were, is disordered love, not lack of love. I really appreciate the way you see the nuances of Snape’s character. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I see and, to some extent, agree with what you’re saying. But I don’t fully agree with Snape’s not really loving Lily because he joined the extremist group. I understand that he already had the beliefs of the extremist group and was probably considering joining, but that decision wasn’t made until their friendship ended. Snape was friends with her and was developing feelings of some sort for her. He had to balance the expectations of Slytherin House, which had his only other potential friends, and his friendship with Muggleborn Lily. Something was holding him back from joining the Death Eaters, and I think it was that friendship with Lily. In the book, it did feel like he was mostly lashing out. It felt rash and unintended, and there is something sympathetic in that he said something he didn’t mean to say.

    I also want to consider that Lily might have had other issues in their friendship previously. That final confrontation seems like it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, like it was the last of a string of fights between them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading, Carrie! I agree that Rowling intended the final confrontation between Snape and Lily to be a straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s the way the conversation reads, for sure. But I think we’re defining “love” differently here. I define my terms a little more in part I of this post, which is a bit heavier on the “theology” side of things. It goes more in detail on the nature of disordered love and why it eventually stops looking like love at all. 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s