The other week, Melissa at Stirrup Queens posed the question: which Harry Potter character are you most like? I answered fairly quickly, that I’m most like Hermione or possibly Lupin. To some extent, that’s true. Like Hermione, I’ve got a serious perfectionist streak and extremely curly hair that, until I cut it all off as an adult, gave me fits. Lupin’s an outsider who never feels quite at home with others, and so am I.
I’m decidedly in the anger stage of grief over my infertility diagnosis. While I’ve never been in possession of that admirable calm and philosophical nature some people display when faced with adversity, even I’ve been stunned by the sudden vehemence of my feelings. I mean, there is a bubbling pit of rage at, well, just about everything right now with all of it centered solidly around difficulties conceiving and childbearing. It’s quite uncomfortable and discomfiting, really. The only hope right now is that at some point, I’ll move out of this stage as my primary emotional place just like I left denial.
Such background brings me to the Harry Potter character I most identify with now and have been reluctant to claim: Severus Snape.
Some people will probably protest here that Snape’s a hero and has plenty of redeeming qualities. That’s more or less true. Snape is best characterized as a Byronic hero, moody, destructive, with a troubled past that finally comes through in the end. It’s easy, when finishing the entire journey with Snape’s heroic turn in book 7, to forget all the genuine nastiness, pettiness, and spite Snape displays throughout the preceding six novels.
I couldn’t forget that. And as I picked up the first book the other day, I was reminded anew just precisely how unpleasant Snape’s attitude and behavior are. “At the start of term banquet,” Rowling writes, “Harry had gotten the idea that Professor Snape disliked him. By the end of the first Potions lesson, he knew he’d been wrong. Snape didn’t dislike Harry – he hated him” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone p. 136). Throughout the other books, Snape is at best unkind to Harry. At worst, Snape causes injury – emotional obviously, but also leaves Harry unable to master the crucial skill of closing his mind. As much as Snape is a vital member of the Order of the Phoenix, he also takes a certain joy in tormenting both Harry and Sirius, with disastrous consequences. In an interview, even J.K. Rowling stated: “It’s fun to write about Snape because he’s a deeply horrible person.”
As the character develops throughout the seven novels, Rowling gives readers glances into Snape’s past and a sort of explanation as to why he is the way he is. Snape’s life has decidedly not turned out as he planned (ah, a familiar feeling!). Some reasons for this – his miserable childhood, the bullying Snape endures at school – are not within Snape’s control. Others, including joining the death eaters, or hurling an unforgivably offensive and hurtful epithet at Lily (thus losing her as a friend and possibly more), are his own choices.
Reading some of those passages, I get, in a way I really didn’t before, some of Snape’s passive-aggressive comments or even overtly aggressive actions towards Harry. Harry is the literal, physical manifestation of all those life-altering events and choices sitting right in front of him. Harry is Lily’s son, with her eyes, the reminder of everything Snape lost. Harry also looks very similar to Snape’s childhood tormentor James. Like Snape, I was bullied fairly severely throughout several years of childhood and adolescence, so I understand the sort of deep scars that experience leaves. It’s the confluence of the worst events of Snape’s life that suddenly haunts him daily. On top of all of that, Snape’s not just asked to treat Harry like any other student, but to give him special help at times.
So while Snape’s bullying is inexcusable – no teacher should ever, ever be allowed to treat a student in such a way – there is a less-than-wonderful part of me that understands all the sulky comments, the unfair loss of points, the poor marks. For me, it manifests itself in the impulse to look at a visibly pregnant woman and make an unkind comment even though I don’t know her story. It’s the impulse to respond to the latest pregnancy announcement by obviously rolling my eyes or making a hurtful remark. It’s having my biggest insecurities, emotional hot points, and most painful moments paraded in front of my face and struggling not to lash out. And holy shit, sometimes the only thing I want to do is hurl the sharpest words I have because I just almost cannot stand how awful it all feels.
Snape lets the vitriol out often, not unlike I want to do (and, occasionally, it does spill out). Much of the time, Snape hovers around making Harry’s life as miserable as he possibly can without actually doing something so overt that he’d get into serious trouble for it. Snape’s a man who’s never fully left the anger stage of his grief. Resentment and bitterness seethe out of him continually. He’s never recovered from losing Lily or from the bullying he endured. Snape inflicts the pain he feels on others around him, just as I feel so desperately tempted to do these days. But quite frankly, he winds up losing a great deal in the process.
Snape doesn’t really find peace in his life. He retreats to the dungeons and refuses to come out; nursing all the wounds he’s been dealt. He’s an exceptionally bright wizard, a respected colleague, and in the end has all the makings of a great hero, but he’s never truly close to anyone. Even as Snape dies a hero, I had a sad sense that Snape did not live the life he could have lived. He never shows signs of having come to detente with the demons in his past, except possibly at that last, fatal moment.
I don’t want that. Right now, it would be insanely easy to retreat to my metaphoric dungeon and refuse to come out. Yet another good friend gave me the “good news” today (this is seriously the fourth pregnancy announcement I’ve heard this month, clearly, the holidays were good to some people), and I can’t find even the slightest bit of happiness, just more rage at the feeling of injustice that’s welled up in me. There’s a part of me that wonders if I’ll ever leave this stage, if at some point the resentment and anger will diminish – especially if I never get pregnant – and realizes how easy it would be to slip into a place where I never come to terms with the fears and regrets and anger that haunt me. Where I’m always alone, driving anyone who comes close away.
I identify with Snape’s anger (even as it wars with his more noble side) strongly right now. I understand the almost unbearable frustration at having something you can’t have, a pain you can’t fix thrust under your nose, reminding you that this is your life, like it or not. This isn’t to say there isn’t a place for anger. It’s a useful emotion at times and completely appropriate. It’s when anger makes the transition from an emotion for a time to a state of being that it becomes a problem. Snape is someone who’s allowed that to happen to him. Right now, even though deep down I know I don’t truly want to take that path in my life, there’s a part of me that really wants to follow that example.
A big thanks to Melissa for generously letting me borrow her question and idea for this post, and seriously, check out Stirrup Queens – it’s a great place.