There have been various evaluations of Severus Snape and his character (moral fiber) and as a character within the storyline. He has been vilified and his reputation has gone through a resurgence. (See, for example, https://www.cinemablend.com/pop/J-K-Rowling-Weighs-Harry-Potter-Great-Snape-Debate-101877.html for a nice summary of J. K. Rowling on Snape’s grey and tragic character – neither a full villain or saint).
I’m in the midst of doing something I’ve never done before; I’m going through the Harry Potter series back-to-back. I’m doing so via Jim Dale’s excellent narration. Due to my ability to listen while doing chores, take our dog for a walk, etc, I’m finishing each book in less than a week. This more compressed, focused view of the storyline allows certain features and themes to emerge that I might not see as readily or as fully as reading them across the years.
Just to note, I started reading the Harry Potter series as an adult. (I believe the series what up to the Prisoner of Azkaban by the time I started). When I first started reading the series, I saw the world through Harry’s eyes and loathed Snape. Later, I came to see the pathos of his life and choices, his loss of Lily’s love and Lily herself and came to sympathize with him much more. I especially found his willingness to help Harry (and the Wizarding World in general) through peril leading to his own death as embodying much of the ideals of Gryffindor. Snape was not a coward.
However, I will say that Snape was an immature, vindictive man would couldn’t really get beyond himself; he could be quite petty. This “straight-through” reading of Harry Potter has really brought out how stunted he was emotionally. He was his locked onto that time, in his youth, when he so appreciated Lily’s kind treatment of him (even as he was unable to be kind to others). He never got past that phase of his life and it showed. How? In so many ways
• His dislike of Harry before he met him just because he was James’ son.
• His willingness to be surrounded by sycophants like Malfoy and crave praise from the likes of Fudge.
• His clear favoritism of all things Slytherin and hatred of all things Gryffindor.
One of the scenes that stands out in my mind which illustrates his sheer pettiness is when Draco and Harry are at each other in the hall, their jinx’s ricochet off one another and hit Goyle and Hermione:
“Malfoy got Hermione!” Ron said. “Look!” He forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth—she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar. Pansy Parkinson and the other Slytherin girls were doubled up with silent giggles, pointing at Hermione from behind Snape’s back.
Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, “I see no difference.”
– Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p.99
Where is the adult here? While this is not the worst thing Snape’s done, it is knowingly unkind, immature and ugly. There is no excuse for this behavior. Not only can he not let Harry alone, he can’t even let friends of Harry alone. Grow up and man up.
Perhaps even more tellingly is Snape’s inability to look past his hurt, his unwillingness to listen to anything in Shrieking Shack that would get in the way of his revenge:
“You fool,” said Lupin softly. “Is a schoolboy grudge worth putting an innocent man back inside Azkaban?”
– Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chpt 19
To which Snape answers a resounding “Yes!” His schoolboy grudge is worth all the petty resentment he can throw at it.
Yes, Snape was ill-treated, not only by James and the gang but by others because he wasn’t the blond-haired blued-eyed, man-about-campus. His social awkwardness never fully left him. He did, however, make choices. He chose to be a Death Eater. He chose to give information that ultimately led to James and Lily’s deaths. He chose to harbor and nurse his hurts until he could no longer respond as an adult. He did much to make amends for his indirect hand in Lily’s death. It was, however, all about him. So, while it’s been cool for quite some time to extoll Snape’s virtues, he remains, in my evaluation, a ruined, stunted man who never grew to true adulthood or gained capacity to truly love.