Is Severus Snape a Sociopath?

The LOST Finale just ate my brain! Consequently, at the moment, I’m more equipped to blog on Benjamin Linus than on the “Nicolas Flamel” chapter in PS/SS. So instead of proceeding mechanically with the re-read, how about I answer some simple questions implied by search terms people have used to land on this blog in the past few days?

Search #1: Is Severus Snape a sociopath?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: I am assuming that the person who asked this question knows that Snape kills Dumbledore but does not know how the story ends. But if by some weird chance this person is asking the question after reading the series, I suggest doing a re-read and paying closer attention to what Snape is actually doing… not to how Harry is interpreting it! Seriously!

Severus Snape is a flawed and wounded hero with a tormented past. But he is not a man without conscience. He is a man with a very heightened sense of conscience but no externally manifested affection for Harry Potter. And because Harry is not his favorite person, Harry (who is desperate for affection) always thinks Snape is up to no good. However, Albus Dumbledore has, in fact, essentially made Snape his right-hand man, and trusts him “completely.” And despite appearances to the contrary (i.e. Snape killing Dumbledore), Snape never betrays Dumbledore’s trust.

Being completely trustworthy is not something you would ever be able to say about any sociopath. Hence long answer: Severus Snape is not a sociopath.

Search #2: I open at the close

This is the message Albus Dumbledore inscribed on the first Snitch Harry ever caught in a Quidditch match (against Slytherin, of course). The Snitch responds to the touch of Harry’s lips because Harry caught the Snitch in his mouth, and Snitches respond to the touch of the first person who touched them – i.e. the first person that caught them.

In the broader context of the series, this message is telling Harry that he will be able to access what is hidden in the Snitch (the Resurrection Stone) when the time is right – i.e., when Harry is about to meet Voldemort and sacrifice his life.

Search #3: Silver Doe

The Silver Doe is Severus Snape’s beautiful, light-filled Patronus. It is a partner to Harry’s mother’s Patronus and is an external manifestation of Snape’s light-filled soul. The Patronus is so powerful that Harry recognizes instinctively that it is not a product of Dark Magic and chooses to follow it, despite not knowing who it belongs to and despite the perilous circumstances he’s in. The Patronus leads Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, which Snape has planted in a frozen pool for Harry to retrieve.

Search #4: Harry Potter – 3 Narrative Techniques

I was sick and tired of the person in the books who wore the glasses was always the brainy one and it really irritated me and I wanted to read about a hero wearing glasses.

It also has a symbolic function, Harry is the eyes on to the books in the sense that it is always Harry’s point of view, so there was also that, you know, facet of him wearing glasses.
J. K. Rowling, 2005

3rd Person Limited: The primary narrative technique used in the Harry Potter series is a close 3rd person point of view (or a 3rd person limited point of view), tied to Harry’s consciousness and perceptions – as Rowling indicates in the quote above. Because Rowling uses this technique throughout over 95% of the series, we rarely know more than Harry knows or see more than Harry sees. Because Harry is sane, however, his perception of other characters’ actions should be taken as accurate. For example, if Harry sees Severus Snape disappearing into the 3rd floor corridor, then the reader can safely assume that Severus Snape literally did go into 3rd floor corridor.

But readers do need to be careful about accepting everything Harry believes to be true. He is often wrong in interpreting motives of characters he dislikes (cf. Snape) – as the ending of PS/SS and as “The Prince’s Tale” demonstrate. The difference here between perceiving actions and interpreting them goes something like this: Severus Snape disappears into the 3rd floor corridor (True) in order to steal the Philosopher’s Stone (False). Since the narrative is coming through Harry’s perception and interpretation, the motive he ascribes to Snape of wishing to steal the Stone is stated in the narrative as if it were fact. But it’s not.

Since we see nearly everything through Harry’s perspective, many readers accept Harry’s interpretations without question. This tendency to accept everything Harry believes to be true is what I will call the “Applied Harry Filter.” The “Applied Harry Filter” does not refer to Harry’s perceptions but to readers’ uncritical acceptance of Harry’s interpretations – even those interpretations that are objectively proven to be false.

I have written more on limited point of view on the CoS Forum. Unfortunately, what I wrote was rather seriously misinterpreted elsewhere on the Forum, where a poster claims that I make the case that we can trust nothing that Harry perceives. It’s like being polyjuiced into a Deconstructionist!

Omniscient Narrator: Omniscient narrator point of view is used in “The Boy Who Lived,” “The Riddle House,” “The Other Minister,” and a couple of Snape-centric chapters – “Spinner’s End” and “The Dark Lord Ascending.” An omniscient narrator provides the reader with information that the lead character is not privy to. JKR’s use of omniscient narrator in the Snape-centric chapters, though, is a great example of misdirection. By choosing to describe these scenes from an omniscient point of view, she shows us Snape acting as a Death Eater while offering us no access to Snape’s thoughts. Because we get no access to Snape’s thoughts, we are unaware that he is actually infiltrating the Death Eaters and working against Voldemort. JKR uses omniscient in these instances to create an impression that is actually the opposite of what is occurring beneath the surface.

Narrative Reliability: Unreliable narrator is not a point of view but is a technique that JKR uses occasionally in what I will call “micro-narrations” (i.e. short first-person trips into having another character tell a story). For instance, in one micro-narration, she has one of Snape’s enemies (Sirius Black) describe Snape as having been quite adept at the Dark Arts before ever arriving at Hogwarts. However, there is no evidence in the text to show that what Sirius says is true. When we actually see Snape’s childhood in “The Prince’s Tale,” there is not only no evidence of an interest in the Dark Arts, there is evidence that he does not want to become the type of person who would ultimately be sent to Azkaban. Sirius’ comments on Snape are not reliable – i.e, they cannot be taken at face value. But this does not mean they are untrue – just unverified by the text and unconfirmed by characters who have more objectivity concerning Snape.

Search #5: Expecto Patronum Significance

“Expecto Patronum” is Latin for “I expect a Protector.” In its most basic sense, it is the spell used to conjure a Patronus and protect a person from the Dementors.

In addition, Expecto Patronum is the name of this blog (which is probably why the user landed on this page). And as a huge fan of LOST, I’m thinking of expanding the blog to include commentary on LOST in light of the Finale.

Thankfully, the name Expecto Patronum can readily cover LOST content as well as Harry Potter content. After all, the Island needs a protector. And the native language of Jacob – the Island protector when Oceanic Flight 815 crashes – is Latin.

It works!

Note: I have reorganized and expanded this post to address some distortions of my points on 3rd person limited that have appeared elsewhere.

7 responses to “Is Severus Snape a Sociopath?

  1. I have only one comment on Search #1: DAGS.

    Or, in dunderspeak: DO A GOOGLE SEARCH.

    If you can come up with a 5-word search phrase, you should be able to type “define:sociopath” into the search box… without the apostrophes, of course.

  2. I’m frankly stunned that #1 was asked. I think I’ll join Dags in her use of acronyms: LMFAO.
    I will say, though, that it makes quite the attention-grabbing title.

    What sort of search is this? Are these from google searches, or is it possible to search on wordpress?

  3. I thought the title was an attention-grabber!

    I’m not sure what search engine is being used. WordPress.com stats are not sophisticated enough to break it all down into which search engines are involved. But I’m assuming the search came from Google – or one of its rivals. The stats usually let me know when something is being directed from within WordPress.com.

  4. I’d like to comment upon ‘I open at the close’. While there’s a good deal in that about Harry, I think it is also symbolic of Snape – that he ‘opens’ to Harry at the close of his own life.

    Those memories don’t seem to me to be only about convincing Harry to trust him, but also wanting Harry to understand him – hence the ‘Look at me’. Or at least that’s how ‘I’ see it.

    That particular quidditch game is also important in terms of Snape. It isn’t just Harry’s win against Slytherin involved, but Snape’s first protection of Harry in the books – well, the first one we ‘see’. In the end we discover that it was Snape’s asking Voldy to spare Lily that actually turns out to be Snape’s FIRST protection of Harry,

    Which also turns around to ‘I open at the close’ – the opening of the story is the close of Lily’s life – altho’ we don’t get to witness that moment until the close of the series. That could also be said to be the open/beginning of Snape’s redemption, but pretty much the end of a chance at a happy life for him.

    • Interesting insight, hwyla.

      I think the memories are about a lot more than just wanting Harry to trust him. I think they’re also about Lily – and sharing Lily with Harry. I think they’re about forgiveness – giving and receiving. I think they’re a last confession. They may be about wanting Harry to understand him.

      Here were my initial thoughts about the memories when I first finished DH:

      Forgiveness and the Final Pensieve

      Also, very interesting comments about the Quidditch match. And the irony of its being the first known time that Snape protects Harry is that it’s also the first time that Harry thinks Snape is trying to kill him. Talk about getting it wrong!

      As for protecting him when he pleads with Voldemort for Lily’s life… I’d call that one inadvertent. It’s what established Harry’s blood protection from his mother. But Snape was not pleading for Harry.

  5. LOL, it could have been an avid forum debater who needed proof that Snape is a sociopath to throw at dellusional, pathetic Snape fans.

    Yoana

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