The Character Study of Severus Snape in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Character Study of Severus Snape in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Asep Mahmud,S.S.,M.Pd

Abstract. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh of the famous Harry Potter Series, is a bestseller that has been translated in 65 languages. Here, in this study, the researcher would like to analyze the character of Severus Snape, one of the major supporting characters in the story. The analysis will focus on his character build and character development. The Researcher applied formalistic approach along with library research methodology of the qualitative research to study the intrinsic element of the literary work. The result of the study shows that Severus Snape is a round character with more than just one major personality traits. The story reveals his hidden personality which changes the perception of him as an antagonistic character into a helpful supporting character.

Keywords: character, revelation, round

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the seventh series of the famous Harry Potter Series written by J.K. Rowling. It is a bestseller that has been translated in 65 languages. It has also been adapted into two part movies. Thus, the writer considers the novel worthy to be analyzed. What the writer is about to analyze in the novel is a character, but not the main character. The character that is going to be analyzed in this study is Severus Snape, an interesting character who seems to be against the protagonists but later in the book is revealed to actually help them behind the scene.

To start analyzing the character of Severus Snape in the story, there are some definitions and theories that will be used as the basis of the research. The first theory that becomes the background theory of the research is the definition of character by M. H. Abrams (1999:32-33):

Characters are the persons represented in a dramatic or narrative work, who are interpreted by the reader as being endowed with particular moral, intellectual, and emotional qualities by inferences from what the persons say and their distinctive ways of saying it—the dialogue—and from what they do—the action.

Characters in a story have an important role to develop the plot. They have a large influence to the content of the novel. The characters in many stories possess characteristics which are similar to the representation of a real person’s qualities. Based on Abram’s description, these qualities can be analyzed through the interpretation of their words and actions.

Related to characters, the separation of major and minor characters needs to be supported by a valid definition. Thus, the major and minor characters are defined as:

Major or central characters are vital to the development and resolution of the conflict. In other words, the plot and resolution of conflict revolves around these characters.

Minor characters serve to complement the major characters and help move the plot events forward. (Collins Welch)

Based on that definition, major character can be described as the character that becomes the center of attention and plays the most important part in a story. The problem, solution, setting and plot are all orbiting around this character. On the other hand, minor characters are those that complement the story, enhance the major character, or help the progression of the plot.

The characters themselves, both the major and minor characters can be categorized into two types of character, flat or round character. According to E.M. Forster (1927:4-5):

A flat character can be summed up a single sentence and acts as a function of only a few fixed character traits. While round characters are capable of surprise, contradiction, and change; they are representations of human beings in all of their complexity.

From the statements, it can be understood that a flat character shows only one or just a few aspects of personality. It is flat in term that it is basically a two dimensional character, not showing the complexity that real humans possess. On the other hand a round character shows a complex personality with various aspects of its elements. He or she can sometimes surprise the reader due to his or her complexities.

The novel, Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, is the final story of Harry Potter series. It tells about the struggle of Harry Potter to find and destroy Horcruxes, the sources of immortality that is possessed by Voldemort, the most dangerous threat of the magic community. The story reaches its climax when Harry and his friends battle against Voldemort and his death eaters. Harry manages to win against his enemy. However, his winning is not caused by Harry’s effort alone. It is due to the support of many people including, surprisingly, the double agent that Harry previously hates, Severus Snape.

Severus Snape’s role as the major supporting character can be seen:

Dumbledore took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Tell him that on the night Lord Voldemort tried to kill him… And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die.” (Rowling, 2007, 33:560)

The quotation above shows the flashback of Snape’s memory that Harry sees. Here, Snape relays the vital message to Harry which gives him a way to win against Voldemort, his enemy. This assisting role is important due to the effect it produces in the climax of the story. Without this piece of information from Snape, the story will probably go to different development in the final battle. Therefore, it can be concluded here that Snape’s role in the story is important.

The complexity of Severus Snape’s character can be seen from many of his actions and words which seem to be contradictory at the first glance.

My Lord, the Order of the Phoenix intends to move Harry Potter from his current place of safety on Saturday next, at nightfall.” (Rowling, 2007, 1:3).

Here, Snape betrays his former organization, the Order of Phoenix, by relaying the vital information of Harry’s whereabouts and the movement plans. He shows loyalty to Voldemort, but at the same time he also shows disloyalty to the Order of Phoenix. Thus, the trustworthiness of Snape in this case is questionable.

That was nothing,” said Snape. “It was a laugh, that’s all –”

“It was Dark Magic, and if you think that’s funny –” (Rowling, 2007, 33:550)

The quotation above happens in Snape’s memory seen by Harry. Snape is arguing against the younger version of Harry’s mother about the dark magic that his friends do at school. He says that the dangerous use of dark magic is fine since it is just used for jokes. Here, Snape shows his disregard of other people’s concern, yet at the same time, he is showing his concern on how Harry’s mother sees him by trying to convince her that it is not a big deal. In this case, Snape’s real feeling related to others’ view on him is obscure.

“I’m just trying to show you they’re not as wonderful as everyone seems to think they are.” (Rowling, 2007, 33:550)

Here, in his memory, Snape shows his envy toward the younger version of Harry’s father and his friends by trying to convince the younger version of Harry’s mother that they are breaking the rules. He forgets that by spying on them breaking the curfew, he also breaks the rules. In this matter, Snape expresses care, jealousy, and hypocrisy simultaneously.

“Why? You aren’t trying to give him more detentions, Severus? The boy will soon have spent more time in detention than out.” (Rowling, 2007, 33:558)

In the quotation, the magic school headmaster comments of Snape’s tendency to easily give detention to Harry Potter. Here, Snape expresses himself as a person who tries to uphold the rules, by ignoring the circumstances. He tries to be strict but he acts unfairly toward those he doesn’t like, Harry and his friends. Again he shows controversy in his actions.

“… mediocre, arrogant as his father, a determined rule-breaker, delighted to find himself famous, attention-seeking and impertinent.”

“You see what you expect to see, Severus,” said Dumbledore. (Rowling, 2007, 33:555)

In the quote above, Snape expresses his discontent on Harry Potter, saying that he is mediocre, arrogant, and the likes. However, others perceive it differently. He believes that he measures Harry’s character objectively, but others think that he shows poor judgment on Harry’s character because he dislikes Harry’s father from the first. Here, Snape shows discrepancy of what he thinks and what others think.

“I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus.” (Rowling, 2007, 33:556)

In the quote above, Dumbledore, the headmaster of the magic school, shows his gratitude toward Severus Snape. Snape, whom others see with great suspicion and wariness, is surprisingly trusted fully by Dumbledore. Severus Snape in this quote shows ambiguous quality of character: a person doubted by many, and a person fully trusted by one.

“And you do it extremely well. Do not think that I underestimate the constant danger in which you place yourself, Severus. To give Voldemort what appears to be valuable information while withholding the essentials is a job I would entrust to nobody but you.” (Rowling, 2007, 33:559)

Here, Snape again shows a complexity in his character. He, who many believes to be choosing the winning side because it is safer, turns out to be risking his life by doing some behind-the-scene actions to help the losing side. From the quote, it can be seen that Snape is a person who is willing to take a great risk for what he believes is right, although he is seen as a person who prefers safety over what is right by many people.

“For him?” shouted Snape. “Expecto Patronum!”

From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe. She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears. (Rowling, 2007, 33:561)

In the quote above, Snape shows another side of him, a loyal lover. Snape has loved Harry’s mother since they were young. And although she has passed away, he still loves her. It can be seen from the form of his patronus magic. However, although he loves Harry’s mother, Snape does not like Harry at all. Even so, he is still willing to risk his life to protect Harry because of his love. This situation expresses another aspect of Severus Snape’s complexity of personality.

“If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!” said Snape furiously. (Rowling, 2007, 33:556)

Severus Snape, a person whom many think does not have any compassion, shows his care and concern here. It happens when Dumbledore gets injured from a curse. Snape gets angry at him because he called him late, which makes Snape unable to do more to help Dumbledore. This situation shows that within, Snape is a compassionate person although from the outside, he is cold and uncaring.

“You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” said Dumbledore. “I ask this one great favor of you, Severus, because death is coming for me as surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year’s league.” (Rowling, 2007, 33:558)

This is another controversy in Snape’s character. After he makes some prediction for what will likely happen, Dumbledore asks Snape to kill him to protect the innocence of the other person that is sent to kill him. Although he is reluctant, Snape does that in the end. He kills Dumbledore and is willing to bear the burden so that another is free from guilt. This is another complicated aspect of Snape’s character.

“My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?” Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape’s ferocious, anguished face. (Rowling, 2007, 33:554)

This is the final aspect of Severus Snape’s character complexity. He chooses to do compassionate yet dangerous things for Dumbledore and Harry Potter, but he is embarrassed to be seen as a ‘good guy’. He prefers that all his good actions are done secretly without anybody noticing. He even insists that Dumbledore makes an oath to keep them secret. This shows how complex and unusual his way of thinking is.

From the analysis, it can be concluded that Severus Snape is a round character because he possesses and shows many different aspects of his personality. The result of this research confirms the logically acceptable assumption that a person should not be judged from his or her outward appearance and attitude because some people have complex aspects of character inside them.

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