As Harry Potter found out more
about Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, some interesting connections between Harry's
family and Snape's family emerged. Harry and Snape are both treated badly by
their families. They both dislike their families and are happy to get away from
them at Hogwarts. There are, however, significant differences in their family
situations. Their families interact differently and Harry and Snape have
different perspectives on their families. Harry sees these similarities and
differences when he sees Snape's childhood through memories from Dumbledore's
Pensieve. Snape's childhood led Harry to further understand Snape as a person.
Harry grows up without a caring
family. The Dursleys treat Harry more like an animal nuisance than a boy. Uncle
Vernon complains loudly about him and Aunt Petunia punishes him with difficult
chores.1 Dudley bullies Harry, and his parents allow it.2
After being well-loved at an age when he was too young to remember, Harry
spends the remainder of his younger years without hugs, affection, or someone
to talk to.
Snape does not have a loving
family, either. When Harry sees Snape's childhood memory of his parents,
Snape's father is yelling at Snape's mother, who is cowering, and Snape is
crying in the corner.3 Snape's father is a Muggle, which
appears to cause tension with his magical wife and son. Snape's relationship with
his mother is unknown, though their potion skills may have helped their
relationship. Even with a good relationship with his mother, Snape has to
endure his abusive father, and watch him abuse his mother. Harry and Snape both
have to deal with family members who do not care about them.
Good friends can often make up for
a less than pleasant home life, but, because of their families, Snape and Harry
do not have friends until they are older. Snape doesn't have any friends until
he is nine years old, when he meets Lily.4 This is probably
because of his parents' lack of interaction with the neighbors and the way his
parents dress him.5 His parents homeschool him, so he cannot
meet friends at school. Harry does go to Muggle school, but he does not have
any friends until he meets Ron on the Hogwarts Express.6
Dudley, being the class bully, would not allow anyone to be friends with Harry.7
By the time Snape and Harry get friends, they have already suffered many years
of a lonely childhood because of their families.
Snape and Harry both experience bullying. Harry, a
Pensieve witness to Snape's experience, empathizes with young Snape: "He knew
how it felt to be humiliated in the middle of a circle of onlookers, knew
exactly how Snape had felt as [Harry's] father had taunted him." 8
Snape is bullied by Harry's father
at Hogwarts, and Harry is bullied by
when he is at home with the Dursleys. Snape is ridiculed because of his
appearance, anti-social demeanor, and his love of the Dark Arts. Yet his family
is to blame for this; his dark and lonely personality is the result of the
abuse in his home. Harry's experiences with bullying are also because of his
family. Harry is bullied by his own cousin, Dudley, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle
Vernon do nothing to stop it. Humiliation is something both Harry and Snape are
Harry immediately relates to Snape
being bullied, but Snape is bullied in a very different way than Harry. Snape
is bullied by his peers about his looks and personality, and he takes this
personally. Harry is bullied just because
wants to, so Harry doesn't take his insults very seriously.
only copies what Uncle Vernon had been doing for years. Snape's own qualities
are to blame for the ridicule he experiences, but Harry knows that the Dursleys
resent him irrationally and that he can escape them someday.
Most students like the summer
holidays because they get to spend time with their families. But during their
Hogwarts years, Harry and Snape do not want to spend time with their families;
they would much rather be at Hogwarts. Harry ticks off the days of summer until
1 September.9 He finds the ride back home on the Hogwarts
Express disheartening.10 Snape dreads the summer holidays,
too; his love for potions, spells, and the Dark Arts cannot truly be fulfilled
in the summer. The summer holidays are a sad time for both Harry and Snape.
However, Snape's parents'
relationship differs from Harry's family's relationship, which has a
significant impact on how they each deal with their families' abuse. Tobias,
Snape's father, and Eileen, Snape's mother, have a terrible marriage.
Harry's mind was teeming with memories that were not his ’
a hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired
boy cried in the corner.11
Tobias verbally abuses Eileen. The
reader can assume that Tobias also physically abuses Eileen because she was
cowering as he shouted at her. Snape is disturbed by his parents' abusive relationship:
he is crying in the corner while his father yells at his mother. Presumably as
a result of the abuse in his household, his personality is very anti-social.
Harry's sociable personality seems
to have been unaffected by his guardians' relationship, perhaps in part because
Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, although not nice to Harry, care about each
Harry his Hogwarts letter on his eleventh birthday, Uncle Vernon is very
protective of Aunt Petunia and Dudley.12 When the Weasleys
come to pick up Harry for the Quidditch World Cup, Uncle Vernon is again
protective of his family.13 Uncle Vernon cares about Aunt
Petunia's feelings. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Uncle
Vernon overhears "those people in cloaks" talking about "the Potters" and
"their son Harry' 14 but hesitates to tell his wife about
this because he knows it would upset her.15 Additionally,
Uncle Vernon's and Aunt Petunia's unity is shown when Harry's very first Hogwarts
letter arrives. When Uncle Vernon finally wrestles it away from Harry and
Dudley, they kick Harry and
kitchen to discuss it.16 Aunt Petunia is ashamed of being a
blood-relative to a wizard, and Uncle Vernon, likewise, could have been angry
with his wife and blamed her for taking Harry in. Instead, they were both upset
about the situation, and united to cope with it. There was no tension between
them, just towards Harry and the wizarding world. Harry's cousin and guardians
have a caring relationship while Snape's parents have an abusive relationship.
Also, while Harry is neglected,
Snape suffers physical abuse. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon often shout at
Harry, but are not physically abusive; they never physically hurt him. He just
brushes off their meanness; their words do not crush him. Snape, on the other
hand, is verbally and physically abused. Tobias abuses Eileen, and it is likely
that Snape was also abused by his father, because men who abuse their wives
often abuse their children.17 The abuse Snape suffers is
terrifying; it is very different from the neglect Harry deals with.
Another difference is that Snape
wants to be proud of his family, but Harry does not care about the Dursleys.
Snape, growing up in the wizarding world, values his ancestry. He is certainly
exposed to ideas about pureblood domination, and probably wishes his mother had
maintained pure wizard blood by marrying a wizard instead of a Muggle. He sees
his parents as monster and victim, not as the role models his kin are expected
to be. Harry only wishes he did not live with the Dursleys. He does not care
about the status of his relatives or that they are horrible people; he doesn't
see himself as connected with them because they aren't his parents. Therefore
Harry does not take the Dursleys' failures as personally as Snape does.
Their different reactions to their
childhoods affect Harry's and Snape's relationships later in life. Snape's
abusive home and the teasing he experiences lead to self-hatred. This causes
him to lash out and ruin his friendship with Lily. When he later expresses a
hatred for Muggles by joining the Death Eaters, he is actually acting on his
hatred of his own Muggle blood, similarly to Voldemort. Snape's already fragile
feelings from his abusive childhood cannot handle the ridicule he suffers at
Hogwarts. Harry, however, builds life-long friendships soon after arriving at
Hogwarts. His detachment from his miserable childhood allows him to adjust to
having friends. His circumstances make him popular automatically, so he is
reassured that the Dursleys do not affect him.
While the differences between
Harry's and Snape's families are substantial, Harry notices the similarities
between them,18 which leads Harry to further understand Snape
as a person. We need to read closely to understand how important the
differences are. While Harry's suffering is apparent right away, the reader
only learns bits and pieces about Snape's family. In analyzing those fragments,
it seems that Snape's family situation is more miserable than Harry's. Snape's
parents have a horrible relationship, while Harry's guardians have a caring
relationship. There is verbal and physical abuse in Snape's household, while
Harry is only neglected and mistreated. Snape takes his family's faults and the
teasing from his peers personally. Harry feels detached from the Dursleys; he
doesn't take their behaviour personally. That may be why Snape takes the path
of the Dark Arts, while Harry avoids it: Harry's family and childhood seem to
be not as terrible as Snape's.
1. Rowling, Sorcerer's Stone,
2. Ibid., 20.
3. Ibid., Order of the
4. Ibid., Deathly Hallows,
5. Ibid., 663.
6. Ibid., Sorcerer's Stone,
7. Ibid., 30.
8. Ibid., Order of the
9. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban,
10. Ibid., 430-431; Goblet
of Fire, 732.
11. Ibid., Order of the
12. Ibid., Sorcerer's Stone,
13. Ibid., Goblet of Fire,
14. Ibid., Sorcerer's Stone,
15. Ibid., 5.
16. Ibid., 36.
17. DeMott, "Wife Abuse High Risk
Factor for Child Abuse."
18. Rowling, Order of the
DeMott, Phyllis A. "Wife Abuse High
Risk Factor for Child Abuse."
(accessed January 2009).
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and
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”””. Harry Potter and the
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”””. Harry Potter and the Goblet
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”””. Harry Potter and the Order
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”””. Harry Potter and the
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”””. Harry Potter and the
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