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Raised in a Muggle Neighborhood

By Nadia M

 

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 Dudley 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 familiar with.

 

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 Dudley wants to, so Harry doesn’t take his insults very seriously. Dudley 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 other and Dudley. When Hagrid comes to give 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 Dudley out of the 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.

 

 

Notes:

 

1. Rowling, Sorcerer’s Stone, 19.

 

2. Ibid., 20.

 

3. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 591.

 

4. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 664.

 

5. Ibid., 663.

 

6. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 102.

 

7. Ibid., 30.

 

8. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 650.

 

9. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 15.

 

10. Ibid., 430-431; Goblet of Fire, 732.

 

11. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 591.

 

12. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 46-48.

 

13. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 44.

 

14. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 4-5.

 

15. Ibid., 5.

 

16. Ibid., 36.

 

17. DeMott, “Wife Abuse High Risk Factor for Child Abuse.”

 

18. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 650.

 

 

Bibliography:

 

DeMott, Phyllis A. “Wife Abuse High Risk Factor for Child Abuse.” A Safe Place. Lake County Crisis Center. http://www.asafeplaceforhelp.org/wifeabuse.html. (accessed January 2009).

 

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.

 

———. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007.

 

———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.

 

———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.

 

———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.

 

———. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998.