Severus Snape – Hero or Villain?

This week in the Walker assembly we used the Harry Potter book series, and the character of Severus Snape, to get the students to reflect on how we judge character.

Many of the Walker students are big Harry Potter fans, so it was a great way to encourage some wise and philosophical thinking in an accessible and fun way. Students did not need to know the book, or be a fan of the book, to get something out of it.

We started our presentation by asking if Severus Snape was a hero or a villain.

Many of you may know that the character of Snape appears pretty ghastly: he has oily hair, a sour face and wears long black clothes. He is a bully, who is forever picking on Harry Potter, and generally just acting like a bad dude. On top of this, he was once a Death Eater, and throughout the book it appears that he remains on the Dark Lord’s side.

But what makes Snape an interesting character to explore is that he is rather complicated. Despite his past, and his bullying ways, he also acts to save Harry and many others, and often does this behind the scenes, thereby sacrificing the chance for himself to be seen in a better light.

We used Snape’s character to help get the students to understand that in real life many things, and many people, are complicated, and that we must therefore use caution when making judgments.

We pointed out that we may encounter someone who is cranky towards us one day – and while this poor behaviour is disrespectful – it is not enough to determine the person’s entire character.

At the end of the presentation we returned to the big question – is Snape a hero or a villain?  – and proposed to the students that this is in fact the wrong question to ask.

Spoiler alert: at the end of the Harry Potter series, when Harry sees Snape’s memories, he starts to understand who Snape really was, and started to feel sorry for the person he once hated.

We reminded our students that we all want to be understood, and feel like people get us. We don’t want to be simplified. We don’t like it when they say, we are just the “class clown”, or the “nerd”, we know we are not just those things.

If we try to decide if Snape is a hero or a villain, we are trying to say he is just one thing.

It was an enjoyable presentation, and it was based on an ABC radio podcast from the Short & Curly program. You can listen to the full program online at ABC Radio.