Sacrificing to Save: Love, Loss, and Redemption for Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, much is revealed about the motivations of both Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. We learn that each man has lost a loved one in his past. Snape was forced to give up the love of his life, Lily Potter, because he was unable to reconcile his wishes for power and status with his love for Lily. Snape deals with his loss by becoming a Death Eater and embracing the dark side of himself. Dumbledore, meanwhile, becomes disillusioned with his former best friend and love, Gellert Grindelwald, because Grindelwald has gained tremendous power through his use of the Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore is eventually forced to capture and imprison Grindelwald in order to protect the magical community. Instead of embracing his dark side, however, Dumbledore turns away from power and surrounds himself with the love of the students and faculty at Hogwarts. Both Snape and Dumbledore are forced to give up the person that they love and forge a life for themselves without that person. However, the two of them choose opposite methods of dealing with that loss.
When Snape returns to Dumbledore and begs him for help, what brings him back is his love for Lily Potter. He does not want Lily to die at Voldemort’s hands. Dumbledore uses Snape’s love to bring him back to the good side of the war against Voldemort, and to save baby Harry as well. Eventually, Dumbledore also becomes bound to Snape, depending on him to provide information to and about Voldemort. Dumbledore’s love for Harry, as a surrogate son, drives him to do everything he can to save the boy, and Snape becomes one of the major agents in that salvation. The two of them are each trying to save the entire magical community, but on a personal level they are each doing it for the love of someone from the Potter family. On a deeper level, their past failures at love are also driving the two of them to succeed in the present.
In addition, it cannot be overlooked that both Snape and Dumbledore have to die to save Harry. Snape, who really symbolizes the dark side of failed love, still manages to redeem himself by saving Lily’s son from destruction, while Dumbledore, who has actively worked to redeem himself for most of his life and symbolically represents the brighter side of love and redemption, also keeps Harry from being killed on numerous occasions. Harry willingly walks to his death toward the end of Book Seven, but Snape and Dumbledore have both willingly died for him already. The partnership of the two men is a study in contrasts, and the two of them become foils for each other in terms of how they live and how they react to failed love, but they both attempt to redeem themselves for the sake of a Potter family member. They sacrifice themselves in order to achieve personal redemption, and ultimately, to save Harry.
Dr. Emily Honey has just finished her Ph.D in American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received a master's degree from the University of Michigan and a B.A. from Western Michigan University. Her dissertation is on 19th and 20th century girls' series books. Her article “Taking the Wolf By the Ears: Ann Rinaldi and the Cultural Work of Sally Hemings” is in the February 2008 issue of The Journal of Popular Culture. Her other research interests are wide, including peer culture in the Seven Sisters colleges, Louisa May Alcott, lesbian popular culture, and Sherlock Holmes.