“Spinners End” always has been an intriguing chapter to me. This is the only chance we get see Snape without the “Harry Filter”, or, the point of view of the omniscient storyteller, rather than Harry’s point of view. However, without the Filter there is something not quite right about the whole chapter. This is also a very important chapter because it sets up how we view Snape throughout the rest of the book. By applying Communication Theory to the chapter in question, I believe it may serve to provide a better picture as to what was going on.
The Performance, and Snape’s Misrepresentation
In Erving Goffman’s book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, he defines performance as “the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers.” 1 At first glance, it sounds like Snape is in a position of manipulation, but in this case being in a position of influence means he can control the direction the conversation will take. In the case of “Spinner’s End” the observers whom the performance is intended to influence are Bellatrix and Narcissa.
A false impression maintained by an individual in any one of his routines or role of which the routine is only one part, for a discreditable disclosure in one area will throw doubt on the many areas of activities in which he may have nothing to conceal. 2
This is one of the many reasons why Snape is not taken in by his own performance; he has had too many different audiences for whom he has to give a convincing performance, specifically Voldemort, the Death Eaters, and the Order. However, due to him giving a false impression or misrepresenting himself in one of his performances obviously doubt has been cast on all areas.
In “Spinner’s End,” we see Bellatrix ask him some pointed questions, and for purposes of clarity I have taken the liberty of listing them:
¨ Where were you when the Dark Lord fell?
¨ Why did you never make any attempt to find him when he vanished?
¨ What have you been doing all these years that you lived in Dumbledore’s back pocket?
¨ Why did you stop the Dark Lord procuring the Philosopher’s Stone?
¨ Why did you not return when the Dark Lord was reborn?
¨ Where were you when we battled to retrieve the prophecy?
¨ And, the million dollar question: Why is Harry Potter still alive? 3
She raises legitimate questions; she has no qualms about asking Snape to alleviate her doubts. Snape, while he may consider it a waste of time, obliges her by answering.
A Discrepancy Here
This false impression Snape is giving is played out on a larger scale with discrepant roles. Snape, up until the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was visibly on two teams: Voldemort’s, and Dumbledore’s; and:
given the fragility and required expressive coherence of reality that is dramatized by a performance, there are usually facts which, if attention is drawn to them during the performance would discredit, disrupt, or make useless the impression that is being fostered.4
Let’s revisit those questions posed by Bellatrix along with Snape’s answers.
Where was Snape when Voldemort fell?
Answer: At Hogwarts spying on Dumbledore at Voldemort’s Order.5
Reality: This may or not be true. The whole timeline of when Snape actually took up the post as Potions Master is a bit sketchy. It also doesn’t help that we don’t have a solid date as to when exactly the prophecy was made. We can gather from the fact Trelawney told Umbridge she had been employed at Hogwarts for nearly sixteen years it was made at some point in 1979.6 Snape also told Bellatrix that he had sixteen years of information on Dumbledore; he told Umbridge that he’s worked at Hogwarts for fourteen. This begs the question: What did Snape do for those first two years before he took up the post at Hogwarts to keep tabs on Dumbledore supposedly on Voldemort’s orders?
Unless this was an unintentional slip on the part of Rowling, something doesn’t add up. This means there’s something more to Dumbledore’s trusting Snape that we don’t know about. This, coupled with the fact that Snape says, “Dumbledore has to believe the best in people” 7 how he, Snape, gave some sob story to get back into Dumbledore’s good graces has to make one wonder. Throughout the series, Dumbledore is a trusting person, but that trust is not misplaced. He trusts with reason. McGonagall reiterates at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore had an iron-clad reason for trusting him. To me, “iron-clad” means more than being sorry that the prophecy turned out to apply to someone he probably had a grudging respect for. Iron-clad means that Snape had to prove to Dumbledore that he could trust him. Remember, Snape is talking about the person who saw that Tom Riddle was a little psychopath from the very beginning. Dumbledore is not easily fooled. However for the purposes of the conversation Snape needs to downplay Dumbledore’s observational skills.
Why didn’t Snape make any attempt to find Voldemort when he vanished?
Answer: Snape believed Voldemort to be dead.8
Reality: This is probably true. I don’t think Voldemort would have let just anybody in on his Horcrux secret. The more people you tell, the more it ceases being a secret. If Voldemort had let more of his followers in on his secret, then Lucius might not have so flippantly used the Diary for his own purposes. In fact, he would have guarded it with his life. Also, the more people Voldemort let in on his secret, the higher the risk of one of the Death Eaters double-crossing him increases. This would mean that, when Voldemort was killed the first time around, one of the Death Eaters would have squealed, and the Ministry would have sent people out looking for the Horcruxes. Or the Death Eaters would have known which objects were Horcruxes and returned Voldemort to power much sooner.
What was Snape doing all these years that he lived in Dumbledore’s back pocket?
Answer: Enjoying a comfortable life as Potions Master, but not allowed anywhere near the Defense Against the Dark Arts (DADA) position.9
Reality: Dumbledore knew the position was cursed when Snape applied. Depending on when Slughorn retired Dumbledore probably thought that Potions was the best fit for Snape. Dumbledore probably didn’t believe Voldemort was gone permanently so he put Snape in a position of security until such a time when Snape’s double agent routine would be needed. Despite his infatuation with the Dark Arts, Snape knows his DADA stuff. It is interesting that he never brings up the fact that he is actually the DADA teacher for that coming year. One would presume that Snape would have known he had the position by the time Bellatrix and Narcissa visited him. Since Snape has already stated that Dumbledore has to see the best in people, he could have easily slipped in the fact that he was the DADA teacher for the coming year. Instead he says Dumbledore won’t let him have the position for fear of a relapse. This contradicts the notion that Dumbledore trusts Snape implicitly when Rowling has told us repeatedly through Dumbledore he trusts him completely.
Why did Snape try to stop Voldemort from procuring the Philosopher’s Stone?
Answer: Voldemort didn’t know if he could trust him. All Snape saw was Quirrell trying to steal the stone.10
Reality: The question for us would be, “How did Snape find out that Voldemort had questions about Snape’s loyalty back in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?” Snape probably strongly suspected that Voldemort was involved somehow. Snape was close enough to Voldemort that he probably knew about Voldemort’s obsession with immortality. If it is true that Quirrell had taught two years previously, then Snape already knew what Quirrell was like. When Snape cornered Quirrell may just have been letting him know, “I know what you’re after, I know what you’re up too, and I know who you’re probably working for…don’t be playing the stupid game with me.”
Why didn’t Snape return when Voldemort was reborn?
Answer: Snape was following Dumbledore’s orders by returning two hours later. He also says Voldemort believed him to have left him forever, but has since had all doubts erased from his mind.11
Reality: FAT CHANCE. Let’s go back to the rebirthing ceremony. Voldemort said:
One too cowardly to return…he will pay. One, who I believe has left me forever…he will be killed, of course… and one, who remains my most faithful servant, and who has already re-entered my service.12
A lot of people have believed it was Snape who left Voldemort forever and Karkaroff who was the coward. Now there is a definite difference between “he will be killed” and “he will pay”. You don’t necessarily have to die to pay. The one who will pay will probably wish he was dead when the time comes. (We all know Voldemort is very calculating and shows no mercy). The one who will pay will want to watch his back. Remember, Voldemort does not forgive and forget.
At the beginning of the chapter, “Draco’s Detour,” in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Mr. Weasley tells Harry that Karkaroff is dead. “They’ve found Igor Karkaroff’s body in a shack up North. The Dark Mark had been set over it.” 13 With this bit of information it kind of gives that section in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a new meaning. Karkaroff is now the one who left Voldemort forever…he’s dead and Snape is the coward who will pay. Why else would Voldemort have Wormtail stationed at Snape’s house? I don’t think Pettigrew is there because he wants to be there. As Snape has put it, Peter has “taken to listening to doors.” 14 Perhaps this is to listen for something that may clue Voldemort in as to where Snape’s loyalties lie.
Why wasn’t Snape present when the Death Eaters went to retrieve the Prophecy?
Answer: He was where he was supposed to be.15
Reality: True, he was where he was supposed to be. He also probably didn’t want to get in the middle of that disaster waiting to happen. Note: He leaves out how that it was he who alerted those Order members who were there, and told Sirius to stay put. This we have on Dumbledore’s authority in the chapter “Lost Prophecy” in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
‘When…you did not return from your trip into the Forest with Dolores Umbridge, Professor Snape grew worried that you still believed Sirius to be a captive of Lord Voldemort’s. He alerted certain Order members at once….Alastor Moody, Nymphadora Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Remus Lupin were at Headquarters when he made contact. All agreed to go to your aid at once. Professor Snape requested that Sirius remain at Headquarters to tell me what had happened, for I was due there at any moment.’ 16
Granted, he toasts Sirius’s death, but we all know how Snape feels about him anyway. Snape could have left Harry and company to hang and risk a severe reprimand from Dumbledore. But he alerted the Order instead.
Now for the big question with several answers: Why didn’t Snape kill Harry?
Answer: There were rumours Harry was a Dark wizard himself when he first started.17
Reality: Yes, there were rumours, but those didn’t surface until Harry’s second year when the students found out he was a Parselmouth. These rumours were exaggerated when Rita Skeeter did her little smear campaign back in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Even if they had been true I doubt Snape would have followed Harry due to his memory of James.
Answer cont’d: Snape discovered Harry wasn’t really that talented. “He is mediocre to the last degree.” 18
Reality: Who is Snape trying to fool? Harry is talented. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry managed to produce a corporeal Patronus at the age of 13. We know from Lupin that that skill is beyond the Ordinary Wizarding Level.19 We know Snape was on the receiving end of a Disarming Charm and knocked him out for a while when they were in the Shrieking Shack. Ron and Hermione were partially responsible for that, but for three 13-year olds to knock out an adult for a significant length of time is a big deal. Snape does leave out how powerful Harry is, but if I were in Bellatrix’s position that would be useful information, in the off-chance he can muster the hatred for one of the Unforgivable Curses. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he manages to throw off the Imperius Curse, and was the only one who was able to.20 His potion-making skills may leave something to be desired, but that could be attributed to Harry’s dislike of Snape and vice versa.
Answer Cont’d: Harry has gotten out of scrapes with the help of friends more talented then he is and sheer luck.21
Reality: How hard was that for Snape to say with a straight face? We all know how he feels about Ron and Hermione. In a backhanded kind of way it’s a compliment.
Year 1: Ron and Hermione did help Harry, but in the end it was Harry who faced Voldemort, killed Quirrell, and retrieved the Philosopher’s Stone.
Year 2: Ron’s wand was a danger to himself. Hermione did the book work and discovered it was a basilisk and how it was getting around, but she ended up Petrified. Harry was the one who discovered the Chamber of Secrets, killed the basilisk, and destroyed one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes in the process.
Year 3: Hermione just happened to have the Time-Turner and Lupin taught Harry the Patronus Charm. It was Harry who saved Sirius and himself from the Dementors.
Year 4: Nobody really helped Harry when he faced Voldemort for the third time. The life essences distracted Voldemort with enough time for Harry to escape, but no one interfered when they dueled.
Year 5: Harry’s heart saved him from Voldemort because Voldemort couldn’t stand to possess Harry.
Answer cont’d: He’s tried to have Harry thrown out of Hogwarts.22
Reality: As much as Snape might enjoy getting Harry kicked out of Hogwarts he actually hasn’t tried. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, he was caught by Snape, but it was ultimately up to McGonagall as to whether or not Harry got expelled. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape said that Harry, Ron, and Hermione been Confunded by Sirius Black, and that they weren’t responsible for their actions.23 In fact, during Harry’s third year, Snape leaves out the fact that Harry (along with Ron and Hermione) attacked him when he was talking with Fudge. That alone is reason enough for Harry to be expelled from school.
Answer cont’d: Harry is Dumbledore’s favourite student and we can’t go killing off the Headmaster’s pet student.24
Reality: This is true. Snape may be cunning, but he’s not stupid. If he’s heard the entire prophecy he knows Voldemort is the only one who can kill Harry, but this is not the time to mention that to Bellatrix. Snape also fails to mention that he protected Harry during his first year, so he could fulfill that debt.
With all that said, by dissecting Snape’s answers there are certain facts about events which Snape chose to leave out or belittle, simply because of the image he was trying to foster the impression with Bellatrix. She’s probably the hardest one to convince, because she’s the one who’s most likely to go back and blab to the other Death Eaters (and Voldemort) if his answers to the questions above were less then satisfactory. However, there is a lot more to discrepant roles then just leaving out, or not drawing attention, to certain facts.
There are three different kinds of roles in performance based Communication Theory: the informer, the shill, and the go-between. Snape’s roles in the Harry Potter series are those of the informer and the go-between. Goffman states, “It has frequently been noted, of course, that informers, whether traitors or spies, are often in an excellent position to play a double game […]” 25 Informers are the ones who carry information that is damaging to both sides. We don’t know what information, exactly, Snape would have on the Order, and Dumbledore more specifically. I’m pretty sure Dumbledore didn’t inform them on the Horcruxes, because McGonagall didn’t know what Dumbledore had been doing during Harry’s sixth year. The knowledge of the full contents of the Prophecy is information on Voldemort.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Snape heard the entire Prophecy. We know that Voldemort heard half of the prophecy and set out to kill Harry, believing he was doing away with the one who would have the power to kill him. That didn’t happen; he ended up marking Harry as his equal. He also doesn’t know that Harry can possibly kill him. The whole point of Voldemort retrieving The Prophecy was to figure out how he can kill Harry. Do you want to imagine the slow and painful death Snape would be dying, if Voldemort ever found out he knows the full contents of the prophecy? That, in itself, is a time bomb of information.
Which leads us to the go-between:
The go-between learns the secrets of each side and gives each side the true impression that he will keep its secrets; but he tends to give each side the false impression that he is more loyal to it than the other.26
Hence the reason Bellatrix holds this little interrogation session. She, and some of the other Death Eaters, thinks he’s a little too loyal to Dumbledore. By the same token, by the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the Order and Harry are convinced that Snape is loyal to Voldemort, and has been the entire time. We have to remember there is one more book. What things seem to be on the surface, in Harry Potter, isn’t what is truly going on. While the interrogation session may have been a bit of Snape misrepresenting himself, there was definitely something out of character with him.
Something Is Not Right
In spite of the expectation that everything said by the performer [Snape] will be in keeping with the definition of the situation fostered by him, he may convey it in such a way as to prevent the audience [Bellatrix and Narcissa] as a whole from realizing that anything out of keeping with the definition of the situation.27
Everything Snape said was highly out of character. When has Snape ever explained himself? When has Snape ever given a detailed account of what’s been going on? NEVER. It was very clear that Snape felt he was superior to Bellatrix, and by that count was not obligated to give her a detailed account. But he did, and the reader is left to reread that chapter asking themselves “What just happened?”
Ironically, if it hadn’t been for Bellatrix’s outburst, that conversation wouldn’t have happened at all.28 Essentially, what she did was force a new drama to take place, other than the one that had been intended. Narcissa went there with the intent of being an active participant in the performance. In other words, she thought it would be her and Snape, and there would be no one else. The performance, or discussion, intended was the discussion on Draco, but Bellatrix had to “create a scene” which made him answer those questions, and forced Narcissa to become part of the audience by being an observer. By asking him those questions, she is questioning his performance up to that point. This is also her way of challenging him, because, theoretically, they are supposed to be in dramaturgical agreement, since they are on the same team.29 By doing this, she is challenging his position, or line.
What is Snape’s Line?
In Goffman’s essay, On Face Work, the term “line” is defined as:
a pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which he expresses his view of the situation and through this his evaluation of the participants, especially himself. Regardless of whether a person intends to take a line, he will find that he has done so in effect.30
I personally believe that Snape didn’t know what Draco’s assignment from Voldemort was. Snape effectively accepted the line of killing Dumbledore whether he meant to or not, because he is fostering the impression he was loyal to Voldemort. Here’s where things get into the realm of speculation, but not the unthinkable.
Hagrid has limited information from the argument he heard between Dumbledore and Snape.31 There was something Snape didn’t want to do. Dumbledore told Snape he had to follow through. What if Dumbledore knew about Draco’s plan at that point? Dumbledore may not have known about the Unbreakable Vow Snape made with Narcissa, but what if Snape made an Unbreakable Vow with Dumbledore before he made the one with Narcissa? That one would have been something to the effect of “if the Death Eaters or Voldemort threaten me and I am unable to defend myself, you will do whatever is necessary to make sure the secrets of the Order remain safe.”
While that doesn’t have to mean he has to kill Dumbledore, it would go a long way toward explaining that look of revulsion, that “I’m going to hate myself in the morning no matter what I do” look on his face at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.32 Assuming the above scenario is correct, it would explain why, once Snape found out Draco’s task, he didn’t want to do it. At that point, the secrets of the Order now entail killing Dumbledore.
By the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it’s clear that there is more to what happened in “Spinner’s End” then what we are being told. There is a reason Rowling showed us what an Unbreakable Vow looks like, and what it means. There is a reason she lets us be privy to a conversation between Bellatrix and Snape. There is a reason Snape chose to give Bellatrix an explanation. There is a reason we get an account of a conversation between Snape and Dumbledore. There’s a reason why we hear Dumbledore state simply “Severus…please….” 33
“Spinner’s End” sets up how we view Snape throughout the rest of the book. How we come to our conclusions about Snape largely depend on whether we actually think about what Snape is saying to Bellatrix, in relation to the rest of the series, or whether we take what Snape says at face value, and our conclusion about him being a loyal Death Eater is fixed from the start. Personally, I believe this shows Snape is on the side of the Order. I will readily acknowledge that Snape isn’t a pleasant person to be around, but that doesn’t mean he’s evil. If the scenario I have presented is even remotely close to what actually happens in Book 7, Snape maintains his loyalty to Dumbledore by giving the appearance to be loyal to Voldemort. Rowling still has a few twists up her sleeve, and I know we haven’t heard the last of the question of Snape’s loyalty.
1. Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday, 1959 p.22.
2. Ibid. p.64-65.
3. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2005 p.31.
4. Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. p. 141.
5. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2005. p. 31.
6. Maline, “The North Tower: A New Light on the Prophecy.” Mugglenet. 13 October 2005. http://www.mugglenet.com/editorials/thenorthtower/nt43.shtml.
7. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.p. 36.
8. Ibid. p. 32.
9. Ibid. p. 32.
10. Ibid. p. 33.
11. Ibid. p. 33-34.
12. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Vancouver: Raincoast Books p. 565.
13. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 103.
14. Ibid. p. 30.
15. Ibid. p. 34.
16. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2003. p. 732.
17. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 35-36.
18. Ibid. p. 36.
19. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1999. p. 175.
20. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. p. 205.
21. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 36.
22. Ibid. p. 36.
23. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. p. 283.
24. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 36.
25. Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. p. 145-146.
26. Goffman, ”On Face Work.” Interaction Ritual: Essays On Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Doubleday, 1967 p. 149.
27. Ibid. p. 177.
28. Ibid. p. 210.
29. Ibid. p. 211.
30. Ibid. p. 5.
31. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 380.
32. Ibid. p. 556.
33. Ibid. p. 556.
Goffman, Erving. “On Face Work”. Interaction Ritual: Essays On Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Doubleday, 1967.
———. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday, 1959.
Maline. “The North Tower: A New Light on the Prophecy.” Mugglenet. 13 October 2005. http://www.mugglenet.com/editorials/thenorthtower/nt43.shtml.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1999.