Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Dolores Umbridge
|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character|
|Dolores Jane Umbridge|
|Hair color||Iron colored curls|
|Related Family||Unknown, but claims relation to "Pure-blood" Selwyn family|
|Loyalty||The Ministry of Magic|
Dolores Jane Umbridge debuted as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor in the series' fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Over the course of that book, she manages to create and claim the office of Hogwarts High Inquisitor, and later declares herself Headmistress of Hogwarts. In book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we learn that she has become Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic.
She is described as looking like a large, pale toad, rather squat, and having a broad, flabby face, very little neck, and a wide, slack mouth. Her eyes are large, round, and slightly bulging. She often has a bow on top of her head. Both her office at Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic shows her surrounding herself with pretty plates on the wall, chintz chairs, lace doilies, vases of dried flowers and other such paraphernalia.
Role in the Books
Dolores Umbridge is first seen when Harry is called before the Wizengamot to answer charges of performing underage magic. Sitting on Cornelius Fudge's right-hand side, she makes a few comments that are intended to fluster Harry.
Umbridge is then appointed by the Ministry of Magic as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (and Ministry spy) at Hogwarts. She unexpectedly gives a long, extremely boring speech at the Welcoming Feast in which she says she believes the school's teaching methods need to be examined and perhaps revised. In her classes, she teaches exclusively from a singularly useless book: Defensive Magical Theory, by Wilbert Slinkhard, which seems, based on the chapter headings, to concern itself with negotiation and appeasement of, rather than with defence against, the Dark Arts. She steadfastly hews to the Ministry party line that Lord Voldemort has not returned and that Harry Potter's claims are only to garner attention for himself. When Harry dares to dispute the Ministry's stance, she gives him detention, making him write lines with a magic quill that painfully etches the script into his hand.
In reaction to the useless coursework given in Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, Hermione convinces Harry to offer a more practical Defence course. The organizational meeting is held in the Hog's Head Inn in Hogsmeade. Apparently in reaction to this, and clearly at Umbridge's instigation, an Educational Decree is posted that disbands all student organizations and forbids any unauthorized student meetings. The defence association determines to meet anyway, and at the first full meeting, responding to the belief that Defence Against the Dark Arts has been watered down out of fear that Professor Dumbledore is raising a private army to attack the Ministry, the defence group name themselves Dumbledore's Army
With backing from the Ministry, Umbridge makes herself the final arbiter of student discipline. Following a fight after a Quidditch match, she overrides Professor McGonagall's decision to merely place Harry, Fred, and George in detention for attacking Draco Malfoy and bans them from Quidditch for life.
Again with backing from the Ministry, Professor Umbridge appoints herself Hogwarts' High Inquisitor, a position from which she makes it her duty to examine all the teachers and their methods. She soon targets Professor Trelawney and Hagrid as incompetent.
Umbridge does manage to fire Trelawney, and tries to force her to leave Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore accepts that Trelawney has been fired, but asks her to remain in the castle, saying that he has that authority still. Overriding Umbridge's insistence that the Ministry has the right to provide Trelawney's replacement, Dumbledore says he has already found her replacement, and introduces the new Divination teacher, the Centaur Firenze.
Umbridge hears of the existence of the Defence Association, and attempts to capture the members; Harry alone is caught, but the membership list is recovered. Based on the name of the group, "Dumbledore's Army" as written on the membership list, Professor Dumbledore is accused of plotting against the Ministry. Aurors who have been brought to the school as bodyguards for Fudge attempt to arrest Dumbledore without success, and Dumbledore vanishes from the school. Umbridge proclaims herself Headmistress. Although she carries the title, her authority is generally ignored; she is unable to access Dumbledore's sealed office, and the staff barely acknowledge her. When Peeves engages in harassing her, his actions are apparently supported by the teachers. It is Fred and George Weasley, however, who lead an outright revolt, creating havoc throughout the school, before jumping on their brooms and leaving Hogwarts for good.
Some time after this, Umbridge decides that she has enough information to fire Hagrid, but feels a need to bring a squad of Aurors to assist her. The resulting magical battle results in Professor McGonagall being injured to the point of having to go to St. Mungo's, and completely disrupts the Astronomy O.W.L. that Harry is then taking.
Although she works for the Ministry of Magic, Umbridge engages in illegal activities such as casting Unforgivable Curses on Harry, in an attempt to determine who he has been communicating with via her fireplace. While she is deciding to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry, she happens to mention that she was the one who had ordered the Dementors to Privet Drive the previous summer. When Hermione tricks her into going into the Forbidden Forest to search for a non-existent weapon, Umbridge foolishly insults the Centaurs, who become enraged and carry her off screaming. When Dumbledore is reinstated as Headmaster, he personally goes into the Forest to rescue her, although she is so psychologically traumatized that she has to be hospitalized.
While visiting the Weasleys' at Christmas, Rufus Scrimgeour mentions that Dolores Umbridge had told him that Harry was interested in becoming an Auror. Harry is angered that Umbridge is still working for the Ministry.
Umbridge was seen towards the end while attending Albus Dumbledore's funeral along with the other Ministry of Magic staff.
We discover in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that the real locket of Salazar Slytherin is now a Horcrux containing part of Lord Voldemort's soul, ensuring his immortality and that it had already been removed from its hiding place. Kreacher (the Black Family House-Elf, reveals that it was Regulus Black who replaced it for a fake and that he kept it instead of allowing it to be discarded by Sirius but that it was stolen by Mundungus Fletcher. Mundungus admits to the Trio that he had indeed stolen it and was trying to hawk it and other valuables from the house, when Umbridge stopped him. Umbridge, abusing her power in the Ministry, had demanded the locket as a bribe, in exchange for not jailing Mundungus for selling artifacts without a license. Mundungus does not know her name, but the physical description he gives to the Trio - "looked like a toad" - is enough for them to realise who he is referring to.
In order to regain the locket, Harry, Ron and Hermione break into the Ministry of Magic, disguised with Polyjuice Potion. Ron is immediately detailed by Yaxley to handle a problem with rainfall in his office. Harry and Hermione meet Umbridge on the top floor; Hermione is taken to the courtrooms to record proceedings of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission. When Harry's search of Umbridge's office proves fruitless, he hides under the Invisibility Cloak, and makes his way into the courtroom where Umbridge is enjoying sending Muggle-born wizards and witches to Azkaban for "stealing wands from blood wizards". Umbridge, leaning forward, reveals that she is wearing the locket. Harry, disgusted by Umbridge's using the locket to claim more Blood descent than she is entitled to, Stuns her, and then Yaxley, which gives Hermione time to retrieve the locket. Harry and Hermione then free the remaining Muggle-borns, escorting them to the Atrium and allowing them to leave the Ministry.
It is difficult for us to judge the quality of her magic, as we see very little of it; one gathers that she is powerful, but definitely not as skilled in magic as Professor McGonagall or Professor Flitwick, as, for instance, Flitwick is able to remove the Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes Instant Swamp quite quickly, while Umbridge is unsuccessful after apparently a full day. She also is unable to reverse the jinx Hermione performed on Marietta Edgecombe that made the word "SNEAK" appear on her face in blisters when she reports on Dumbledore's Army. Nonetheless, the fact that she is able to summon a fully corporal Patronus, as seen in the Muggle-born registration scene, is evidence that she does have some magical strength; we are generally led to believe, and the author has confirmed explicitly, that this requires superior skills which at the least a sizeable fraction of wizards never master.
She does seem to have a very powerful personality, in any case, as she is a senior assistant to at least two Ministers (Cornelius Fudge and Pius Thicknesse), and is respected within the Ministry. She manages to get herself into a position of significant authority under Thicknesse, despite not being a Death Eater – it seems that the higher offices in the Ministry under Thicknesse are filled by Death Eaters, for reasons that should be obvious.
Even prior to her appointment as High Inquisitor of Hogwarts and long before her crimes against Muggle-borns, Dolores Umbridge has a reputation within the Wizarding world as a politician who has particular prejudices against semi-humans or "half-breeds", most notably werewolves. It is this that leads her to smear and later sack Hagrid, since he is half-giant. She has a weak self-image, which she props up with pomposity, elitism, officious behavior and a dependency on external props, such as the locket she extorts from Mundungus Fletcher and later claims as an heirloom that "proves" her descent from an old Wizarding family. She exhibits paranoid behaviour both in her monitoring of students' mail as High Inquisitor and in her use of Alastor Moody's magical eye at the Ministry to spy on her staff outside her office. These personality traits are further compounded by her bigotry, which seems to be largely based on a fear of beings outside her understanding or control. It is these same prejudices which ultimately lead to her downfall, first by being seized by the centaurs whom she also calls "half-breeds" and then by being imprisoned for her crimes against Muggle-borns.
Relationships with Other Characters
Umbridge has a particular dislike for Harry Potter. Throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, her bias against Harry in particular, and Gryffindor House in general, is evident. Using her newly acquired power under the Educational Decrees from the Ministry, she bans all extra-curricular activities and gatherings until they are approved by the High Inquisitor (herself); this meant that the House Quidditch teams were disbanded. Slytherin's team was immediately reinstated while Gryffindor was delayed from reforming for nearly a month when then-captain Angelina Johnson put in the request. Nonetheless, by the end of her time at Hogwarts, all Houses other than Slytherin are bereft of any points, until Professor McGonagall awards multiple points to Gryffindor and Ravenclaw on her return from St. Mungo's.
Most Hogwarts teachers despise her, especially those in the Order of the Phoenix. Slytherin prefects such as Draco Malfoy only appear to like her to the extent that she gives them the power to exert more than usual control over others, such as taking House points away. Argus Filch likes her, however, becoming excited when she reinstates corporal punishment for students and he is sorry to see her leave.
Umbridge exhibits further animus towards Harry in Deathly Hallows, where she labels him "Public Enemy No. 1" in her propaganda and has Arthur Weasley monitored because of his family's closeness to him.
Umbridge claims relationship to the Selwyn family. This relationship is never proven and she uses the locket of Slytherin (via its apparent antiquity and the "S" sigil on it), despite being totally unaware of its provenance or history, to bolster this otherwise-unsupported claim- much less suspecting that it is a Horcrux that is likely to twist her nature even further when she wears it (which it does).
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first book in the series, Professor Quirrell tells Harry that one of the lessons he had learned from "his master" was that "there is no right or wrong, only power." Dolores Umbridge seems to have accepted that dictum and made it part of her life. Umbridge characterizes the worst aspects of political power. She is ruthless, cruel, brutal, corrupt and devoid of a moral or ethical centre, always presented with a soft, demure exterior. She is depicted using any means to maintain her personal power and the political power of her bosses. She commits attempted murder (via the Dementor attack on Harry), solicits bribes- at least from Mundungus Fletcher and tortures children to achieve her goals. Umbridge cannot tolerate anyone who disagrees with her views or the lies her Minister is spreading. She must exercise complete control over everyone and everything around her. From her perspective, free speech, dissent, diversity and multiple points of view cannot be tolerated. Clearly, Umbridge represents the qualities of a totalitarian government. She leads not by consensus and respect but rather by fear and intimidation. Indeed, while she is taking over Hogwarts, the Ministry as a whole is controlling the press and information to spin events in their favour. The power granted Umbridge by Fudge to consolidate his political strength and squash his perceived enemies is already familiar to us, as is her final crime of the "ethnic cleansing" of Muggle born wizards. The author reminds us how easy it is for a person like Umbridge to thrive when a government loses its accountability.
Throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge attracted much contempt for her uptight policies, strict educational decrees and her basic power hunger. Despite this, she has the full support of Fudge and the Ministry. This puts emphasis on corruption and foolishness in Government (this is also present, to a lesser extent, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, through Rufus Scrimgeour). It also raises a theme of power and how it is misused.
- How might Dolores Umbridge feel, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when the staff members at Hogwarts treat her badly (particularly at the beginning of the year)?
- Why is Umbridge kept as a Ministry of Magic employee?
- Why is Umbridge afraid of "half-breeds" – centaurs, giants, etc.?
- Why did Umbridge send Dementors after Harry?
- Why didn't the Ministry of Magic detect the fact that Umbridge had sent the Dementors after Harry? Or did they simply ignore the fact?
- Do you think Umbridge was mean, or just doing her job?
It should be instructive to the student to examine the character of Umbridge. It is of particular note that while she is not allied with Voldemort and thus nominally not on the side of the evil that Harry is fighting, she is still one of the most hateful characters in the entire series. The reader accepts Rita Skeeter's casual muck-raking as being part of the job she signed up for. Voldemort is clearly the fountainhead of intolerance that darkens the final book of the series, and yet even so he is not as despised as Umbridge. The student should examine how the author achieves this, largely through highlighting Umbridge's motivation for her actions. Key to the picture, of course, is motivation: what are Umbridge's drivers? It is immediately obvious that Umbridge's prime motive is power for herself; she uses her power to gain leverage to claim more power. We see this same sort of behaviour in Draco Malfoy, and can infer that the same process resulted in Voldemort's rise to power; yet neither of these characters inspire the same sort of hatred that the fan community seems to level at Umbridge. What could be the reason for this? We suspect that a large part of it stems from Harry's inability to fight. Against the Ministry, Harry is powerless, and it is made worse because all Harry's allies are equally unable to prevail against Umbridge. Of course, the fact that her motivation seems to be purely self-advancement within the Ministry system makes an already horrible situation seem even worse.