We know from Pottermore that Dolores Umbridge has a very short wand:

Wand: Birch and dragon heartstring, eight inches long

Also, that short wands tend to choose wizards with something lacking in their character/personality.

Most wands will be in the range of between nine and fourteen inches. While I have sold extremely short wands (eight inches and under) and very long wands (over fifteen inches), these are exceptionally rare. In the latter case, a physical peculiarity demanded the excessive wand length. However, abnormally short wands usually select those in whose character something is lacking, rather than because they are physically undersized (many small witches and wizards are chosen by longer wands). - Garrick Ollivander, wandmaker

We know for sure that two things Umbridge lacks is empathy (she is really sadistic) and good taste (here I'm translating from German, I hope it means what it is supposed to mean!).

Now my speculation: because of her narrow world view and because of the way she seeks and uses power, I had the impression that she must also be lacking self-esteem and/or self-confidence. It's common that people become narrow-minded and power-seeking (not necessarily to the extent Umbridge does) among others because of that.

Is there any more information on this issue?

Edit: as Hellothere_1 pointed out, bullies have actually high self esteem. Hovewer some people with low self-esteem might become among others arrogant, so I guess I somehow mixed both 'traits'.

  • 14
    It's not the length of your saber, it's how you use it.
    – Ghanima
    Aug 3, 2016 at 18:01
  • 1
    Could you add the source(s) for those quotes?
    – RedCaio
    Aug 3, 2016 at 18:16
  • 1
    @RedCaio - No, but I can. ;)
    – Adamant
    Aug 3, 2016 at 18:17
  • 4
    As an English idiom, someone whose "character is lacking" doesn't typically mean that they lack specific attributes of character--it just means that they've got poor character, i.e. they're not a good person. Aug 4, 2016 at 22:04
  • 3
    I would like to point out that Umbridge's wand is a magnificent piece of wandscraftmanship. It's a lot more detailed than pretty much any other wand I've seen, going for detail on the entire length instead of just the handle. Too bad such a beautiful wand is wasted on such an ugly person... Aug 5, 2016 at 12:32

3 Answers 3



Well, first, we must admit the possibility that the wand did choose Umbridge because of her height. Though uncommon, this does happen, presumably for the same reasons as truly long wands (ease of use).

That said, Umbridge's character is certainly very deficient. She lacks basic kindness, and she indeed has poor taste, as evidenced by her awful cat decorations. I would say, though, that cruelty is not enough to have a short wand. After all, the Death Eaters and Voldemort are markedly cruel, and yet they are not noted as having unusually short wands. I suspect that character flaws must be agnostic with respect to a witch or wizard's morals.

I would say that what Umbridge lacks is self-awareness or self-reflection. Unlike the Death Eaters, who entertain doubts about their cause like most people, or Voldemort, who rejects the entire notion of morality, Umbridge maintains a firm and unwavering belief in the rectitude of her own actions—a delusion so strong that, unlike most wizards and witches of her level of cruelty and malice, she can actually produce a Patronus.

While there is a widespread and justified belief that a wizard who is not pure of heart cannot produce a successful Patronus (the most famous example of the spell backfiring is that of the Dark wizard Raczidian, who was devoured by maggots), a rare few witches and wizards of questionable morals have succeeded in producing the Charm (Dolores Umbridge, for example, is able to conjure a cat Patronus to protect herself from Dementors). It may be that a true and confident belief in the rightness of one's actions can supply the necessary happiness.

That is Dolores Umbridge's overwhelming character flaw, relative to the other witches or wizards in the series: a complete lack of introspection.

  • 9
    That seems right, but in my experience actually having any introspection is unusual. Unwavering belief in ones own moral righteousness seems to be the default state. With things like confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, and many more psychological phenomena being standard and existing primarily to protect that unwavering view. If that was the case then almost everybody would be able to produce a Patronus. Aug 4, 2016 at 5:38
  • 2
    @SpaceOstrich - Lack of introspection is part of why Umbridge can produce a Patronus. There are other requirements as well.
    – Adamant
    Aug 4, 2016 at 8:59
  • 5
    @SpaceOstrich - More to point, this issue is not that people think they're right - of course they do. The Death Eaters believe that they are doing the right thing by ridding wizarding society of Muggle-borns. The point is the extent to which Umbridge takes it. Ordinary people, even Death Eaters, have doubts about whether what they are doing is right. I know I do! Umbridge does not.
    – Adamant
    Aug 4, 2016 at 11:58
  • 3
    One thing to add would be her insistence that she is a pure blood, when she is not. Her other major flaws aside, she is ashamed of what she is and despises her ancestry, and has a pretty big identity crisis.
    – Cloud
    Aug 4, 2016 at 15:29
  • 2
    Having no introspection at all in moral terms is actually pretty weird, as being completely introspective. One can be a real a** but have at least a lonely introspection session. Most of the times, such sessions end on a self-reaffirming sentence like yes, I'm right. In my life I never met anyone with no introspection like Dolores. Even the most psychopatic one I met, had brief introspective moments. Aug 4, 2016 at 16:40

I don't actually think so.

In fiction bullies are often depicted as unsure confidence lacking people who try to mask their lack of self esteem with cruelty.

Studies show that this has little foothold in reality. Unsure people might join in on an already existing bullying situation, but the ringleaders almost always have high self esteem and simply enjoy being cruel.

I am pretty sure this holds true for Umbridge.

I actually speak a bit from experience here since my French teacher in 8th and 9th grade had an uncanny resemblance to Umbridge, from the obvious enjoyment of cruelty and mobbing right down to the weird clothing style and extreme love of cats. I don't think she would have lowered herself to blood quills and executing muggleborn, but you never know.

What I'm saying here is that Umbridge is not some weird fantasy that Rowling came up with, but very much based on some real personality type. (Likely Rowling knew someone like her)

Coming back to your question I don't feel like my teacher was consciously compensating for something. In fact, I don't think she even recognized her own actions as cruel or unjust.

In every class she would pick a few victims and try to tear them apart at every chance given, but at the same time when talking with the class as a whole, parents on parent conference day, or generally any person she had no direct power over, she tended act as if she genuinely believed to be the nicest and most caring teacher on earth.

I have never seen her show any bit of remorse, regret, or even just a recognition of her own misdemeanor.

Since Umbridge in the books is identical to her in every other aspect I don't see why she would be different in that regard.

  • 1
    This is all very true. But what do you mean by "I don't actually think so"? Also, do you think the characteristics you mentioned are related to the length of Umbridge's wand?
    – Adamant
    Aug 4, 2016 at 2:25
  • 1
    I don't think that Umbridge is lacking self esteem or confidence. Lack of self esteem can certainly lead to short outbursts of cruelty (Everybody always walked over me, so why should I not walk over others now that I have the chance), but long term cruelty like Umbridge displays it usually stems from too much confidence and a sense of superiority. She is not that different from most Death Eaters in that regard, many of whom have long wands. I think the the short wand is more meant to play at the fact that she is magically impotent (as cringe-worthy as that sounds) Aug 4, 2016 at 12:45
  • I guess in part I mixed being a bully with other traits like arrogance. Or maybe being weak with having a low self esteem. What you explained about your teacher and Umbridge self reminds me a bit about a roommate who also had a poor taste and poor behaviour. The main difference is that she was more arrogant than a bully, plus she told me once she has a low self esteem.
    – Purrrple
    Aug 5, 2016 at 20:04
  • Could you include links to some of the studies about high self esteem in bullies?
    – Tango
    Aug 12, 2016 at 6:37
  • I had a really hard time finding some actual data on the subject. I did however find this article here parentingscience.com/pure-bullies.html which is a good summary of the stuff I was originally taught at school. Aug 13, 2016 at 22:21

Not necessarily disagreeing with explanations given above, I have another suggestion. It comes from the choice of the first name, Dolores. This is thought to derive from "Virgin Mary of sorrows". Dolor means sorrow. Perhaps the author has meant that Umbridge is made out of sorrow, and indeed (as noticed above) derives surrogate happiness as a sort of self esteem when doling out sorrow to others with a show of virtue. If the sorrow-substance idea is of any substance, Umbridge has found herself throughout life curiously incapable of even wishing for happiness and thinks happiness is a feeble drug pursued by vain and empty people. Any sign of enthousiasm as a potential beginning of happiness should be suppressed. So for my two bits, Rowling portrays a caricature of the idea of the virgin of sorrows as many may exist in catholic schools in the person of a teaching or governing nun, the type you can expect to rise to a managerial position (here I should apologise to those who are different). I think it is wrong to think Umbridge has no empathy or selfawareness. She has loads - just not the kind you and I would wish for. If I am right, this may come straight from Rowlings own (early?) experience. No empathy or selfawareness are simply too feeble to conjure up the total evil that she embodies at a vital phase of the narrative. Brrrr

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.