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We all know Umbridge is the worst...

In his review of the book, Stephen King wrote in Entertainment Weekly that “the gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter”.

The Guardian, JK Rowling reveals the secrets of Dolores Umbridge

So it is agreed by everyone she is terrible, being the only person besides Voldemort to cause a lasting scar on Harry.

Why is she so evil?

Was there something in her childhood that made her turn bad towards most living creatures? I know that J.K.R has based Umbridge off a teacher she used to have in real life.

Perhaps there is no reason for Umbridge being evil. Was she purposely put into the novels to show some people are just born evil? With no rhyme or reason for being so?

  • Just so everyone is clear, I'm not talking about her possessing a horcrux. Everyone knows she was evil before she came to own the locket. I'm talking about her being bad since day one. – Flitoangel Sep 3 '18 at 13:16
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    Added a source for the quote, if it isn't correct feel free to update it. – TheLethalCarrot Sep 3 '18 at 13:18
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    but is she actually 'evil'? She has no love for the Dark Arts. imo - she's not evil. But, she is profoundly terrible in that she is strictly conservative and willing to go to great lengths to impose her moral worldview on others. In fact, FuzzyBoot's answer from JKR seems to validate that Umbridge isn't considered "evil" by the author, but still awful – NKCampbell Sep 3 '18 at 13:19
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    @NKCampbell really? You don't think she is evil? Lol well in a YouTube video she is ranked number 2, just under Voldemort in the most evil characters of Harry Potter, beating people like Bellatrix. But I guess that is just a fan opinion but I think torturing students into making them cut themselves, pleased in the thought of using the torture curse, and other reasons make her pretty evil lol. – Flitoangel Sep 3 '18 at 13:25
  • I don't think JRK said she was evil, certainly not Dark Arts / Voldemort evil – NKCampbell Sep 3 '18 at 14:10
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Umbridge was evil in part because Rowling based her on a real-life person she very much disliked:

In an essay for her website Pottermore, released to mark Halloween, Rowling says the inspiration for Umbridge was someone “whom I disliked intensely on sight”. The novelist has not revealed the person’s identity, but did write that she had been her teacher “long ago ... in a certain skill or subject”.

“The woman in question returned my antipathy with interest. Why we took against each other so instantly, heartily and (on my side, at least) irrationally, I honestly cannot say,” Rowling continued, noting the woman’s “pronounced taste for twee accessories”, including “a tiny little plastic bow slide, pale lemon in colour”, which the novelist felt was more “appropriate to a girl of three”.

....

“I have noticed more than once in life that a taste for the ineffably twee can go hand-in-hand with a distinctly uncharitable outlook on the world,” Rowling writes in her Pottermore essay, recalling a time when she shared an office with a woman fond of “pictures of fluffy kitties”, who was also “the most bigoted, spiteful champion of the death penalty”.

“A love of all things saccharine often seems present where there is a lack of real warmth or charity,” Rowling writes, adding that Umbridge was “one of the characters for whom I feel the purest dislike”, and that “her desire to control, to punish and to inflict pain, all in the name of law and order, are, I think, every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil”.

As for aspects of her past that influenced her, it seems that her half-blood heritage, and its origin in an unhappy marriage, led her to cling more strongly to the idea of pureblood ideals and a fictional pureblood ancestry:

Dolores Jane Umbridge was the eldest child and only daughter of Orford Umbridge, a wizard, and Ellen Cracknell, a Muggle, who also had a Squib son. Dolores’s parents were unhappily married, and Dolores secretly despised both of them: Orford for his lack of ambition (he had never been promoted, and worked in the Department of Magical Maintenance at the Ministry of Magic), and her mother, Ellen, for her flightiness, untidiness, and Muggle lineage. Both Orford and his daughter blamed Ellen for Dolores’s brother’s lack of magical ability, with the result that when Dolores was fifteen, the family split down the middle, Orford and Dolores remaining together, and Ellen vanishing back into the Muggle world with her son. Dolores never saw her mother or brother again, never spoke of either of them, and henceforth pretended to all she met that she was a pure-blood.

From a Doylist perspective, I believe Umbridge was meant to represent the banality of evil, to borrow the subtitle of Eichmann in Jerusalem. She is not someone who actually seems to be actively evil so much as that she's cruel and petty, and desperate to hold onto her position. That, combined with her loathing for her blood roots, leads her to back Voldemort and the less savory parts of Pureblood society.

  • I've found Rowling's original essay at pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/dolores-umbridge and am seeing if it makes more sense to be quoting that. – FuzzyBoots Sep 3 '18 at 13:20
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    This answer would be stronger if it used the primary source and focussed on the in-universe answer of Umbridge's origin story (the questioner seems to already know about the teacher). – The Dark Lord Sep 3 '18 at 13:47
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    Also, tiny correction on your final sentence. She only supported Voldemort's regime when he was in charge of the Ministry, and then indirectly. It's power, not the Dark Arts, that she's loyal to. – The Dark Lord Sep 3 '18 at 13:49

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