Is Dolores Umbridge the most evil character of all?
Dolores Jane Umbridge, known for her shockingly pink wardrobe, obsession with fluffy animals, and love of all things sugary and sweet, is considered to be one of the most hated characters in all of fiction. Despite her seemingly harmless appearance, many Harry Potter fans consider her to be more unlikable than Bellatrix Lestrange and even the Dark Lord himself. Why is it that a woman with no clear criminal history (during the duration of the books, that is) and no direct affiliation with the Death Eaters is so despised?
First, let’s look into the malicious acts that Dolores committed during her time in Jo’s novels. We all remember Harry’s hearing at the beginning of Book 5, when Dolores intimidates Harry with threats of expulsion from Hogwarts, only to admit later on in the series that she set the Dementor on Harry and Dudley in order to relieve Hogwarts from Harry’s claims of the return of Lord Voldemort. This action was intended to cover up a supposed conspiracy that the Ministry wanted to hide, so while it was cruel, it was also for political purposes.
Once she was appointed as Hogwarts’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor by the Ministry, she emphasizes a textbook-heavy look at magic rather than a hands-on, practical approach. Her (and the Ministry’s) main goal for the students is to score well on their OWLs and maintain the status quo in order to avoid an uprising against the Ministry. Her method of discipline, however, is what most horrifies readers, especially her detention with Harry, in which she forces him to use a blood quill and maim himself in order to “learn his lesson.” This approach of punishment, which she most likely did not adopt from the Ministry, shows her complete ruthlessness and (one can even say) joy she receives from the suffering of a disobedient student. Not only is she full of bloodlust, but she is also racist; her resentment toward Fireze (a centaur), firing of Hagrid (a half-giant), and sadistic punishment of Muggle-borns (as seen in the trio’s trip to the Ministry of Magic in Book 7) show her hatred toward anyone who lacks a pure-blood status.
Many readers felt some sympathy for Lord Voldemort after Rowling revealed that he was conceived as a product of a love potion and therefore cannot love. Bellatrix Lestrange seems to be either loved or despised by readers; many of her relatives were Death Eaters, so she may have been a product of her upbringing, but the joy she gains in torturing her victims puts her in a similar place as Dolores (though Bellatrix’s crimes are inflicted upon by herself directly, while Dolores’s torture is usually indirect [by means of a blood quill or the Dementor’s Kiss to Muggle-borns, with the exception of the Cruciatus Curse, which she is not opposed to performing]).
I think the reason why the reader grows to despise Umbridge as much as most readers do is because we see Dolores Umbridge as a school teacher, a government official, or even a guardian. Her torture and punishment is more real to young readers than that of Lestrange; while serial killers that may resemble a Death Eater are a serious threat to society, they are not as common as our everyday villains, such as corrupt leaders and authoritative figures.
Although Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters are Jo’s most prominent antagonists of the Harry Potter series, the secondary villian known as Dolores Umbridge could be just as (or even more) menacing, depending on the reader’s outlook.