In Defense of Marietta Edgecombe
Marietta Edgecombe: a traitor, a coward, a sneak. That’s the impression Harry certainly seems to have of her, and thus, it’s the impression the readers get of her. But is it truly fair to rebuke her so harshly? Sure, it’s easy to dismiss her. She’s not a prominent character, and she sold out the DA. However, before we condemn her, it might be a good idea to put ourselves in her shoes.
We don’t actually know that much about Marietta as a person. In fact, she rarely ever speaks in the books. Pretty much everything we know about her is through other people. So it’s worth remembering that she never has a chance to defend herself or explain her own motivations. We only get to see her actions through the lens of others, and that will inherently have a bias. I think that’s important to keep in mind while considering her character.
The first thing I want to point out is that Marietta never wanted to join the DA. Cho fully admits that she made Marietta come with her, that Marietta hadn’t wanted to join due to the potential consequences of doing so. Specifically, her parents had forbidden her from upsetting Umbridge since that could have negative consequences for their jobs, particularly her mother’s job at the Ministry. Those aren’t minor worries. That kind of fear would be stressful for an adult, and Marietta was a teenage girl. Yes, there were other kids her age, like Cho, willing to take those risks, but that doesn’t mean Marietta’s fears are invalid. So as we examine her betrayal of the DA, it’s worth noting that her membership had been coerced. As such, it could be argued that she didn’t really owe them her loyalty, especially when put in the position of choosing between her family and them.
Next, I want to examine Marietta’s actual betrayal. The details of this aren’t spoken by her; actually, she doesn’t speak at all during this scene. Instead, it is Umbridge who relates the tale, and I think we can all agree that she’s far from a reliable narrator. So the truth is that we’ll never know for sure exactly what happened when Marietta went to Umbridge’s office. But let’s examine what we do know.
Marietta seems to have gone to Umbridge’s office of her own accord. It’s unclear why she would do so after six months of meetings instead of doing so earlier, but it seems to be implied that this is related to her parents in some way. Perhaps they were putting pressure on her, or she was growing more worried about them. We just can’t know. However, we do know that the message she chose to tell Umbridge was a slightly vague one about how Umbridge might find something interesting if she went to the Room of Requirement. Marietta hadn’t completely sold out the DA, not yet. She does ultimately reveal that there will be a meeting there, but what I found interesting is that she only revealed this after Umbridge “questioned her a little further” (OotP, ch. 27).
Again, Umbridge is not a reliable narrator, so we can’t know what happened. But thanks to other events throughout the books, we do know that Umbridge is the kind of person who’s willing to threaten, torture, and use Veritaserum on children to get what she wants. Of course, maybe she didn’t do any of that. Maybe Marietta just simply cracked under pressure. But even that would still just make her a teenage girl who couldn’t stand up for something she didn’t even want to be a part of in the face of her parents, her teacher, and her government. I think that’s a little understandable.
So now we come to the ultimate fate of Marietta: permanent disfigurement. We know that Harry thinks she deserved it, but did she really? Is it truly fair to have her branded for life because of something she did as a scared teenager? In this case, I have to disagree with Harry. I think it’s easier for him to write her off because he himself has little left to lose by standing up to authority figures like Umbridge. His family is gone, and his friends are already in the thick of it with him. So I don’t think he can quite empathize with the position Marietta was in. Just because Marietta let her fear rule her and wasn’t as brave as Harry doesn’t make her an evil person worthy of disfigurement. After all, the world isn’t split between good people and Death Eaters.