All right, all right, I know–this is one character we do NOT want to be like. But often when I ask people their least favorite character from Harry Potter, it’s not Voldemort–it’s Dolores Umbridge. What makes her so repulsive?
One thing that may be the answer is that her character preys on the fears of the common person. Most of us haven’t seen people killed before our eyes or have had our parents murdered, but every single person in this world has probably had an unsatisfactory experience with a person in charge of them.
Here are five ways Rowling made her a character of nightmares.
- Authority. A big thing that made her awful was how she had authority. She could order everyone around and make everything go her way.
- Her values/morals. One might argue that she had none. She had values that were the exact opposite of (our) values and the values of the good characters in the books. Because her values were so terrible, combined with her authority, it made for an extremely disagreeable character.
- Her looks. We get the sense that she’s “toad-like” and wears frilly pink bows. Can you imagine what a toad who wears frilly pink bows looks like? The image is repulsive. Rowling uses this picture to communicate what her personality is: saccharine, ugly, unkind, and spoiled.
- The punishments. As a result of her authority Umbridge doles out punishments that are 1) far too great for the grievance she’s dealing with and 2) smiles while she’s doing it. Those smiles are perhaps the most aggravating of all, because it lets you know that she is having a great time punishing you, and who hasn’t had a teacher or parent at one time act perfectly happy while they sentence you a punishment? Or tell on you?
- The way she acts so prim and calm. Every single advantage the protagonist might have to say is met with a completely calm, prim attitude. “No, dear. You’re wrong. HERE is proof that I am right” with that smile. Needless to say, that kind of behavior spells A-G-G-R-A-V-A-T-I-N-G. Even thinking about it makes anger rise within me.
If you want to create a character like Umbridge, draw on her composed exterior, hate of the protagonist, her physical appearance matching her twisted values, and the way, again, that she has authority and the main characters have none is a guaranteed way to make her a hated figure.
Fun fact: Dolores is Latin from “dolor” (sadness) and Umbridge comes from the Olde English word “umbrage”, meaning pain.