Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes: Dolores Umbridge, the Shadow

In a weekly series, staff writer Katie Majka takes a look at some of our favorite witches and wizards, and how they fit into literary and social archetypes. This week: Dolores Umbridge

The shadow is a common tool used in psychology, as defined by psychiatrist C.G. Jung as a metaphorical means of exploring the role of the unconscious in discussions of psychopathology and, on a wider scale, evil itself. Jung explains the shadow as “that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious.” In other words, the shadow is the “dark side” of the unconscious, comprised of primitive or negative human traits that can be broken down into the seven deadly sins: lust, envy, pride, wrath, gluttony, sloth, and greed.

This can be expanded upon to include anything that humans as a whole deem evil or otherwise unacceptable impulses, and so we repress these urges to appease societal expectations. Whatever we repress becomes part of our shadow, making it the sum total of everything that isn’t collective human respectability or our own personal perspective of what that is—the shadow is incompatible to our chosen attitudes, and so it is denied expression. But since the shadow is made up of bits of human nature, it remains inescapable, and as such it’s at its most dangerous when it is so restrained.

The literary shadow, meanwhile, acknowledges a more radical evil, and one that more often manifests outside of the protagonist than within. Possible consequences of such repression are often explored in literature, perhaps most famously in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as Hyde is the clear and obvious shadow to Jekyll, but it’s also apparent in religious texts as well as more current media like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and more to the point, Harry Potter. (Here, we apply the shadow not as its intended psychological tool, but as a narrative one, which can be accomplished, as psychologist Barry Michels suggests confronting your own shadow by regarding it as a real, flesh-and-blood thing.)

If we view Harry as the more or less pure hero, the qualities he prides himself on not having—cruelty, bloodlust, intolerance and bigotry—certainly manifest within Dolores Umbridge. Perhaps Harry’s shadow would find a better fit in Voldemort, but there’s something more chilling and barbaric in Umbridge’s evil that more profoundly counteracts Harry’s messiah-esque purity.

There’s something more chilling and barbaric in Umbridge’s evil that more profoundly counteracts Harry’s messiah-esque purity.

When we first meet Umbridge in Order of the Phoenix (and even when we cross paths with her again in Deathly Hallows), she is firmly pro-establishment, while Harry is of course the antithesis of that. Older and more attuned to the failings of the government that once supported him, Harry has become acutely aware of the Ministry of Magic’s shortcomings as they scramble to prove to the Wizarding world that the truth Harry speaks is not truth at all.

In “Fight and Flight,” Umbridge says, “The Ministry places a rather higher value on my life than yours, I’m afraid,” a sentiment we can take at surface value or explore deeper: While Harry was once the paragon of hope and justice in the Wizarding world and beloved by the government, the vast majority of the population now sees him as a pariah, a liar so hungry for continued fame that he’s inventing stories about Voldemort to strike fear and inspire devotion in his (Harry’s) leadership. The Ministry’s loyalty has left Harry completely and now serves the Ministry alone and, as a constituent of that public office, Umbridge likely does have more value to them than Harry does.

Later, in both Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows when Harry butts heads with new minister Rufus Scrimgeour, it’s clear that Harry no longer desires government support once he learned what, exactly, that government was willing to do in its desperation and ignorance, much of which he learned from Umbridge herself in OOTP. She reflects, to an extent, what Harry could have become: a tool to enforce the Ministry’s dirty work, a puppet whose strings could be pulled and manipulated based on the needs of whatever greater power structure was in place at any given time. We see Umbridge’s loyalty both to Cornelius Fudge and then to the Death Eater-infested Ministry; her true loyalty lies in whatever absolute power she’s permitted to wield. Harry, meanwhile, has no taste for power, and is unflinchingly loyal to people for their ideals and behaviors.

Her true loyalty lies in whatever absolute power she’s permitted to wield.

From the beginning, Umbridge proves herself a tool to service the Ministry, as evidenced by her convoluted speech at the start of term. To paraphrase: “The Ministry has always cared about your education, and acknowledges that we must keep that as well as the rest of our traditions in tact. We should progress, but not really, because we’re perfect the way we are. There is nothing amiss in our world, despite what some would have you believe. Don’t look too closely at what we’ve done and will continue to do, as such critical examination is counterproductive to advancing our society and we’d prefer not to be met with any more resistance than we’re already dealing with.”

While Umbridge’s intentions within the long-winded paragraphs allotted to her are debatable in their specifics, the overall point remains the same: As Hermione says, “the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts.”

This is made more obvious in Umbridge’s first class with the fifth-year Gryffindors, when she first insists that a theoretical approach to learning is as good as hands-on experience. In fact, considering their current circumstances, such an approach is detrimental to students’ well-being, and it poses the complete opposite perspective to Harry’s action-oriented MO. Harry often views things in stark black-and-white, and in this case he’s absolutely right; if they’re not prepared to survive the ensuing war, chances are they’ll die.

Umbridge claims that theoretical learning is sufficient to get students to and through their exams, “which, after all, is what school is all about,” and apparently fails to recognize that their education will need to benefit them long after it’s all said and done. The point of education is not merely to pass exams, but to take that knowledge and experience with you later, to apply in your life. Harry may wish for a safe, normal existence in which he’s not constantly at risk, but if wishes were Galleons then Harry would have amassed a fortune larger than any hair-care potions’ heir could boast (and, as we know, that’s exactly where Harry’s money came from). The fact remains that Harry is forever at risk, so his desire to perform proper spellwork in any given situation is tantamount to his survival.

Harry puts his faith in his peers while Umbridge undermines them.

“Are you a Ministry-trained educational expert, Miss Granger?” Umbridge asks Hermione, once more proving that she places faith and importance in a mismanaged government, which many of the students recognize as such. After all, Fred Weasley didn’t suggest “The Ministry of Magic Are Morons” as an alternative name to Dumbledore’s Army for nothing. The whole point of Dumbledore’s Army is to teach themselves what they’re not being taught by the people charged with their education—namely, Umbridge, who later exercises her position as High Inquisitor in such a way that the rest of the staff are unable to teach properly, either.

Harry, meanwhile, puts his faith in his peers while Umbridge undermines them. But if we look at Umbridge as Harry’s shadow (or one of a multitude of them), we can consider how she not only plays opposite to Harry’s behaviors, but also how she reflects Harry’s inner repressions. They’re few and far between, but one instance that comes immediately to mind is how Harry’s faith in his peers does at times falter, although he isn’t always prepared to admit it. In OOTP, on his way to the Ministry to rescue Sirius, Harry wishes internally that Neville, Luna, and even Ginny weren’t the ones to accompany him. Of course, we see in HBP that Harry comes to admire them for their willingness to fight alongside him and would wish for no one else by his side.

On that note, it’s important to bear in mind that while the shadow may represent our innermost, darkest desires, it remains an opposing force—not an opposite per se, but an antagonist to the way we view ourselves and the way we strive to be. One of the central themes in Harry Potter is choice, taking control of oneself and one’s destiny; so even when we must combat our inner demons as well as our outer enemies and shadows, who we are is still largely our decision. Umbridge may represent the qualities which Harry must combat within himself, but more than that she is a personification of all the evils of Harry’s world, and he sees, acknowledges, and works to stamp out that ugliness.

Be sure to check out our other Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes installments.