The rape of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter?

So after I post that in Harry Potter #5, female characters move closer to center, I get this comment from Emily:

One quick note that I didn’t realize when I read the 5th book, but was pointed out to me later. As for what the centaurs do to Dolores Umbridge–take a look at what centaurs were known for in Greek mythology and what Umbridge’s reaction is after her experience.

I know that this was J.K. Rowling’s very subtle wink to readers with a similar education/background in classics (which would be very very very very few, and would include NONE of the children reading her books, I am certain), but it is still a little off-putting to realize what exactly Hermione (because I suspect she would have known) and Rowling herself (who certainly did know) were willing to put even such an evil character through.

Not to ruin your enjoyment of the books! I love J.K. Rowling, and I am incredibly awed at her ability to include such subtle layers into her story. I love the stories and I love the realness of her world. I just wish Umbridge could have gotten her comeuppance in the (relatively gentle) way I’d originally read it, rather than in the brutal way it must have gone.

After reading Emily’s comment, I did a Google search and found several posts about the rape of Dolores Umbridge. Here’s one from Dollymix:

It is surprising that Rowling, known for the intense research of things she puts into her books, would use centaurs to “punish” Umbridge. Some evidence provided by Rowling helps to point us in the direction of discovering Umbridge’s true punishment. Umbridge’s usually neat appearance is changed in her hospital bed: her “mousy hair was very untidy and there were bits of twig and leaf in it, but otherwise she seemed to be quite unscathed” (2, p849). Despite lack of physical evidence, the students know something terrible has happened to her because of her physical and apparent mental states. When Ron jokingly makes the sound of hoof beats, Umbridge frantically sits up in her bed and looks for the source of the noise. Her reaction to this sound and her shock like state are symptoms commonly experienced by rape victims (RAINN). Why Rowling chose to punish Umbridge this way when she could have used many other means is unknown. The rape of Professor Umbridge is perhaps one of the most horrifying instances of violence against women in the entire series.

It is fascinating to me that the very illustration I picked for my post to show how strong the female characters are becoming in Harry Potter #5, could be a scene of Hermione leading Umbridge to her rape.

Harry

The fact that Harry is not in the lead, looking down while Hermione strides ahead, is surrounded by females, and has no idea where he is going– all of which I noted as unusual in this image and also the text– now seems to be constructed just in this way to absolve him. How disappointing that I noticed the narrative shifted here but could have missed the real significance as to why: one female goes against another in a vicious way, the other female is raped, and Harry is in the clear.

Imagine if Harry were the one to lead Umbridge into the forest to give her up to the sinister centaurs. Imagine if a male writer came up with rape as a punishment for an evil female character. I’m reeling from this analysis. What are your thoughts?

Update: On Reel Girl’s Facebook page, I’m getting lots of comments defending Hermione and J.K. Rowling, writing that this is not a rape scene. I want to believe that, but I cannot get over the fact that I picked this exact scene in my previous post because I noted something was different about it. That seems too strange to be a coincidence. If Rowling did not intend this scene to imply rape, I am feeling annoyed with her for sending an evil female off, at the hands of another female, to mythological creatures known for rape.

 

34 thoughts on “The rape of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter?

  1. I really can’t see Rowling intentionally implying that Umbridge was gang raped by a bunch of horses, especially since characters later in the book chuckle at how Umbridge is in shock. I just do not believe that Rowling would condone gang rape as punishment. She takes a lot of creative license with her interpretations of mythology, and the centaurs she writes are very different from their Greek counterparts. I have no reason to believe that she would throw in the rape as punishment when the characters are so different in other ways.

    For everyone saying that rape isn’t as bad as death, etc.–please stop. Unless you have been raped, you have no idea what it is like. Rape isn’t an unpleasant experience that is finished once someone stops raping you–it traumatizes you from the inside out. I have post traumatic stress disorder from being raped, and it still harms and affects me every single day. Being raped completely changed me. PTSD affects how I live, how I work, how I operate, everything. No one, no matter how evil, “deserves” to be raped, and rape is not “less awful” than other fates. So stop saying that.

    Again, I cannot imagine that JK Rowling doesn’t know all of this about rape and trauma. I don’t think she’d put a scene that condones rape as punishment in her books.

  2. Let’s take a moment to highlight a few points being addressed here in the comments and help each other understand the conversation a little more deeply so we’re all on the same page. Agreed? Okay, here we go:

    Purgis, I don’t think we can safely assume that one’s physical injuries from being assaulted by one person would be any less significant than if he or she were assaulted by more than one person. One can be quite horrifically injured after being assaulted by a single person, and to suggest otherwise might – and I’m sure this isn’t what you meant to do at all – but it might be seen as de-legitimizing or downplaying a sexual assault survivor’s experience.

    KLPLS, I’m so sorry for your traumatic experience. I wish you nothing but continued strength and healing. But again, I think making assumptions about the kind of injuries a survivor might have leaves room for questioning/minimizing/de-legitimizing the experience of other assault survivors.

    Ed, there is nothing a person can do to “deserve” non-consensual sexual activity. It is a violation and a form of torture, period. If I walk around the city streets naked with a sign on my back that says, “Rape Me,” I still do not deserve to be sexually assaulted. The right of the body to be free from physical harm is the absolute most basic human right.

    Abnoba, let’s not further the myths that sexual assault is a crime caused by “lust” or excused by inebriation. Whether in the ancient world or the modern one, rape is a crime of violence perpetrated against a person assumed to be “weaker” than one’s self. As such, it is a crime that, even in the ancient myths, may have been used to “keep one in one’s place,” which could be construed as a form of punishment.

    Annie – see above, re: not making assumptions about physical injuries.

    All of the above having been said, I think we can all agree that while J.K. Rowling is not a perfect writer (a creature which does not, in fact, exist), she is still quite a good human being. Not only is she a top philanthropist, but she also went on to write ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ a novel in which the bravest and most sympathetic character is a teenage woman of color with a learning disability who is not “traditionally beautiful.” I think she’s grown as a writer and a person, becoming even more empathetic over the last 10 years or so. Even if she did write a scene that may seem to imply endorsement of a violent physical assault, we shouldn’t throw the whole baby out with the bathwater. There is still much good to be gained from reading Ms. Rowling’s work.

    Margot, I’m glad you addressed this topic. Although sexual abuse and assault are uncomfortable topics, these conversations need to be had again and again until we as a society reach the point that all sexual activity is by enthusiastic, freely given mutual consent.

    I apologize for hijacking your blog with my lengthy post.

    • Erin,

      Don’t apologize! I love this comment. Please proceed to other threads and respond just as succinctly. Thank you. Seriously.

      Margot

    • Of course I didn’t mean it like that. All I’m asking for is that people should get their facts straight when discussing this matter, because if she was only raped by one centaur it doesn’t suggest that it is a cultural thing.

  3. You’re thinking too much about the movie. In the book ONLY Bane drags her into the woods (check the passage in OotP) and he’s one of the more unpleasant centaurs. If he alone raped her, it would explain why she wasn’t as badly hurt physically as she would have been if the centaurs had gang raped her.
    Centaurs raping women is not necessarily common in Harry Potter. I can imagine that Bane just happened to be that sort of character and Rowling referenced Greek mythology only through him. If it’s not a pattern, it could explain Hermione’s reaction. For her to think a woman being raped was FUN, seems unnecessarily cruel on her part, but if she didn’t know what happened it’s slightly more justifiable. But it doesn’t mean it was right of Rowling to add this subtext. Umbridge is a very hated character and if Rowling can make people think ANYONE deserves rape, she’s done something very dangerous and wrong.

  4. this occurred to me too (and, no, nobody would be paranoid to think it – look at the world we live in!) but I’ve since changed my mind based on how JK portrays the centaurs. I think it’s significant that they are portrayed as a fierce and proud people while she simultaneously makes it very clear that they also abide by their own strict code of ethics (“we do not harm foals” – not even the children of an oppressor), and an ethical society has no place for rape. I mean, we only really meet three centaurs – Bane, Ronan, and Firenze. And despite being cautious, two out of three are actually pretty nice, while it’s clear that Bane is just sort of bitter.

    I think this ties in to her portrayal of all magical creatures that face oppression from wizarding society – IMO she tries to demonstrate that, while not completely harmless or perfect, non-wizarding magical communities are really made up of alright folks who are happy to live in peace if treated respectfully.

    I think they probably just taunted and scared her. She thought they were savages, so I’m sure the idea of rape/death/whatever crossed her mind, and she was so obsessed with being in a position of power that to be someone’s captive would have been shocking enough. that seems like it’d be plenty traumatizing to account for her reaction in the hospital, and also explains the rather disdainful treatment from M. Pomfrey and McGonagall.

  5. I have personally been sexually victimized & have read Greek myth. But never made the GIANT leap to her being raped. I think we really only know what the narrator tells us. Otherwise it’s just your opinion, & we all know how some people can be when they think their is a secret plot. However from the evidence given, I believe she was traumatized by being captured by half breeds. She lost her power & was made to stay in the forest, when she’s more of an indoor girl. Pomfrey who seems capable and straightforward states she is in shock. If it was worse, she would have been treated for it and would have had a curtain up. I also feel Annie’s right. Being brutally raped by multiple centaurs would cause visible bruising and she wouldn’t have been able to run away from Peeves. She would NOT be able to have RUN at all! And no matter what she had done McGonagall was extremely emphatic character who wouldn’t state she would be cheering her leaving, if she had been attacked in such a matter. To say that Umbridge was raped and that characters that are good intended it, supported it or enjoyed her misery, then you have completely missed the point of the book!

  6. Even though I’ve read the book 2 or 3 times and watched the movie god knows how many times, I didn’t think of rape until I read a Cracked article that talked about this. To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t figure it out sooner. It does seem kinda obvious. But anyway, to the point of this comment : I think she deserved it. Don’t get me wrong. Rape is a pretty horrible thing. But If you want me to feel even the slightest bit of sympathy for Umbrige, i’m sorry, but you’re just wasting your time. I just wish she had also died somewhere in the series.

  7. I am really finding the comments here either naive or appalling.

    I can’t believe the amount of abuse people get for pointing out something that seemed more than obvious to me…
    It is not the people who see rape in this scene that are crazy feminists, it is those who don’t see it, or who are trying to negate the reasonableness of this assumption, who have absolutely no clue.

    When I first saw the scene, I immediately felt very uncomfortable and thought about rape. I don’t even know much about centaurs, but really, you don’t need to know much! You only need to be a tiny bit aware of gender issues, and of the symbolism of centaurs (I mean… half-man, half-horse, even without knowing that these mythological creatures are associated with rape, you CANNOT miss their highly sexual nature!)

    Moreover, if you also know a little about gender stereotypes, you would see Umbridge is a kind of “horrible powerful woman” figure, and the way she is punished corresponds completely to this stereotype.Like some kind of “corrective rape” to put her “back in her place.”
    And I have to say, although like most people, I abhorred Dolores Umbridge as a character, I was still highly disturbed at this “punishment.”
    As usual people will claim that rape is “not a big deal”, that death is worse… Well, it’s not whether it’s worse or not, it’s the viciousness in it that makes it disturbing. Just like the viciousness of Umbridge’s sugar-coated nastiness made it more unbearable than Voldemort’s in my opinion..

    And I find it so funny how people are trying to explain it away… I mean… The big question is: if they did not rape her, WHAT did they do? Apparently, it was traumatising. But it did not harm her physically, at least not externally. And it was disturbing enough that we never get told what happened. She is dishevelled and apparently kind of broken, at least momentarily.
    I mean, come on. If you cannot see “RAPE” written all over this, you don’t know how to read signs.

  8. Pingback: Cette « horrible bonne femme » de Dolores Ombrage (Harry Potter et le genre – 3) | Cultures G

  9. Just because she had twigs in her hair but was mentally traumatized doesn’t mean she was raped. Umbridge was characterized by her level of racism towards “half-breeds” like centaurs. It is more likely that they simply yelled at her or dragged her off into the woods and mocked her than they raped her. Professor Dumbledore would not have allowed that, and don’t even try to tell me he wouldn’t’ve known. Umbridge was just traumatized because she was manhandled/mocked by “halfbreeds”.

  10. I will also add that the picture in my head – one where a group of men drag a terrified woman into the woods and she is later traumatized without outward signs of injury – made me think of rape even without the history of the centaurs.

  11. Hermione was not leading Umbridge into the forest to be raped. She was leading her into the forest to Hagrid’s half-brother, who would probably have crushed her, but he had escaped. I think it was a coincidence that the centaurs showed up and while Hermione may have realized the significance of what was happening when they took her (which would be why she cried), I don’t think it was her intention to lead another woman to be raped.

  12. “I know that this was J.K. Rowling’s very subtle wink to readers with a similar education/background in classics (which would be very very very very few, and would include NONE of the children reading her books, I am certain)”

    That is a bit insulting. I was a 12 year old when I read the book, and I DID know what centaurs in Greek mythology did for fun. I also knew Hermione would end up with Ron because in mythology, Hermione ended up with Neoptolomeus, who was a red-head, and I also knew that Nagini’s name came from India, that all Black family members are named after stars, etc etc etc. Not all of us children (back then) were ignorant, you know.

    • hi J,

      Wow, I didn’t know any of that and I’m 44. So, as a 12 yr old, did you think that was rape? And what do you think now?

      Margot

  13. All I have to add is that, it would have livened up the movie quite a bit. An extended centaur on granny rape scene, now that’s something I’d shell out the extra money to see in 3D.

    • Mongrel,

      Older women get raped in the real world. Your comment, along with all rape jokes, isn’t funny. I’m not deleting it to show how messed up people are about rape. Get a clue.

      Margot

      • People ARE messed up about rape, kitten. Want to know what else people are messed up about? It’s a pretty long list. Oh, and Pertaining to your attempt to shame me, I can only smile. Keep on truckin’, sugar-butt.

  14. Rape is not the final horror of all horrors that so many indignant and naive wimmin today seem to think it is. There are far worse crimes than rape committed every day against women and girls, against men and boys, and against babies . Anyone who doesn’t understand this has no understanding of history, has no sense of proportion, and evidently doesn’t bother to follow the world news and read about the sickening atrocities carried out by warring groups in Africa – to give just one example.

      • Now, in his defence, he never said it wasn’t a big deal. He just said that there’s lots of other bad shit that happens to people and that rape was just one thing. I, however, have no opinion, so do not attack me.

  15. Of course Prof Umbrage was raped by the Centaurs! Duh! That’s what Centaurs do. Anyone with even a modicum of classical education would immediately pick this up, adult or child. Chiron didn’t rape, pillage and murder because he was a ‘good centaur’, but he was one of the rare exceptions to the classical rule. It’s clear that Umbridge, like many women and men, girls and boys who are raped, took her rape in her stride because she was a tough cookie and she wasn’t smashed to a pulp like so many rape victims are. Even so, of course, even a tough old bird like Umbridge wasn’t totally unaffected, hence her starting at the sound of hooves.

  16. Oh for goodness sake. Poor Cedric Diggory, not yet fully grown, a child still in fact, is murdered in cold blood. And quite gratuitously by Rowling, I thought when I read the account for the first time. The plot contained no real justification for his death. Diggory left parents to mourn over the murder of their child. A terrible thing for any parents. A far worse ‘punishment’ than rape.

  17. I don’t have a real opinion about this. I can only say, what I’ve read on this website I can’t un-read. So, well, that’s quite the shocking revelation that between the lines there’s the could-be rape of Umbridge. I guess I’m glad I never had to overanalyze a lot of books during my school days (actually only one: Kafka’s Metamorphosis and that was mostly about freely interpreting the story) so these kind of things are often lost on me.
    I’m really feeling uncomfortable about this now. /:

    • Hi Kara,

      Sorry! It’s a bummer to have to think about. I couldn’t not address it though, having chosen that exact picture for my earlier post and this blog being about imagining gender equality in the fantasy world. Also, if it were a male writer, I would have addressed it, so…

      Margot

  18. I don’t think that scene is about a rape. This centaurs are not they same that the greek ones. There are only (very loosely) based on them. And yes, there are rapes by centaurs in the Greek mythology, but it was never a punishment to a woman, most of the times it was just lust (and inebriation). It’s not that centaurs like to rape women, it’s more that there are lots of stories about rape in the greek mythology, by gods, by humans, by all kind of beings, and centaurs are part of that mythology. But is completely false that they are “famous for raping people”. Chiron certainly isn’t. Rape, in the Greek mythology, was never a punishment. Punishments were more direct (death) of more elaborated and cruel (transformations, eating your dear ones…)
    Yes, Umbridge is scared, and probably humiliated, but not because they raped her, but because of her own thoughts about them. She thinks they are beasts and nothing more, she thinks about herself as a witch, much more important, powerful and intelligent than them, and they still they kidnaped her, and they problably had fun scaring and tormenting her (like they did before kidnaping her). That doesn’t mean they raped her.
    And I don’t want to be to graphic but, ¿a rape by a horse? ¿And she is fine, physically? I don’t think so.

    • THANK YOU. i read a shit-ton of mythology when i was a pre-teen,and kept it up through college; when i think of supernatural creatures/greek myths/rape, it’s: zeus, apollo, and depending on the perspective, pan… centaurs are so far down on the list they don’t even merit a mention.

    • “Rape, in the Greek mythology, was never a punishment.” … maybe not, but Rowling’s not writing Greek mythology.

      “a rape by a horse? And she is fine, physically?” … any other sort of attack would have left *more* obvious damage.

      (NB. I’m guessing from your use of the ¿ mark that your native language is Spanish? If that’s the case, your English is impeccable, but English doesn’t use that mark. Just a heads-up.)

    • thank you! I think this theory is just totally wrong.there are always more bruises on a person, from restraining at least, wrists, neck, etc, and a bunch of huge horses? are you people aware of what horses have going on down there? bruises would be all over her legs too.

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