Ethan's housekeeper has been in the family for quite a while. She kind of reminds us of Calpurnia from To Kill a Mockingbird if Calpurnia did some voodoo and read tea leaves on the side. Ethan's a little older than Scout, though, so he understands Amma's tough love, and he loves her right back. We hear she makes a mean pie, too, and we sure do love pie. Mmm. Pie.
Sorry, we got distracted by pie. What were we talking about? That's right, tough love.
We get a glimpse of Amma's tough love right off the bat. Her shouting gets Ethan up, out of bed, and to school on time. Well, almost—he would have been on time were it not for his own dawdling. And in between all that, she feeds him breakfast. That boy eats a lot, and Amma's there to provide all of it for him.
With Ethan's mother dead and his father all but absent, Amma plays the roles of nurturer and disciplinarian, and she does it well. She punishes Ethan with words, not physical violence: "Amma had never hit [Ethan] with anything in [his] life, although she had chased [him] with a switch" (9.12.17). This woman loves to do crossword puzzles, and she uses her vocabulary words on Ethan like a whip. When she wants to make a point (a point, get it?!), she spells out the word letter by letter. Waiting for her to finish must be excruciating, especially when Ethan knows he's in trouble. We wonder if he'd rather just take a whipping sometimes.
Amma's a wise old woman, even if we have no idea how old she is ("Every birthday she insisted she was turning fifty-three" [9.02.38]). We're not really sure exactly what she looks like either; Ethan never gives us a thorough description. Only once we realize that she's descended from Ivy, Genevieve's housekeeper during the Civil War, can we even assume that Amma is African American.
Hollywood definitely has a vision for her, and that vision is Viola Davis. In case you've been under a rock, that's the woman who played Aibileen in the film version of The Help. As Amma, she'll be cleaning up a different kind of mess—a supernatural kind.
Wait, what do we mean supernatural? We're glad you asked. Amma comes from a family of tarot card readers at least six generations long, and Ethan's been accustomed to Amma's ways of magic since he was a little boy: "Amma had her own way of thinking about things. [...] My mom used to call it going dark—religion and superstition all mixed up, like it can only be in the South" (9.02.40).
Sure she makes little charms and dolls out of chicken bones, but she never does anything we'd consider to be all that dark. Her form of magic sounds more like a version of voodoo often seen in movies or video games. Ethan's dad even poked fun at her once, buying her a kitchen witch doll. Very funny, Dad.
But Amma's more than your average neighborhood swamp psychic. As Ethan says, "Amma was nothing if not a force to be reckoned with" (9.02.13). And as it turns out, she and the Ravenwoods go way back. Ethan overhears Amma tell Macon, "my family's been cleanin' up your family's messes for over a hundred years. I've kept your secrets, just like you've kept mine" (10.09.51). We're not yet sure of the extent of Amma's secrets, but six generations of supernatural Seers must have some skeletons in their closet. And who knows if those skeletons are even human?
For all Amma knows about the supernatural world, she claims that Ethan doesn't have any power. But many members of Lena's family would like to believe the opposite. We wonder: is Amma ignorant of Ethan's power (we doubt it) or is she just lying to protect him? Or is he just powerless?
We know that Amma would go to any lengths to protect Ethan, but does she take it too far? Amma delivers The Book of Moons to Lena so that she can resurrect Ethan after he was stabbed by Sarafine. Unlike her ancestor Ivy, Amma encourages Lena to use the resurrection Cast. What do you think: did she do the right thing?