Study Guide

The Wizard of Oz Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (Clara Blandick and Charley Grapewin)

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Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (Clara Blandick and Charley Grapewin)

Home Grown Family

Em and Henry are kinda bound at the hip, and though Auntie Em gets all the press (because Dorothy tends to go on about getting home to her a lot), Uncle Henry plays the same role. They're an older couple, which suggests that Dorothy's mom might have been Henry or Em's little sister. Or maybe they're just foster parents to Dorothy—the relationship's not clear. They're also focused on running a working farm in the middle of the Great Depression yet, which has a way of taking it out on the nerves. They're stern, they're distant, they definitely don't get Dorothy, and at times they seem to just want her to go away.

DOROTHY: Just listen to what Miss Gulch did to Toto! She --

AUNT EM: Dorothy, please! We're trying to count! Fifty-eight--

They also prove surprisingly impotent when the chips are down. When Miss Gulch comes to collect Toto, it's clear that they don't like the woman, and think what she's doing is the sort of thing they used to hang people for 'round those parts. But they can't stand up to her when push comes to shove, and let her walk out with their niece's beloved dog without even tossing a few f-bombs her way.

Why does that matter? Well it forces Dorothy to act on her own to save her dog, something she couldn't have done otherwise. Auntie Em, foreshadowing Glinda's message to Dorothy, says,

AUNT EM: I know, but we all got to work out our own problems, Henry.

From a Hero's Journey perspective, it also presents Dorothy with a problem the whole community is facing. Miss Gulch is really, really horrible and no one can do anything about it. That puts their general grumpiness in perspective, symbolically at least, and gives Dorothy a very good reason to leave home.

And come back home when she's done. Let's face it: while they're not the warmest people in the world, they clearly care about Dorothy very much. Dorothy tells Professor Marvel how Aunt Em took care of her when she had the measles, a tendency Aunt Em shows us by calling for Dorothy when the twister hits. Friends will go after you, but family goes after you with a tornado bearing down on them. We're willing to bet she worried herself to death while Dorothy was gone too. She and Henry make for a very compelling home to get back to. They may not understand Dorothy, but they always take her in—something a good family never hesitates to do.

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