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Dorothy (Judy Garland)
She's one of the most beloved figures in pop culture: farm girl of farm girls, freelance wicked witch slayer and best darn dog owner in the whole wide world. Dorothy Gale may have gotten her start as a literary figure, but Judy Garland made her a household name, and people still tend to think of Judy's performance whenever they hear the name.
Dorothy's an orphan (we don't learn in the film what happened to her parents) and lives on a farm with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and a bunch of farmhands who feel sorry for the lonely kid but don't really understand her. What kind of character is she? She's a hero to be sure, of Hero's Journey fame, and if we apply that template, we can see a lot about her personality.
First of all, she doesn't seem to belong in Kansas. She's bright and peppy, while everyone else is sober and gray. She runs into all kinds of trouble, mostly with Miss Gulch, and grown-ups don't seem to understand her. We definitely get that in the film, as Dorothy attempts to explain why she and Toto are in trouble, and Aunt Em is too focused on adult things to care. (She's also pretty snippy around Dorothy too.) In fact, Dorothy's the only child we ever see in Kansas, suggesting that maybe Toto's her only real friend. She dreams of getting out:
DOROTHY: Some day I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me. Where troubles melt like lemon drops […]
We see her as an outsider from the get-go: she's different in age, temperament, outlook, and willingness to sing touchingly immortal songs right there in the middle of the barnyard. The movie pulls its cues from Baum's original books on that front, and honestly it makes for a pretty good source of inspiration. "Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter," Baum wrote, "that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at." (1.3) It's a good place to start, and it stays intact even when the movie makes her somewhat different than she was in the novel.
And what about those differences? Well, they largely make her more vulnerable in the movie than she was in the book. Baum's Dorothy was quite calm and fearless. She rarely cried and when danger reared its ugly head, she met it full-on. (For instance, in the book she was kept prisoner by the Wicked Witch for months before what local covens refer to as The Unfortunate Bucket Incident.)
Our Dorothy, however, is a little meeker. She's more prone to tears, she shows her fears more readily and she leans more heavily on her friends in times of trouble. Some of it comes down to gender politics at the time (Baum was an ardent feminist, but 1939 society thought less of women than he did), but it also reflects the actress. Garland always had a little sadness to her – as a child actor, she probably had to grow up way too quickly – and Dorothy's vulnerability in the movie reflects that. Maybe Garland felt equally trapped by the studio system that turned her into a drug addict by her teens:
DOROTHY: Birds fly over the rainbow—why then, oh why can't I?
This Dorothy is sad and introspective. Can you imagine the different vibe if Shirley Temple had been chosen to do it? (She auditioned but wasn't chosen.)
Speaking of Toto, Dorothy loves him. A lot. In fact, Toto remains the central purpose in her life: leading her to both run away from home and take down troublesome Wicked Witches in order to keep him safe. She's willing to stand up to all manner of threats for his sake. Seriously, first she throws down against Miss Gulch over his fate, despite the utter indifference of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.
DOROTHY: Oh, no, no! I won't let you take him! You go away, you...! Oooh, I'll bite you myself!
She delivers the most vicious slap possible to the Cowardly Lion when he threatens to eat Toto. (Luckily, the Lion is easily vanquished by vicious slaps.) She even agrees to give up the ruby slippers in exchange for keeping him safe (a four-alarm Hero's Journey moment that we'll talk about in a minute). All of that for one little terrier; now that's ASPCA-approved pet ownership.
Beyond her concern for her dog, Dorothy always shows courtesy and respect for strangers. There's a lot of "pleases" and "thank yous in her vocabulary, and when she offends someone (as she does when she tell Glinda that witches are old and ugly), she's quick to apologize:
DOROTHY: I'm not a witch at all. Witches are old and ugly! What was that?
GLINDA: The Munchkins. They are laughing because I am a witch. I'm Glinda, the Witch of the North.
DOROTHY: You are! Oh, I beg your pardon! But I've never heard of a beautiful…
Dorothy's encouraging and protective of the new friends she meets on the way to Oz. She helps the scarecrow down from the pole he's nailed on, and she oils the rusty Tin Man. She worries about them going with her to the Emerald City:
DOROTHY: It's just that the Witch is so wicked. I don't think you two ought to come with me because you'll get into trouble.
Her politeness also gives way to a much more profound quality: forgiveness. With the exception of Miss Gulch/The Witch – who, let's face it, has it coming – she's happy to extend a welcome hand to people who've offended her. She even forgives Auntie Em for agreeing to hand over Toto:
DOROTHY: Auntie Em was so good to me—and I never appreciated it. Running away, and hurting her feelings.
Another example is the Lion, who threatens all manner of mayhem towards her friends before she whacks him in the face. When he breaks down and cries, his earlier behavior is forgotten and she invites him along on the journey to the Emerald City.
It's the same thing with the Winkies, who were chasing her around with pikes moments before she melts the Witch. Suddenly, they can't thank her enough and with that, their murderous behavior is completely in the past. And all of that comes before the Wizard himself, who she manages to become friends with despite the fact that he sent them all off to be killed.
She's awfully big to be so softhearted. We're not sure we could manage… but then again, that's why we're not the heroine.
Dorothy's good qualities form a pretty solid core of ethics, which nicely sets her up as pure Joseph Campbell: ready to go explore the world, but showing standards and principles that serve her well when the darkness falls and the flying monkeys close in. She sticks by her friends (like Toto) and sacrifices herself for others (by offering to be punished in Toto's place when Miss Gulch arrives). If you watch the movie closely, you see that the only times she really gets angry are when her friends are threatened.
Even more importantly, her ethics don't crumble under pressure. When things get dark and giant fiery wizards start thundering at her, she doesn't break. And when she's in the Witch's clutches, she knows where her priorities lie: Toto's life matters more to her than the slippers. If you can stand up to Margaret Hamilton in full-bore cackle mode, you can stand up to anything. As scared as she gets, she always knows the right thing to do.
Finally, she shows a willingness to act. Unlike Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, who get very angry at Miss Gulch but otherwise do nothing, Dorothy's prepared to run away from home rather than let Toto be killed. In that sense, Dorothy's the same as her other companions, who all exhibit the qualities they think they lack but need to complete their adventure to realize that. Dorothy learns who she is on her trip, and sees the kind of strength she carries inside for the first time. (Nice to know that a close encounter with a wicked witch has some positive benefits.)
When she returns to Kansas, she's a little sadder, perhaps – those were some cool friends she left behind – but she also knows herself. Her good qualities can stand up to anything, and whether she heads back to Oz or not, we know that they're going to serve her extremely well.
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