Aunt Em

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Aunt Em
Oz character
First appearance The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Created by L. Frank Baum
Information
Species Human
Gender Female
Occupation Housewife
Title Royal Mender of the Stockings of the Ruler of Oz
Family Dorothy Gale (niece)
Unnamed sister
Spouse(s) Uncle Henry
Relatives Uncle Bill Hugson (brother-in-law)
Unnamed Australians (in-laws)
Nationality United States

Emily Elizabeth Brown of Maryland, known as Aunt Em, is a fictional character from the Oz books.[1] She is the aunt of Dorothy Gale and wife of Uncle Henry, and lives together with them on a farm in Kansas. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, she is described as having been a "young, pretty wife" when she arrived at Uncle Henry's farm, but having been "greyed" by her life there, implying that she appears older than one might expect from her chronological age. Baum tells us that when Dorothy first came to live with her, Em would "scream and press her hand upon her heart" when startled by Dorothy's laughter, and she appears emotionally distant to her at the beginning of the story. However, after Dorothy is restored to her at the end of the book, we see her true nature: she cries out, "My darling child!" and covers her with kisses.

There is no question about Dorothy's love for her aunt: indeed, her request to the magic Silver Shoes is "Take me home to Aunt Em! Take me back to Kansas!"

Oz books[edit]

Em spends most of her life working on farms. In The Emerald City of Oz, she states that she has raised chickens for "nearly forty years." After confessing to Dorothy that their farm was facing imminent foreclosure, they all move to the Land of Oz to live for good in the Emerald City. Princess Ozma appoints Em "Royal Mender of the Stockings of the Ruler of Oz" in order to keep her busy.

Her sister is married to Bill Hugson. It is never clarified in the books whether it is she or Uncle Henry who is Dorothy's blood relative. (It is also possible that "Aunt" and "Uncle" are affectionate terms of a foster family and that Dorothy is not related to either of them.)

She is featured slightly less than Uncle Henry in the Oz books, despite having a bigger role in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Ruth Plumly Thompson gave her only two brief mentions in The Royal Book of Oz and Grampa in Oz. She had somewhat larger roles in John R. Neill's The Wonder City of Oz and The Scalawagons of Oz and Jack Snow's The Magical Mimics in Oz.

In The Emerald City of Oz, she shows herself particularly unamenable to Oz, asking for a back attic room, simpler clothing, and is gauche enough to tell Billina that chickens are for broiling and eating without realizing that such a conversation would be deeply offensive. Uncle Henry has seen more of the world than she has, and is much more prepared to accept Oz as it is. In this book, unlike in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, her speech patterns and accent indicators are very similar to Sairy Ann Bilkins, the title character of Baum's Our Landlady, who, too, was quite set in her ways. Ultimately, though, she comes to the epiphany that she "ha[s] been a slave all [her] life," and is ready for her life to change.

She appears occasionally in the works of Baum's successors in Oz literature; one notable example is Eric Shanower's The Giant Garden of Oz.

Film adaptations[edit]

The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)[edit]

In the film she is referred to as "Auntie Em" (real name Emily), and pushes Dorothy away when she and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) are counting chicks. Hickory (Tin Man's alter ego) addresses her as "Mrs. Gale" just before she offers crullers to the three farmhands, and Hunk (Scarecrow's alter ego) does so just afterward. As many women of her time, she is a knitter.

The name "Gale" appears on the mailbox. Miss Almira Gulch (Wicked Witch's alter ego) says to Henry, "Mr. Gale! I'd like to speak with you and your wife right away about Dorothy". Since Dorothy's last name is also Gale, this implies that Henry is her blood-uncle, and Em is his wife.

When Miss Gulch arrives to collect Toto, Aunt Em tells her off, saying to her: "Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now...well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!" (Baum's character never mentions anything about religion beyond the implications of Sunday best clothing.) She is seen during the tornado calling for Dorothy after she ran away, but seeks shelter with Henry who ends up losing his hat when the storm approaches their farm. Unlike Zeke (Lion's alter ego), Hickory and Hunk also lose their hats as they struggle to pry open the cellar door. Both Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are the only characters whose roles are limited to the Kansas sequence and do not make an appearance in the Oz sequence, but Aunt Em is seen again in the crystal ball at the Wicked Witch's castle still looking for Dorothy. She reunites with Uncle Henry, the three farmhands, and Professor Marvel (Wizard's alter ego) when Dorothy awakens from being unconscious.

Aunt Em was portrayed by Clara Blandick.

Journey Back to Oz (1974 animated film)[edit]

Margaret Hamilton voices Aunt Em. She and Uncle Henry (voiced by Paul Ford) have a farmworker named Amos (voiced by Larry Storch). He does not have an alter ego in Oz.

Return to Oz (1985 film)[edit]

Piper Laurie plays Aunt Em, portrayed as a comely, blonde woman of perhaps fifty years — a physical depiction very different from Baum's worn and greyed original character. She is worried and concerned of Dorothy's talk of Oz and presses that they are going to have two mortgages into her mind[clarification needed] before taking her to shock therapy in administered by Dr. J.B. Worley. She mentions having a sister named Garnet who would lend them money for the therapy. Garnet may or may not have been intended to be Bill Hugson's wife. Dr. Worley calls her "Mrs. Blue," which contradicts the MGM film, in which Henry's last name is Gale, or it may refer to her maiden name.

Other adaptations[edit]

Aunt Em was played by Queen Latifah in the ABC made-for-television movie The Muppets' Wizard of Oz where this character owned a diner. In the VeggieTales episode The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's, Aunt Em and her husband Uncle Henry were substituted by a father (Dad Asparagus) to retell The Prodigal Son, a biblical parable from the Gospel.

She was voiced by Lurene Tuttle in 1980's Dorothy in the Land of Oz.

She was voiced by Frances Conroy in the direct-to-video animated film Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz, a midquel/parallel to the 1939 classic. Conroy also voiced Glinda.

Comics[edit]

In the comic book The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles #1, Em takes Dorothy to Henry's grave in St. Ann's Cemetery. The gravestone has been snapped in two. Em later returned the slippers to Dorothy, having kept them safe at Glinda's insistence.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jack Snow, Who's Who in Oz, Chicago, Reilly & Lee, 1954; New York, Peter Bedrick Books, 1988; p. 10.