Fairy Tale or Political Allegory?
I overheard an interesting bit of information while vacationing at a well-known luxurious California seaside resort. It appears as if The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900 as a children's storybook, may be a very grown-up political allegory.
The author of Oz, L. Frank Baum, spent a lot of time at the oceanfront resort where I was visiting, and wrote several books while a guest there. The resort gift shops display many of Baum's works, and it was at one of these shops where I first overheard an intriguing theory.
The Wizard of Oz ~ A Political Statement?
Fairy Tale or Political Allegory
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
I noticed a young woman speaking quite loudly to an elderly couple. But, it wasn’t the auditory range that peaked my interest, it was the topic. I overheard the girl ask the folks, "Did you know The Wizard of Oz was written to make a political statement?" My first thought, "What?!" as I continued to eavesdrop. "The author used symbols in the story to make a point. For example, the Scarecrow represented farmers, who the elite thought of as thought of as ignorant. That’s why the character didn't have a brain.” She continued, “The Tin Man represents the industrialist without a heart, and the Wizard is a symbol of powerful bankers. . . ." Wow! As I walked away, I decided to research the topic and find out if the young lady was telling the truth. My initial reaction was skepticism.
So, is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz really a brilliantly written symbolic literary representation of Baum's political views? Or, is it just a wonderfully written fairy tale? Here's what I learned. . . .
Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead
The Wizard Wizzes Again
Credit: Wikimedia commons
The musical extravaganza stage adaptation of Oz opened to critical accl
aim in 1902. Aimed at mature audiences the stage version differed from the book. Baum h
ad little control over the dialog changes written by Glen MacDonough, who poked fun at per
sonalities such as President Theodore Roosevelt, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and Senator Mark Hanna. One of the wisecracks involves the Tin Woodman, who wonders what to do if he runs out of oil. The Scarecrow jokingly chimes in, "You wouldn't be as badly off as John D. Rockefeller—he'd lose six thousand dollars a minute if that happened."
1903 Canton Comic Opera Co.
Parable on Populism
In 1964, high school teacher Henry Littlefield brought to light the concept of a political theme in his article, The Wizard of Oz: A Parable on Populism. In it, Littlefield chronicled Baum’s life, including his political influences of the 1890s. He then methodically formulated a strong argument to support the idea that Baum carefully crafted symbols of these same political forces into the characters, scenes, and events in the book. 
Even the word OZ, in the title, is said to be political. The word, an abbreviation for ounce, was a familiar term to those who fought for a sixteen to the one-ounce ratio of silver to gold in the name of Bimetallism, an American political movement. The issue, which advocated the use of silver in addition to gold as a monetary standard, was popular during the second half of the 19th century. But, Baum's son disagreed with the assertion; he claimed that his famous father got the idea for the name OZ from a file cabinet labeled O–Z.
1939 Movie Trailer (1939)
If you're wondering about the symbols, the following are a few highlights from Littlefield's piece:
COWARDLY LION: The Cowardly Lion has a loud roar but no bite or power, and he represents politician William Jennings Bryan, who supported the free silver movement. When the Lion first meets the Wizard he sees him as a ball of fire, and "could scarcely bear to gaze upon it."
CYCLONE: The tornado represents both a political upheaval and the free silver movement. The violent cyclone lifts Dorothy and Toto in their house, then drops them "very gently” in the Land of Oz. The house falls on one of two evil influences in Oz, the Wicked Witch of the East, causing her death.
DOROTHY: She represents the American values and people. Dorothy is the only one from the four seeking help from the Wizard with a real problem. When Dorothy meets the Wizard he appears like an enormous head, which is "bigger than the head of the biggest giant." The large noggin would likely be the perception of a naïve and innocent citizen who feels small.
EMERALD CITY and EMERALD PALACE: The Emerald City represents the Nation’s Capital and the Emerald Palace typifies the White House.
FLYING MONKEYS: These characters are a symbol for Native Americans. The leader tells Dorothy, "Once we were a free people, living happily in the forest, flying from tree to tree, eating nuts and fruit and doing just as we pleased without calling anybody Master. . . . This was many years ago before Oz came out of the clouds to rule over this land." The statement appears to parallel the plight of the Native Americans whose land was seized by the Americans.
GOOD WITCH of the NORTH and SOUTH: The Good Witch of the North illustrates the workers of the north. The Good Witch of the South embodies the farmers of the south. The North and South contrast with the wicked industrialists of the East and the railroad moguls of the West. The good witches are less powerful then the wicked.
KANSAS: The great gray prairie represents the deadly environment that dominated everyone and everything, except for Dorothy and her pet.
MUNCHKINS: These little people are a symbol of the "common" folk. In addition, the Lollipop Guild represents child labor.
OZ: A unit familiar to those who fought for the 16 to 1 ounce (oz.) ratio of silver to gold; a political hot topic in the 1890s.
SCARECROW: He typifies the Western farmers. Although the Scarecrow's complaint was he didn't have a brain, in reality, he was a clever problem solver. When the Scarecrow first meets the Wizard he sees him as a lovely gossamer fairy. This view expresses the impression of an idealistic Kansas farmer.
SILVER SLIPPERS: In the book, the slippers that appear on Dorothy's feet are silver rather than ruby. Silver represents monetary and political issues. Some have also speculated that the silver slippers represent the power to vote.
TIN WOODMAN: Referred to as Tin Man, he symbolizes the Industrialist with "no heart" and the industrial workers, often dehumanized. The Tin Man was in the same position for over a year because of corrosion. The rust parallels the condition of the majority of Eastern workers after the depression of 1893. When the Tin Man meets the Wizard for the first time, he sees him as a horrible beast. The vision signifies the exploited eastern laborer after the trouble of the 1890s.
TOTO: Dorothy’s small dog experiences the entire adventure. Toto pulls the curtain back to reveal the Wizard is a fraud. Toto is said to be another representation of the American people.
UNCLE HENRY: Henry Cantwell Wallace, known as "Uncle Henry," was a famous farmer in the late 1800s. He was the editor of a leading farm magazine.
WICKED WITCH of the EAST and WEST: Evil ruled both the East and the West. The Wicked Witch of the East symbolizes the populist view of evil Eastern influences on honest labor.
The Wicked Witch of the West is said to represent President William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, and the last veteran of the American Civil War elected. McKinley upheld the gold standard and promoted pluralism among ethnic groups. He defeated William Jennings Bryan, who ran on the platform of the free silver movement.
WIZARD: He could represent any of the presidents of the United States, from Grant to McKinley. The Wizard can be everything to everybody. Just like a politician, he says what the people want to hear. At the end of the story, readers discover the Wizard is just a "common man." It is interesting that the Wizard is from Omaha, Nebraska, which was a center of populist agitation.
Some people considered Mark Hanna The Wizard of Oz. Hanna was an American industrialist and Republican politician from Cleveland, Ohio. He rose to fame as the campaign manager William McKinley, the successful Republican Presidential candidate in the 1896 election. He became one of the most influential members of the U.S. Senate.
YELLOW BRICK ROAD: This represents the gold standard, such as a brick of gold. The road of gold leads to power. Dorothy walks on the gold road with silver slippers. Together the road and slippers represent the Silver Standard. It is worth noting that the Yellow Brick Road does not go in the direction of the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz [Illustrated]
Amazon Price: $13.99
(price as of Aug 28, 2016)
Read the classic story and decide for yourself whether or not it is a political allegory.
In the years since Littlefield's article, historians, economists, literary scholars, and others have examined and developed possible political interpretations. The majority of the public, however, takes the story at its face value and sees it as just a fairy tale.
In his introduction, Baum appears to suggest his story was a fairy tale, written "solely to please children. . . ." However, someone as clever and talented, so as to intertwine political dogma with pure fantasy (concealed in such a brilliant way that people are still discussing it more than 100 years after publication) would probably also carefully craft an introduction.
L. Frank Baum 150th Birthday Tribute Video
Introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
By L. Frank Baum
"Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations. Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as 'historical' in the children's library; for the time has come for a series of newer 'wonder tales' in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.
"Having this thought in mind, the story of 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out."
Political Statement or Pure Fantasy
So, is the story a political statement or just pure fantasy? Gee—if only I could ask an enlightened Whiz—"We're off to see the Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!"
We're Off To See The Wizard
Wizard of Oz Trivia
- The last book American writer Gore Vidal read before he died was reported to be The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
- The original movie was 112 minutes, but the theater version was cut to 101 minutes. The only people who've seen the entire 112 minute version are the audiences in attendance at the test screenings.
- L Frank Baum received $75,000 for the rights to his book
- The movie was earmarked as "culturally significant," and chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress in 1989
- One-hundred percent of the movie critics on the website Rotten Tomatoes gave Wizard of Oz positive reviews
Oz, the Complete Paperback Collection: Oz, the Complete Collection, Volume 1; Oz, the Complete Collection, Volume 2; Oz, the Complete Collection, ... 4; Oz, the Complete Collection, Volume 5
Amazon Price: $54.99 $22.07
(price as of Aug 28, 2016)
Want more Oz? This collection includes 15 titles by L. Frank Baum. It is the perfect gift for readers of all ages and fans of the Wizard of Oz.
Lego Wizard of Oz
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