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The Wizard of Oz ~ A Political Statement?

By Edited Nov 30, 2016 28 51

Fairy Tale or Political Allegory?

I overheard an interesting bit of information while vacationing at a well-known luxurious California seaside resort.[1]  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

The Wizard of Oz Haley Bolger Garland Lahr 1939
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

The Wizard of Oz 1902 Musical
Credit: Wikimedia commons

The musical extravaganza stage adaptation of Oz opened to critical accl

he Wizard of Oz 1902 musical extravaganza scarecrow and tin woodman

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."[2]

1903 Canton Comic Opera Co.

Parable on Populism

Wizard of Oz Dolls at The Del
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. [3]
 
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)

Political Symbols

If you're wondering about the symbols, the following are a few highlights from Littlefield's piece:[5]

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 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 30, 2016)
Read the classic story and decide for yourself whether or not it is a political allegory.

You Judge

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."[4]

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.[7]
  • 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[8]
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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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Comments

Jan 1, 2011 11:25pm
mommymommymommy
This was a very interesting and enlightening read!
Jan 3, 2011 3:36pm
Laila
I have to agree with mommymommymommy, this was really interesting to say the least. But I'll never look at munchkins the same way ever again, hehe.
Jan 9, 2011 9:47pm
dadbintheadmin
Who would have thought? Well-written article!
Jan 10, 2011 10:52pm
southerngirl09
Great article, and so interesting. After reading this article, I want to read The Wizard of Oz again. Thanks for sharing
Jan 11, 2011 10:50am
Lynsuz
Interesting concept, when you think about it makes a lot of sense. Baum was a very talented writer. Next time I see the movie it will be through different eyes. Great article and well written as well. ^^^^^^
Jan 17, 2011 9:38pm
jeni10
I've watched "The Wizard of Ox" like a thousand times, and I've never heard of this political connection. But after reading your article, it makes perfect sense. You did a great job on this article, well-written and informative. Thanks for sharing.
Jan 19, 2011 7:29pm
footloose
Absolutely wicked article! Loved it.
Jan 19, 2011 9:42pm
divaonline
Fascinating article. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. The analogies are very interesting. It would be a quite a writing feat to apply the characters to popular political and social concepts of that era in order to create the beloved story. I'd rather believe it was purely a story conceived by a writer who wasn't jaded by the world around him and simply wanted to contrive an entertaining tale, a tale was then shoved under a microscope and given new meaning by someone else. Thanks again for this interesting forum for discussion of The Wizard Of Oz. Thanks to you and your little dog too!!!
Jan 21, 2011 10:37am
spdarkstar
In her 2007 book 'The Web of Debt' (The Shocking Truth About Our Money System And How We Can Break free)
By ELLEN HODGSON BROWN, J.D
She uses all the characters of the Wizard of Oz throughout the book, there is a quotation fron it at the beginning of almost every chapter.
To me 'The Wizard of Oz' is a political Statement
Jan 25, 2011 7:49pm
c4collins
Super-informative...who knew I could find out more things about one of my favorite books and films of all time? Thanks, Introspective....write on!!
Feb 4, 2011 11:14am
westernmom
It all makes sense as you read the article but I like to agree with divaonline and think it was just the fairytale I have always believed it to be. But, as we know, most great writers always have used symbolism in their writing to make subtle statements. Great article - thought provoking!
Mar 8, 2011 7:43am
pwarlick
Excellent article and very intriguing. Never put the two together before, but I can see how it all fits together. Thanks, great read.
Mar 9, 2011 8:21pm
Buffy10
Awesome article! Really enjoyed it!!!
Mar 20, 2011 2:55pm
Venetia
What a very great article. I never knew this. Love it. Thumbs UP!
Apr 10, 2011 12:37am
LoveSpaces
The Wizard of Oz is undeniable a beautiful wise fairytale. But it is so great exactly because it can be read in far more other "keys" or "registers" that one in which it was written. And this applys to all great writings and poems also. Thanks for this remarkable interpretation.
Apr 10, 2011 1:55am
dreamaker
You have only omitted the curious observationist. The one who narrated this multi level impressionistic rendering. I can't help wondering where he was sitting when he gathered this pessimistic,(although realistic for the times),outlook on the United States.
Great article introspective, as usual you have peaked my curiosity and hence satisfied it, with a few hundred well written words. Thank you.
Apr 10, 2011 9:11am
TheAwesomeGuy
Nice post, congrats on featured status!
Apr 10, 2011 12:01pm
tracysmorris
Interesting article. I had heard from my English teacher in high school that The Wizard of OZ had political overtones. But the gold standard was the only example my teacher could give. It's nice to see other examples.
Apr 10, 2011 2:17pm
TheAnalyst
Wow that was a great analysis of the hidden meaning of the Wizard of Oz. Apparently there are a lot of children's stories and nursery rhymes that have hidden meanings. You have definitely peaked my interest for the Wizard of Oz again. Great article!
Apr 10, 2011 3:37pm
gerryayers
Very well written article. The correlations make great sense now. I love stories with a hidden agenda.
Apr 10, 2011 6:39pm
heanders
Great article. Congrats. Seems like I've heard about the gold connection with the yellow brick road and the silver slippers.
Apr 10, 2011 10:40pm
Tessor
I've heard this theory before, but had not seen such a fine layout of its details. Very fascinating. It certainly seems plausible. The economic difficulties and movements surrounding them in the late 19th century provoked as much passion as similar issues do today. It's likely they would have been expressed in media like The Wizard of Oz.
Apr 11, 2011 1:01am
Kristopia
Really nice write-up. I'm a huge fan of the OZ stories, and the history behind them.
Apr 11, 2011 9:26am
PaulCrowe
Interesting article well written...
Apr 15, 2011 7:46am
budgetgeek
Awesome and fantastic read. The "Oz" series were some of my favorite books during my elementary school days. High-Five!
Apr 16, 2011 9:22pm
shtysoe
Good article indeed, well researched
Apr 22, 2011 2:52pm
2enjoylife8
I've only seen the movie. Now you've inspired me to read the book and see what I can find between the lines! Thanks for provoking thought!
Apr 27, 2011 8:02pm
infob0724
Very well written, great explanations of the dialogue and characters
May 7, 2011 2:57am
vicdillinger
Thank you, truly, from the bottom of my brain, for writing something with a little more heft to it than the normative thing found on this site. This article was engaging enough for me to re-read twice.

Obviously, you put some effort into -- keep up the good work.
May 7, 2011 1:05pm
Spondicious
Good article there with information to blow your mind.
Jul 11, 2011 7:37pm
freedomw
Interesting article.
Oct 2, 2011 12:03am
Astralys
Excellent article. This is fascinating stuff.
Feb 8, 2012 5:02pm
hillloyd
Don't forget the drug references. To wit, the lion's question when the snow wakes them in the poppy field.
Mar 13, 2012 6:01am
PhilipG
Just dropped by after reading the feature on VicD. This is great - an enjoyable and informative take on a story that most of us know well.
Apr 3, 2012 6:27pm
Introspective
Thanks all!
May 2, 2012 1:55pm
claudslewis
I'm going to have to go back and re-read the book! A wonderfully well written article.
May 5, 2012 5:46pm
AJWEsq
Bravo! Excellent article, Introspective.
May 7, 2012 10:26am
davenstan
Oz is definitely the US government. You think you will get CHANGE and your requests for a better life will granted. But, when you pull back the curtain, you realize the great and powerful OZ was just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

I can totally see how this movie represents a political statement.

Great read!
Katina
May 8, 2012 6:19pm
ShelbyD
The Wizard of Oz was one of my all-time favorites as a child, this is mind-boggling! Great read! Luv it!
May 18, 2012 11:37pm
Tom_Carver
Wonderful article (no pun intended)and so insightful too. A political statement? Is nothing sacred any more? I long for the old days when things were so much simpler and a story was just that. A story!
Jun 15, 2012 4:49pm
Marlando
Hi--Just finished your article and loved it. And...without knowing the history that you share in the above, I have always suspected there was a much deeper meaning to The Wizard of Oz than the surface fun and joy of it. Most certainly, the wizard himself reminds us of the historic folly of leadership and the fruitlessness of staying on the yellow line (the metaphor being the yellow brick road) as centered society demands. Thank you so much for a truly thought provoking piece of work.
Jun 16, 2012 8:28am
vicdillinger
I STILL love this piece!!!
Jun 23, 2012 5:35pm
expatsunflower
This Kansas gal can hardly go through life without new acquaintances making a Wizard of Oz joke. Now, I have a broader perspective! I really enjoyed this article.
Jan 2, 2013 7:25am
aguy
I read this two years after you posted it. I had been thinking about the similarities between Oz and the situation today and then I found it. Nice job.
Mar 23, 2013 10:48am
Knighttrader
Great article, I remember watching this as a child without knowing how complicated things are.
Apr 19, 2013 6:43pm
Introspective
Thanks all!
Nov 3, 2013 8:28am
Missagua
Nice summary of these details. Back in my high school and college days, we pontificated on these topics but I'd never read about it. Thanks for the details and references.
Nov 3, 2013 9:56am
Introspective
Thanks so much for the comment. It's been almost 3 years since I wrote this piece, I'm glad people still enjoy reading it.
Dec 3, 2013 10:53am
JeanBakula
The Wizard of Oz is one of my all time favorite movies, but I never thought of this. It's really fascinating. It fits in as a Hero's Quest, since Dorothy tried to leave Kansas with the Magician, but changes her mind the first time. Like Luke Skywalker refuses to believe when he learns he's a descendant of a Jedi Knight. But I never considered or heard your theory. It really makes sense. Great article.
Aug 27, 2016 5:51pm
frank-views
Reading through the many comments you received I see that most people misunderstood what you where writing about. They all thought you were talking about "The Wizard of Oz" and I guess most didn't bother to really read your article. They just commented based on the title. You could tell that from what they said in their comments. How sad, because you really had something important you were trying to make a point about.

I had read L. Frank Baum's version entitled "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" many years ago because I was curious to see how different it is from the movie version called "The Wizard of Oz" that we all grew up with and loved. I noticed how Dorothy wore silver slippers in Baum's version vs. the ruby slippers that she wore in the "The Wizard of Oz" movie rendition.

I didn't make the connection, though, about the relationship to political issues. But not that I read your article I see what you mean. Well done.
Aug 28, 2016 5:32pm
Introspective
It's been over five years since I wrote this piece and it's great that people still read it. The notification of your comment gave me an opportunity to go back and tweak the article here and there. Thanks!
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Bibliography

  1. "Hotel Del Coronado." Hotel Del. 27/02/2013 <Web >
  2. "The Wizard of Oz: An Ameridcan Fairy Tale - "To See the Wizard" - Oz on Stage and Film." Library of Congress. 27/02/2013 <Web >
  3. "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism." Amphigory. 27/02/2013 <Web >
  4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Chicago, Illinois: The George M. Hill Company, 1900.
  5. "The Wizard of Oz A Parable on Populism." The Wizard of Oz A Parable on Populism. o1/01/2011 <Web >
  6. "Hotel Del." Hotel Del. 01/01/2011 <Web >
  7. "Gore Voidal's Last Book." Washingtonian. 01/01/2015 <Web >
  8. "The Wizard of Oz Google Doodle." The Guardian. 01/01/2015 <Web >

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