Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Political interpretations of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" study the influences of the modern fairy tale written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W.W. Denslow, first published in 1900. Many scholars have interpreted the book as an allegory or metaphor for the political, economic and social events of America of the 1890s.

Both Baum and Denslow had been actively involved in politics in the 1890s. Baum never said that the original story was an allegory for politics, although he did not have occasion to deny the notion. In fact, Baum himself states in his introduction to the book to have written "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" "solely to please children of today":

[T] he 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. [http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext93/wizoz10h.htm 1] ("Emphasis added.")


Some scholarsWho|date=December 2007 have asserted that the images and characters used by Baum and Denslow closely resembled political images that were well known in the 1890s. They believe that Baum and Denslow did not invent the Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Yellow Brick Road, Silver Slippers, cyclone, monkeys, Emerald City, little people, Uncle Henry, passenger balloons, witches and the wizard.

These were all common themes in the editorial cartoons of the previous decade. Baum and Denslow built a story around them, added Dorothy, and added a series of lessons to the effect that everyone possesses the resources they need if only they had self-confidence. Positive thinking was a prevalent trend in this period, and was the conduit by which Dorothy ultimately gets herself home. Baum may also have been influenced by the elaborate Christmas displays in Chicago and Saint Louis.

Political sources

Many of the events and characters of the book resemble the actual political personalities, events and ideas of the 1890s. cite web
title = Money and Politics in the Land of Oz
author = Quentin P. Taylor
publisher= [http://www.independent.org The Independent Institute]
date = 2004-12-02
url = http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?issueID=40&articleID=504
accessdate = 2006-10-24
] The 1902 stage adaptation mentioned, by name, President Theodore Roosevelt, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and other political celebrities.Ref] (No real people are mentioned by name in the book.) Even the title has been interpreted as alluding to a political reality: oz. is an abbreviation for ounce, a unit familiar to those who fought for a 16 to 1 ounce ratio of silver to gold in the name of bimetallism, though Baum stated he got the name from a file cabinet labeled A-N and O-Z. It should also be noted, however, that in later books Baum mentions contemporary figures by name and takes blatantly political stances without the benefit of allegory including a condemnation in no uncertain terms of Standard Oil.

The book opens not in an imaginary place but in real life Kansas, which, in the 1890s as well as today, was well known for the hardships of rural life, and for destructive tornadoes. The Panic of 1893 caused widespread distress in rural America. Dorothy is swept away to a colorful land of unlimited resources that nevertheless has serious political problems.Ref] This utopia is ruled in part by people designated as wicked. Dorothy and her cyclone kill the Wicked Witch of the East. The Witch had previously controlled the all-powerful silver slippers (which were changed to ruby in the 1939 film). The slippers will in the end liberate Dorothy but first she must walk in them down the golden yellow brick road, i.e. she must take silver down the path of gold, the path of free coinage. Following the road of gold leads eventually only to the Emerald City, which may symbolize the fraudulent world of greenback paper money that only pretends to have value, or may symbolize the greenback value that is placed on gold (and for silver, possibly).Ref] Other allegorical devices of the book include:

*Dorothy, naïve, young and simple, represents the American people. She is Everyman, led astray and who seeks the way back home.Ref] She resembles the young hero of Coin's financial school, a very popular political pamphlet of 1893. Another interpretation holds that she is a representation of Theodore Roosevelt: note that the syllables "Dor-o-thy" are the reverse of the syllables "The-o-dore."

*The cyclone was used in the 1890s as a metaphor for a political revolution that would transform the drab country into a land of color and unlimited prosperity. The cyclone was used by editorial cartoonists of the 1890s to represent political upheaval.Ref]

*Historians and economists who read the original 1900 book as a political allegory interpret the Tin Woodman as the dehumanized industrial worker, badly mistreated by the Wicked Witch of the East who rules Munchkin Country before the cyclone creates a political revolution and kills her. The Woodman is rusted and helpless—ineffective until he starts to work together with the Scarecrow (the farmer), in a Farmer-Labor coalition that was much discussed in the 1890s, which culminated in the successful Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota and its eventual merger with the Minnesota Democratic Party to form the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in 1944.

*The Munchkins are the little people—ordinary citizens. This 1897 "Judge" cartoon shows famous politicians as little people after they were on the losing side in the election. However, in Oz the Munchkins are all dressed similarly in blue, unlike these caricatures.

Historian approach to the book

Among those historians and economists who support the approach that "The Wizard of Oz" is based on political symbolism of the 1890s the most widely accepted approach was published in 1964, when a high school history teacher named Henry Littlefield used the characters and events of "The Wizard of Oz" as metaphors to teach historical concepts. Together with his students, Littlefield drew parallels between historical events and events in the book, and eventually published these parallels in an article in the 1964 "American Quarterly" scholarly journal. Over the years, the idea captured the attention of many cartoonists, editorial writers, scholars, historians, economists, writers and journalists. Several writers expanded upon Littlefield's parallels, and soon the allegory was being analyzed in scholarly articles and textbooks in economics and history. The cartoons shown in this article prove that political cartoonists before 1900 used cyclones, farm wives, witches, scarecrows, dogs, lions and monkeys, etc. as political allegories. Baum and Denslow had recently seen these—"Puck" and "Judge" were the most popular cartoon magazines of the day—and it seems likely they drew their inspiration from them. Editorial cartoonists have made heavy use of Oz imagery in political cartoons, as the Rogers 1906 cartoon of Hearst, and the 1947 Berryman editorial cartoon proves.

Additional sources

* The Tin Man was a common feature in political cartoons and in advertisements in the 1890s. Indeed, he had been part of European folk art for 300 years.Fact|date=February 2007

* The oil needed by the Tin Woodman had a political dimension at the time because Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company stood accused of being a monopoly (which was later ruled correct in a lawsuit brought by the federal government, and ultimately affirmed by the US Supreme Court.) In the 1902 stage adaptation the Tin Woodman wonders what he would do if he ran out of oil. "You wouldn't be as badly off as John D. Rockefeller," the Scarecrow responds, "He'd lose six thousand dollars a minute if that happened." (Swartz, "Oz" p 34).

* Monkeys were used in cartoons to ridicule politicians. The Winged Monkeys may play a role similar to the hired Pinkerton agents who worked for the Trusts and hounded labor unions. Alternatively, if the Wicked Witch of the West is thought of as the actual American West, monkeys could represent another western danger: Native Americans. Baum even displayed an early sympathy for native Americans of the plains, symbolized in the story of the Winged monkeys in the West, whose leader tells Dorothy, "Once..we were a free people, living happily in the great 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.") [Fact|date=February 2007 The Wizard of Oz seems to be the president of the Land of Oz. The "man behind the curtain" could be a reference to automated store window displays of the sort famous at Christmas season in big city department stores;Fact|date=February 2007 many people watching the fancy clockwork motions of animals and manikins thought there must be an operator behind the curtain pulling the levers to make them move. (Baum was the editor of the trade magazine read by window dressers.)

* A 1997 essay in The Washington Post recast the story as an exercise in Machiavellianism, showing how the supposed "Good Witch Glinda" used an innocent, ignorant patsy (Dorothy) to overthrow both her own sister witch (Witch West) and the Wizard of Oz, leaving herself as undisputed master of all four corners of Oz: North, East, West and (presumably Oz being) South. "She even showed her truest Machiavellian genius by allowing the story to be entitled after the weakest of her three opponents."

* Yip Harburg, the lyricist for the the 1939 film, was aware of the political background of the original story. His son discussed the issue in a radio interview on Democracy Now [cite news | first=Ernie | last=Harburg | coauthors= Amy Goodman | title=A Tribute to Yip Harburg: The Man Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz | date= | publisher= | url =http://www.democracynow.org/2004/11/25/a_tribute_to_yip_harburg_the | work = | pages = | accessdate = 2008-07-25 | language = ] .

Further reading

* [http://www.turnmeondeadman.net/OZ/Responses.html A history of the debate]
* [http://www.halcyon.com/piglet/Populism.htm David Parker's article "The Rise and Fall of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" as a 'Parable on Populism'"] ; also in the Journal of the Georgia Association of Historians, vol. 15 (1994), pp. 49-63
* [http://www.ozclub.org/reference/littlefield.html Littlefield's 1992 article on the subject]
* [http://www.mega.nu:8080/ampp/oz.html Collection of material relating to Oz as a political allegory]
* [http://www.niquette.com/books/sophmag/humbug.htm Humbug: The Most Destructive Film in History] by Paul Niquette
* [http://www.indiana.edu/~econed/pdffiles/summer02/bhansen.pdf The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics] , 2002 Review of the above and the academic context from the "Journal of Economic Education".
* [http://www.llewellyn.com/archive/fate/25/ Oz as a spiritual allegory]
* [http://www.sexualfables.com/OzisChina.php Why Oz is China: A Political Allegory]
* [http://ideas.repec.org/a/ucp/jpolec/v98y1990i4p739-60.html] Rockoff, Hugh. "The 'Wizard of Oz' as a Monetary Allegory," Journal of Political Economy 98 (1990): 739-60.

For an exploration of the allegories in the book see the full-length scholarly book by an economics professor: "The Historian's Wizard of Oz — Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory", edited by Ranjit S. Dighe, Praeger Publishers, Westport, Pennsylvania 2002.


* Clanton, Gene. "Populism: The Humane Preference in America, 1890-1900" (1991)
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0896-7148%28199224%294%3A4%3C607%3AGUIO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-H Culver, Stuart. "Growing Up in Oz." "American Literary History" 4 (1992) 607-28.] in JSTOR
* Culver, Stuart. "What Manikins Want: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors", "Representations", 21 (1988) 97-116.
*Dighe, Ranjit S. ed. "The Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory" (2002)
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-0678%28196823%2920%3A3%3C616%3ALFBATP%3E2.0.CO%3B2-E Erisman, Fred. "L. Frank Baum and the Progressive Dilemma" in "American Quarterly" Vol. 20, No. 3 (Autumn, 1968), pp. 616-623] online at JSTOR
* [http://www.turnmeondeadman.net/OZ/Responses.html Gardner, Todd. "Responses to Littlefield" (2004), online]
* Geer, John G. and Thomas R. Rochon, "William Jennings Bryan on the Yellow Brick Road," "Journal of American Culture" (Winter, 1993)
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0030-8129%28199103%29106%3A2%3C277%3AMACICF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L Gilead, Sarah. "Magic Abjured: Closure in Children's Fantasy Fiction" in "PMLA" Vol. 106, No. 2 (Mar., 1991), pp. 277-293] in JSTOR
* Hearn, Michael Patrick (ed). "The Annotated Wizard of Oz". (2000, 1973)
* Jensen, Richard. "The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896" (1971), ch. 10.
* [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001388159 Karp, Andrew. "Utopian Tension in L. Frank Baum's Oz" in "Utopian Studies", 1998]
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0882-4371%28199621%290%3A33%3C213%3ASCOAMC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-T Kim, Helen M. "Strategic Credulity: Oz as Mass Cultural Parable" in "Cultural Critique" No. 33 (Spring, 1996), pp. 213-233] online at JSTOR
* Leach, William. "Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture" (1993), pp. 248-260.
* [http://www.amphigory.com/oz.htm Littlefield, Henry. "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism." "American Quarterly". v. 16, 3, Spring 1964, 47-58.] online version
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-0678%28196421%2916%3A1%3C47%3ATWOOPO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-J Littlefield, Henry M. "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism" "American Quarterly" Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1964), pp. 47-58] in JSTOR
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0037-6752%28200121%291%3A45%3A1%3C80%3AIBBTWO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-W Nesbet, Anne. "In Borrowed Balloons: The Wizard of Oz and the History of Soviet Aviation" in "The Slavic and East European Journal"> Vol. 45, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 80-95] online at JSTOR
*Riley, Michael O. (1997) "Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum". University of Kansas Press ISBN 0-7006-0832-X
* Ritter, Gretchen. "Goldbugs and Greenbacks: The Anti-Monopoly Tradition and the Politics of Finance in America" (1997)
*Ritter, Gretchen. "Silver slippers and a golden c

* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-3808%28199008%2998%3A4%3C739%3AT%22OOAA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-5 Rockoff, Hugh. "The 'Wizard of Oz' as a Monetary Allegory," "Journal of Political Economy" 98 (1990): 739-60] online at JSTOR
*Swartz, Mark Evan. "Oz Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" on Stage and Screen to 1939" (2000).
* [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000776148 Velde, Francois R. "Following the Yellow Brick Road: How the United States Adopted the Gold Standard" Economic Perspectives. Volume: 26. Issue: 2. 2002.] [http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=377760 also online here]
* [http://www.halcyon.com/piglet/books8-Ziaukas.htm Ziaukas, Tim. "100 Years of Oz: Baum's 'Wizard of Oz' as Gilded Age Public Relations" in "Public Relations Quarterly," Fall 1998]

External links

*gutenberg|no=55|name=The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
* [http://www.halcyon.com/piglet/oznends.htm Pros and cons of "Oz" as an allegory]
* [http://ideas.repec.org/a/ucp/jpolec/v98y1990i4p739-60.html] copy of Hugh Rockoff, "The 'Wizard of Oz' as a Monetary Allegory," Journal of Political Economy 98 (1990): 739-60
* [http://www.halcyon.com/piglet/Populism.htm] David B. Parker, “The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a "Parable on Populism’” (1994)

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