“The story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to pleasure children of today”
L. Frank Baum – Author
In the late 1800s the United States was in turmoil, the agrarian revolt in the Midwest, a heated election and the rise of the Populist movement. Henry M. Littlefield (12 June, 1933 – 30 March 2000), a high school teacher, imaginatively linked characters from the storyline of Baum’s book to the political landscape of the time. The ingenious paper claimed The Wizard of Oz (my thoughts) to be nothing less than an ironic parable of the Mauve Decade written by a former editor of a small newspaper in Aberdeen, SD who often wrote about politics and current event s- L. Frank Baum.
1 ) Dorothy Gale represents the ideal American. She is Kind, self respecting, levelheaded and wholesome. Kansas was where the most radical elements of the Populist movement resided.
2 ) The twister symbolizes the Populist wind that carried Kansas in the early 1890s. This term “Kansas Cyclone” was often used by Populist orators before Baum wrote his story.
2 ) Prohibitionists were faithful allies of the Populists, at the time they were known as teetotalers (complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages). Dorothy’s dog, who soberly follows her is named Toto – a pun of teetotaler.
3 ) The Wicked Witch of the East, who is killed by Dorothy when her house lands in Oz, represents the eastern financial and industrial interests and the gold standard politicians – both of whom were targets of the Populist movement. The death of the witch is a cause for great joy to … the little people. The Muchkins recognize the power of silver (shoes) but don’t know the precise hold on them that it has. Glinda, witch of the South, understand the power of silver (shoes).
4 ) The Good Witch of the North stands for the upper Midwest, however she is not match to the brute forces of the East. She does give Dorothy a kiss, standing for electoral support.
5 ) The Wicked Witch of the West represents the cruel forces of nature as well as big business and the power brokers of the Midwest. The lands of the Wicked Witch are reminiscent of the plains of Kansas plagued by woves, ravenous crows and bees full of venom. Those forces of evil are summoned by silver (whistle – see #3).
6 ) The brainless Scarecrow is representative of the Midwestern farmer who has a sense of inferiority due to years of ridicule and hardships. Populist leaders were often portrayed as simpletons who failed to understand policy and economics. As we continue reading, the Scarecrow proves himself to be smart, resilient and with common sense.
7 ) The Tin Woodsman accidentally hacked off his limbs due to curse by the Witch of the East (big business) reducing the person into a machine and dehumanizing this sensitive worker. The nation’s workers, particularly in industry, are represented by this Tin Man. As many workers during the 1890s, the Tin Woodsman is unemployed, yet is able to resume his labors with a little priming.
8 ) The lion represents none other than the Populist Democratic candidate for presidency William Jennings Bryan (rhymes with “lion” and a almost a homonym of “lying”). Bryan was known for his roaring rhetoric (pun intended) and was portrayed in the press as a lion. Much like the mighty claws of the lion couldn’t hurt the Tin Man, Bryan lost the presidential election by failing to carry the eastern workers. Because he opposed a war with Spain (1898), Bryan was tagged “cowardly” by his critics.
9 ) The winged monkeys represnt the Plains Indians egory. These creatures represent the Plains Indians: “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“. While admiting to some acts of mischief, by no means do the deserve the harsh treatment forced upon them by the wizard when he “came out of the clouds to rule over this land” .
10) The Emerald City, represents Washington D.C. of course while The Wizard “who can take on any form he wishes” represents the politicians of the era but can easily be politicians of today’s era as well. Much like politicians, the people of Oz have no idea what THe Wizard truly represents and, as we all know, he breaks his promises.
So tell me, what do you think? Is The Wizard of Oz a clever political satire, a classic children’s story, both or depends on the reader?
Zohar – Man of la Book