Theory:L. Frank Baum‟s The WonderfulWizard of Oz is primarily aparable about the last decade ofthe 19th century.
Parable:A simple story using characters or events to represent ideas or principles, illustrating a moral or religious lesson.
“After a few hours the road began to be rough, and the walking grew so difficult that the Scarecrow often stumbled over the yellow brick, which were here very uneven. Sometimes, indeed, they were broken or missing altogether, leaving holes that Toto jumped across and Dorothy walked around. As for the Scarecrow, having no brains he walked straight ahead, and so stepped into the holes and fell full length on the hard bricks.”
The Gold Standard as the Yellow Brick RoadIn the late 1890s, a major issue was the currency ofthe United States. The Yellow Brick Road, with allits dangers, was the gold standard that bankers andbusinessmen supported as means to maintain theireconomic power. The gold standard was perceivedas insufficient and was already almost cornered byJim Fisk and Jay Gould. Baum, like manyothers, favored bimetallism.
Dorothy‟s silver slippers (Judy Garland‟s wereruby red, but Baum originally made them silver)represented the Populists‟ solution to the nation‟seconomic woes (“the free and unlimited coinageof silver”) an inflationary measure that would helpdebt-ridden farmers
Silver Coinage as the Silver Shoes “„The Witch of the East was proud of those silvershoes,‟ said one of the Munchkins; „and there is some charm connected with them; but what it is we never knew.‟” “At that moment Dorothy saw lying on the table the silver shoes that had belonged to the Witch of the East. „I wonder if they will fit me,‟ she said to Toto. „They would be just the thing to take a long walk in, for they could not wear out.‟”
Supporters of the silver movement argued that ithad the elasticity and abundance to last for along time. Dorothy likewise felt the silver shoesto “be just the thing to take a long walk in, forthey could not wear out.”Additionally, the Wicked Witch of the East wasproud of the silver shoes because “there is somecharm connected with them.” The banker bossesduring that time had the power to control moneybut the addition of silver to the gold standardwould dampen their ability to hold power bymoney.
Dorothy asUncle Sam “She (the Witch of the West) looked down at Dorothy‟s feet, and seeing the Silver Shoes, began to tremble with fear, for she knew what a powerful charm belonged to them. At first the Witch was tempted to run away from Dorothy; but she happened to look into the child‟s eyes and saw how simple the soul behind them was, and that the little girl did not know of the wonderful power the Silver Shoes gave her.”
Dorothy asUncle SamIn Baum‟s mind, the nation was unknowing andinnocent. They always had the chance to implementsilver, but they were too “simple” to realize its power.Dorothy owned the power of the silver shoes but wastoo innocent to recognize it. In this passage, Baumreveals his opinion that the railroad barons and bankerbosses fed off of the innocence of the nation (Dorothy).
The Cowardly Lion as William Jennings Bryan“I learned that if I roared very loudly every living thingwas frightened and got out of my way. Whenever I‟ve met a man I‟ve been awfully scared; but I just roared at him, and he has always run away as fast as he could go.”
The Cowardly Lion as William Jennings Bryan“We will answer their demand for a goldstandard by saying to them: „You shall notpress down upon the brow of labor thiscrown of thorns, you shall not crucifymankind upon a cross of gold.‟” -William Jennings BryanJuly 9, 1896, Democratic National Convention, Chicago.
“We will answer their demand for a goldstandard by saying to them: „You shall notpress down upon the brow of labor thiscrown of thorns, you shall not crucifymankind upon a cross of gold.‟” -William Jennings BryanJuly 9, 1896, Democratic National Convention, Chicago.
The Cowardly Lion as William Jennings BryanBryan, who never actually won a presidential election,ran four times, including the 1896 election againstWilliam McKinley. In speeches such as the “Cross ofGold,” Bryan was known for his tremendous oratoryskills. Baum symbolized his strong words but lesspowerful actions in the ways of the cowardly lion.Although he roared for the common people, Bryan wasafraid to endorse most of the Populist platform
The Tin Woodman as the Eastern Worker“He (the Cowardly Lion) struck at the Tin Woodmanwith his sharp claws. But, to the Lion‟s surprise, he could make no impression on the tin, although the Woodman fell over in the road and lay still.”
The Tin Woodman as The Tin Woodman as the Eastern Worker the Eastern WorkerThe fate of the Tin Man suggeststhe dehumanization of industriallabor. When Dorothy and theScarecrow find the Tin Man he hasrusted to the point where he isimmobile. According toLittlefield, this is a reference to thedepression of the 1890s that hadclosed many factories and leftlarge numbers of workersunemployed. Gilded Age workerswere often portrayed asmechanical.
The Tin Woodman as The Tin Woodman as the Eastern Worker the Eastern Worker Labor leader Samuel Gompers once told members of the American Federation of Labor,"So, there you are, wageworkers ingeneral, mere machines...."
The Tin Woodman as The Tin Woodman as the Eastern Worker the Eastern WorkerThe eastern laborers of Baum‟sera were often cruelly subjectedto long hours, low pay, and aninability to argue for themselvesbecause labor unions wereprohibited and the ones thatexisted were powerless.
“As for the Scarecrow, having no brains he walked straight ahead, and so stepped into the holes and fell at full length on the hard bricks. It never hurt him, however, and Dorothy would pick him up and set him upon his feet again, while hejoined her in laughing merrily at his own mishap.”
The Scarecrow as the Midwestern FarmerThe scarecrow stood for the midwestern farmer, wise butnaive, who for years had put up with ridicule from people.
The Scarecrow as the Midwestern FarmerBaum‟s experiences during the droughts that heobserved in Aberdeen, SD made him sympathize for thefarmer. He took a stand in favor of the motives of thecommon farmer as represented by the Scarecrow. Forthis character, Baum contradicted his theme, whichpointed out that the individual could find the solution tohis dilemma. Baum suggested for the Scarecrow thatfarmers do need some aid.
the Wizard, “a little bumbling old man, hiding behind a facade of paper mache and noise, . . . [was] able to be everything to everybody.”“„No; you are all wrong,‟ said the little man, meekly. „I have been making believe.‟„Making believe!‟ cried Dorothy. „Are you not a great Wizard?‟„Hush, my dear,‟ he said; „don‟t speak so loud, or you will be overheard--and I should be ruined. I‟m supposed to be a Great Wizard.‟„And aren‟t you?‟ she asked.„Not a bit of it, my dear; I‟m just a common man.‟„You‟re more than that,‟ said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; „you‟re a humbug.‟”
“„What is that (a balloonist)?‟ asked Dorothy.„A man who goes up in a balloon on circus day, so asto draw a crowd of people together and get them to payto see the circus,‟ he explained.”
“a little bumbling old man, hiding behind a facade ofpaper mache and noise, . . . able to be everything toeverybody,” was any of the Gilded Age presidents.But, in particular …
…William McKinley, who won the election of1896, was presented as a great man and coerced thepeople into electing him, even though he was simplya common man. The Wizard of Oz was “supposed tobe a Great Wizard,” but was in reality just anordinary man. Baum supported the common manand objected to this idea of dominance.
“„She was the wicked Witch of the East, as I said,‟ answered the little woman. „She has held all theMunchkins in bondage for many years, making them slave for her night and day. Now they, are all set free, and are grateful to you for the favour.‟”
A Banker Boss as the Wicked Witch of the EastThe banker bosses during the late 1800s easilycontrolled manufacturing and business in the eastusing such methods as trusts and interlockingdirectorates. The common worker, especially the childworker, suffered at the expense of the profits of thesebanker bosses. In Oz, the Wicked Witch of the Eastheld the Munchkins in bondage, who were forced to“slave for her night and day.”
“She (the Witch of the West) looked down atDorothy‟s feet, and seeing the Silver Shoes, began to tremble with fear, for she knew what a powerful charm belonged to them. At first the Witch was tempted to run away from Dorothy; but shehappened to look into the child‟s eyes and saw how simple the soul behind them was, and that the little girl did not know of the wonderful power the Silver Shoes gave her. So the Wicked Witch laughed to herself, and thought, „I can still make her myslave, for she does not know how to use her power.‟ Then she said to Dorothy, harshly and severely, „Come with me; and see that you mindeverything that I tell you, for if you do not I will make an end to you, as I did of the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow.‟”
The Wicked Witch of the West as a Railroad Baron
The Wicked Witch of the West as a Railroad BaronThe monopolistic railroad barons of the late 1800sruled over the common workers and farmers,controlling the farmers shipping expenses andmanipulating the earnings of railroad workers. In thesame way, the Wicked Witch of the West made an endto the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow. Many people,including Baum, feared that the population of the US(Dorothy) would be the next victim.
Glinda the Good Witch as …In Baums original story, the wicked witches are from theeast and west, while the good witches are from the northand south. The good witches are from those parts of thecountry where the Populists had the greatest influence—the Midwest and the South.
The Winged Monkeys as the Plains Indians “„Once,‟ began the leader, „we were a free people, livinghappily in the great forest, flying from tree to tree, eating nuts and fruit, and doing just as we pleased without calling anybody master. Perhaps some of us were rather too full of mischief at times, flying down to pull the tails of the animals that had no wings, chasing birds, andthrowing nuts at the people who walked in the forest. But we were careless and happy and full of fun, and enjoyed every minute of the day. This was many years ago, longbefore Oz came out of the clouds to rule over this land.‟”
The Winged Monkeys as the Plains IndiansThe Plains Indians, in the 1890s, were unable to find ahome anywhere in America. At this time, the frontierwas dying out, and the US government was unable tosend them west again. Baum explains the verysimilar situation the Winged Monkeys enduredthrough in this passage.
Toto as the ProhibitionistsDorothys faithful dog represented the abstainingProhibitionists, an important part of the silveritecoalition. the name Toto was likely a reference to prohibitionists(that is, "teetotalers") Toto plays a key role in The Wizard of Oz. L. FrankBaum emphasizes the dreariness of Dorothys life in Kansas and describesToto as the only thing that brings her joy. Toto is the focus of the conflictbetween Dorothy and Miss Gulch and the reason Dorothy is caught in thestorm that takes her to Oz. In Oz, Toto is the one who reveals the Wizard ofOz to be a fraud, but he also causes Dorothy to miss her return balloon flight.
Toto as the ProhibitionistsDorothys faithful dog represented the abstainingProhibitionists, an important part of the silveritecoalition, and anyone familiar with the silverites‟slogan “16 to 1” -- that is, the ratio of sixteen ouncesof silver to one ounce of gold--would have instantlyrecognized “Oz” as the abbreviation for “ounce.”
When Dorothy went back home it was symbolic ofthe nation needing to return to its “roots.”
Baum‟s ultimate Populist messages were:1) The powers that be survive by deception.2) Only people‟s ignorance allows the powerful to manipulate and control them.
ConclusionBaum never stated that his story was a parable aboutthe Populist movement, but the numerous similaritiesbetween Baum‟s work and the United States duringthe late 1800s cannot be ignored.