The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a Political and Economic Allegory

Term Paper, 2016

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3


1 Introduction

When Lyman Frank Baum wrote and published his fairy tale The Wonderful Wizard ofOz in 1900, he might not have known this would be the start of several books about the marvellous world of OZ. However, the story about the little girl named Dorothy, who accidentally lands in Oz and tries to return to Kansas, is the most popular of the Oz books. Nevertheless, by focussing on the land of Oz and its analysis it is indispensable to concentrate on The Wonderful Land of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz and other books, as well.

L. Frank Baum always disclaimed that there is a deeper meaning behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and declared: "The story was written solely to pleasure children of today." (Littlefield 1964: 58). Moreover, L. Frank Baum "never allowed the consistency of the allegory to take precedence over the theme of youthful entertainment" (Littlefield 1964: 58). Thus maybe, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is well known all over the world and in every age as one of the most famous American folklore.

Nonetheless, there are some allegories that can be seen and interpreted by reading the Oz books. At first, there is a political aspect including the time in which L. Frank Baum grew up, the places where he lived and the political view he had, even though he had never declared his political attitude. In addition, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can be interpreted in an economic way, connected to L. Frank Baum's history, as well. Hugh Rockoff, Professor of Economics at Rutgers University, (1990: 739) claims that the book is "a sophisticated commentary on the political and economic debates of the Populist Era." However, some people, for example Bradley A. Hansen, (2002: 257ff) disagree with the position that there are any allegories in Baum's Oz books. Nevertheless, these interpretations are just a few options of analysing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but they form the most important aspects to have a focus on.

2 Lyman Frank Baum

To analyse L. Frank Baum's fairy tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz it is necessary to concentrate on his biography first. He was born on May 15 in 1856 in Chittenango, New York, as the seventh of nine children. His father accumulated abundant wealth with oil fields in Pennsylvania. He grew up on the expensive property Rose Lawn, which was located in Mattydale, New York, and denominated by L. Frank Baum "as a sort of paradise" (Biblio 2008: 1). When he was twelve years old, he went to Peekskill Military Academy. However, after only two years he had to go back home for health reasons. By the age of 15, L. Frank Baum was bought a printing press by his father, and so he started the production of The Rose Lawn Home Journal. By the age of 20, he began breeding his own poultry. He wrote and performed in plays, was merchant for axle grease, hardware and china, edited a small journal and reported for a large one. When Baum was 32, he and his wife moved to Aberdeen in South Dakota. He opened a store, which crashed because Baum tended to give credit instead of getting paid immediately. Based on his experiences in South Dakota, he described Kansas in his fairy tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In 1891 Baum moved to Chicago, Illinois (Biblio 2008: 1).

Discussing L. Frank Baum's political attitude, several authors of articles about an Allegory in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz have different opinions. Hugh Rockoff, who has written one of the most acclaimed articles about the economic allegory in the Oz books, asserts that Baum throughout "voted Democrat and marched in torchlight parades for Bryan" (1990: 756), a Democratic and Populist leader in the late 19th and the early 20th Century. Therefore, Rockoff indicates Baum as a Populist "or at least a Populist sympathizer" (Hansen 2002: 256). At that time, Populism was a farmer's movement which formed an opposition to the central government and was mostly based in the South and West of America.

Gene Clanton, in contrast, suggests that L. Frank Baum was a conservative Republican, who "apparently amused himself by writing a subtle yet ingenious anti-Populist, gold standard tract in the form of a highly suggestive and enormously successful children's story" (Hansen quoted Clanton 2002: 256). Another claim, made by Gretchen Ritter, says that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz constitutes "a cultural and political satire" (Hansen quoted Ritter 2002: 256) and stands neither for Populists nor for capitalists. She argues that there might be no political intention for writing the Oz books and there is also no relevance. Moreover, the fact that Baum lived in a political environment influenced him that much while writing his books. Lastly, Ranjit Dighe assumes that Baum could be a progressive Republican and "may not have written The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a monetary allegory" (Hansen 2002: 256). Actually, the journal Saturday Pioneer, which Baum had in Aberdeen, was known as a Republican paper. Additionally, Baum supported Republicans and their issues in his editorials (Hansen quoted Tystad-Koupal 2002: 258). Despite that, L. Frank Baum's political attitude remains unclear.

3 Political Circumstances and Allegories

3.1 William Jennings Bryan

Since William Jennings Bryan had a huge part in the 1890s up to the 1910s, a short description is necessary. He was born 1860 in Illinois and, as already mentioned, a Democratic and Populist leader. Designated by his supporters as "a champion of liberal causes" (Encyclopaedia 2016: 1), he ran for president three times without any success. Nevertheless, he was influential in some reforms, which stood for the farmer's needs. During his career, Bryan was predominantly popular in the South and West of America, according to the farmer's movement. His most famous performance was the Cross of Gold speech 1894 in Chicago:

If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold. (Enyclopaedia 2016: 1) Bryan belonged to those who were extremely against the gold standard and fought for free coinage of silver. He was a practising politician until his death in 1925.

3.2 Populism

Generally it is difficult to separate economy and politics because they are strongly connected to each other. However, to clarify both parts as an allegory in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, they are mentioned separately in this context.

In Baum's Oz books there are some hints which describe roughly where Oz may be located. In contrast to other fairy tales and fantasy fictions Oz is not located in another dimension or universe as an invisible world. Oz is located in our real world instead, somewhere around Kansas, only unknown because "it is cut off from all the rest of the world by deserts that completely surround it" (Riley 1997: 52). Due to Baum's narration of the cyclone carrying Dorothy miles away from Kansas to Oz (Baum 1900: llf), which is surrounded by deserts (Baum 1900: 20), Oz might be in the south western of America. Additionally, it is mentioned that Oz is divided into four countries, the Land of the East, the North, the West and the South, with the City of Emeralds located in the middle of them (Baum 1900: 17ff). Moreover, Oz has large areas which are sparsely populated and civilized. Michael O' Neal Riley (1997: 54) suggests Baum created Oz as an idealized version of our world, based on his own vision. However, in Oz are similar circumstances to our world: there is day and night, a sun and a moon, rain and rivers consisting of water, flowers and trees, as well as fruits, nuts and berries (Riley 1997: 54). Kansas, in contrast, is described as nothing more but a grey landscape. Baum used "gray" nine times for Kansas' description (1900: 7f).

Littlefield (1964: 50) interprets the whole story about the little innocent girl called Dorothy travelling to the City of Emeralds with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion as an allegory for Populism. Every character in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz symbolises a certain person or a group of people in the late 1880s to the early 20th century. At first, there is the main character Dorothy, who symbolises Miss Everyman (Littlefield 1964: 52). She is one of us with a real problem like everyone could be confronted with. Dorothy is good, innocent and thinks naturally about others. In contrast, Rockoff (1990: 745) argues Dorothy stands for America itself. However, America probably emblematises Americans, which comes to the same thing as Miss Everyman. The Scarecrow symbolises the idealistic mid western farmers around Kansas (Littlefield 1964: 54). He joins Dorothy to receive a brain, but the story shows us that he is already clever (Baum 1900: 80). This is similar to the farmers who were told to believe in politicians and that they had not to concern about the political business (Rockoff 1990: 746). Additionally, Kansas is not chosen randomly. When the Populist movement began, it started in Kansas. According to Rockoff, the cyclone, which takes Dorothy away, is a symbol for the Populist movement (1990: 745). In my opinion, the cyclone symbolises the drought, that came over the mid western of America, that led to the Populist movement. Dorothy does not want to be in Oz but she has no choice. Being in Oz, her heart's desire is to return to Kansas.

Therefore she has to go to the Emerald City. This march might fit the symbol for the Populist movement better.

Dorothy and the Scarecrow, walking down the yellow brick road, meet the Tin Woodman standing in the same position for a year. Dorothy has to oil the hinges of Tin Woodman to free him (Baum 1900: 46). Once he was a human being but the evil Witch of the East had bewitched him so he turned into tin step by step. Tin Woodman symbolises simple workers who suffered from the industrial changes and the influence of the evil Eastern. Once they were honest labourers, independent artisans, but then they were "mere cog in a giant machine" (Rockoff 1990: 747). Moreover, the workers started rusting until they were not able to work anymore. With the great depression in 1893 the unemployment increased, represented as Tin Woodman not being able to move (Rockoff 1900: 743). Continuing the march down the road, the three fellows meet the Cowardly Lion. The Lion tries to reach for Tin Woodman with his claws but he can not hurt him because Tin Woodman consists of tin (Baum 1900: 55). The Lion symbolises William Jennings Bryan. In 1896 Bryan lost the Eastern worker's vote, "though he tried hard to gain their support"(Littlefield 1964: 53). However, Bryan was unsuccessful because the workers, Tin Woodman, were "often pressured into voting McKinley by their employers" (Littlefield 1964: 54). Thus, the Cowardly Lion joins the group to receive courage.

At this point it is necessary to explain why there are two good and two bad witches. The Witch of the North and the Witch of the South are the good witches, which is a reference to the North and the South of America in the late 19th century. Before Dorothy starts her adventure, the good Witch of the North kisses her forehead and a mark remains (Baum 1900: 22f). This mark symbolises the support of the North of America, where the Populism movement extended in the beginning, and moved on to the South. The bad Witch of the East and the bad Witch of the West refer to the industrial East and the West, Oregon and California, of America, who were Republican and voted for McKinley in 1896 (see below: Encyclopaedia 2016: 1).


Excerpt out of 12 pages


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a Political and Economic Allegory
University of Cologne
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literature, fiction, politics, economics, allegory, wizard of oz, fantasy, fantasy fiction, literary studies, anglistics
Quote paper
Sontje Neldner (Author), 2016, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a Political and Economic Allegory, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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