Symbolism of the ‘Wizard of Oz’

Symbolism of the ‘Wizard of Oz’
Practically everyone has either seen or heard The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy story. The Wizard of Oz over the years has become one of the truly classic movies among children and adults alike. If you have not read the book or seen the movie, you have probably at least heard the well known phrase “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” or heard of Toto, Dorothy’s dog.

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It tells the story of a young girl who ends up in a tornado and gets carried from her Kansas farm home to a land that is not like anything she has seen ever before. After Dorothy’s house falls on and kills the Wicked Witch in Munchkin Land, Dorothy is welcomed to her new land by the Munchkins. The nice witch Glinda then explains to Dorothy that to find out about getting back home she needs to follow the yellow brick road and ask the Wizard of Oz. Along her way down the yellow brick road Dorothy meets some new friends who all have something they want to ask the great wizard. However, when they finally get to the Emerald City and meet the wizard, they discover he is just a fraud and that everything they had been searching for they can find within themselves.

Whatever you may have seen or heard from the classic book or movie, what most people don’t know is that it is suspected that The Wizard of Oz referenced several late 1800 political issues. Speculation began in the 1960s with a history teacher of parallels between the novel and U.S. history. Henry Littlefield used the movie in his lecture and had students of his help to find the parallels between real life and the movie. The parallels were published in 1964 in American Quarterly and sparked years worth of debate.

Whether any of these speculations are true or not, none of us know for sure. However here are some of the symbols that have been suggested for The Wizard of Oz.

The Symbolism

Dorothy: it is believed that Dorothy represents American values or people. She proves to be loyal, resourceful and determined. Another speculation was that she represents the U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. Some people put more faith in this theory more than the other one due to similarnames (The-o-dore and Dor-o-thy).

Toto: a small dog that seems to go unnoticed, it is Toto who reveals what a fraud the Wizard is. It is thought that Toto also represents average Americans.

Uncle Henry: Henry Cantwell Wallace was a well known farmer and editor for a leading farm magazine in the late 1800s. He was called Uncle Henry by most everyone.

Cyclone: it is thought that the tornado represents the free silver movement or political upheaval. During the time that the story was written, American farmers were suffering from the effects of federal deflation. Their debts were growing larger as they were getting less money for their crops and other goods. The farmers wanted the dollar value to have fixed ratios of both gold and silver. Some politicians supported this movement and others didn’t.

Munchkins: The little people, the munchkins, are said to represent the common people or ordinary U.S. citizens. The Lollipop Guild is seen as representing child labor.

Silver Slippers: In the novel, Dorothy’s slippers are silver and not ruby. Silver is related to the monetary political issues of the time where farmers want to have the dollar’s value to have fixed ratios for both silver and gold. Another speculation is that the silver slippers are a representation of the power to vote.

Yellow Brick Gold: is a representation of the gold standard, with the gold road leading to power.

Oz: an abbreviation that stands for gold, a hot political topic of the day where people were rallying for fixed gold and silver ratios.

Tin Woodman: is a representation of industrial workers who often experienced being dehumanized. The Tin Man was immobile and rusted, which is something many factory workers felt when many businesses began to shut down due to a national depression. They felt helpless after they lost their jobs.

Scarecrow: represents western farmers. He complained about not having a brain but wound up as the most adept problem solver among the four travelers.

Cowardly Lion: In the late 1800s William Jennings Bryan, a politician, was a supporter of the free silver movement. It is said that the Cowardly Lion represents Bryan, who was viewed as someone having a load roar, but no power or bite.

Wicked Witch of the West and East: The Wicked Witch of the East represents eastern business and the Wicked Witch of the West represents the politician William McKinley who defeated Williams Jennings Bryant during the time of the free silver silver movement.

Good Witch of the South and North. The Good Witch of the North represents northern workers, and the Good Witch of the South represents southern farmers. This provides a contrast between wicked industrialists from the west with the railroad moguls in the west.

Flying Monkeys: in political cartoons flying monkeys are used for poking fun at politicians. Another speculation is they represent Native Americans. Dorothy and friends are told when they meet up with the monkeys that they were once a free people who happily lived in the forest where they flew from tree to tree eating fruit and nuts and doing whatever they pleased without having to call anyone master. This was years before Oz appeared from the clouds to rule over the land. This appears to relate well with the fate of Native Americans who had been forced from their land by Americans migrating from the east.

Emerald Palace and Emerald City: the Emerald Palace is believed to represent the White House and the Emerald City to represent Washington D.C.

Wizard: it is thought that the Wizard of Oz represents Mark Hanna, who was the Republican party’s chairman, or perhaps president of the United States. In the book, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy all saw the Wizard quite differently. This symbolizes the cynicism that exists in politics due to the fact that politicians tend to change face with different people.

By Julie Harmon On September 7, 2009

All photos made available via creative commons licensing courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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