Ever since its publication in 1900 Lyman Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been immensely popular, providing the basis for a profitable musical comedy, three movies, and a number of plays. It is an indigenous creation, curiously warm and touching, although no one really knows why.
Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz include treatments of the modern fairy tale as an allegory or metaphor for the political, economic and social events of America of the 1890s.
In a 1964 article, high school teacher Henry Littlefield outlined an allegory in the book regarding monetary policy. According to this view, for instance, the "Yellow Brick Road" represents the gold standard, and the silver slippers (ruby in the film version) represent the Populist Party's desire to construct a bimetallic standard of both gold and silver in its place.
Dorothy learns that to return home, she must reach the Emerald City, Oz's political center, to speak to the Wizard, representing the President of the United States. While journeying to the Emerald City, she encounters a scarecrow, who represents a farmer; a woodman made of tin, who represents a worker dehumanized by industrialization; and a cowardly lion, who represents William Jennings Bryan, a prominent leader of the Silverite movement. The villains of the story, the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wicked Witch of the East, represent the wealthy railroad and oil barons of the American West and the financial and banking interests of the eastern U.S. respectively.
Baum did not offer any conclusive proof that he intended his novel to be a political allegory and Historian Ranjit S. Dighe wrote that for sixty years after the book's publication, "virtually nobody" had such an interpretation. None-the less the comparisons are compelling.
Do you think Baum's portrayal of the Populists was positive or negative? Why?
What modern day movies could be used as allegories?
Why do you think The Wizard of Oz lives on in Popular culture? What about the story appeals to new and old generations?
Still not convinced? Watch The Secret of Oz for more on the symbolism.
The Dark Side of the Rainbow launched a whole new craze based on the movie. Coincidence, Apophenia, or Synchronicity?
Wonder which character of Oz you are? Take the quiz.