The Wizard of Oz, considered one of the greatest motion-pictures of all time, amazed people all over the country. The film, based on L. Frank Baum’s book the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, implemented many technological film advancements such as Technicolor. Technicolor is the name for a series of color film processes, widely used from 1922-1952. Released in 1939, the film won numerous awards including Best Song and Original score at the Academy Awards. There is a belief that Baum used the story as an allegory for politics and events during the late 1800, previous to its release. Different characters or places in the story would represent different real life people or events, but in order to understand that, knowledge of populism and the late 1800’s is required.
The belief of populism was used by the People’s Party (also known as the Populist Party). Formed after the Civil war, the populist failed to put someone in the White House. The populist belief is to appeal to the common in opposition to established interests. They had one nomination for the presidency, Thomas E. Watson, but they failed to achieve. Watson was a controversial populist who supported the Ku Klux Klan. The Populists were the first political party in the United States to actively include women in their affairs. Thomas E. Watson originally believed poor blacks and poor whites should put aside their racial differences in the name of self-economic self interest. Later after the Populist Party broke up, Watson became a white supremacist. The Populist Party dissolved after 1908.
Dorothy could be considered the average American. According to en.allexperts.com, they believe Dorothy represents Theodore Roosevelt because Dor-o-thy are the reverse of the syllables The-o-dore. This would not be a reasonable explanation for the representation for Dorothy. Dorothy is an average person, who gets lost and of course wants to return back home.
The tin man could be symbolized as one of the powerful corporate giants. Some examples could be John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, or J.P Morgan. John D. Rockefeller owned Standard Oil which was considered a monopoly, due to controlling almost all of that industry. Carnegie was into Steel, while J.P Morgan was wealth banker and financer. The wizard in the movie tells the tin man that from where he comes from there are heartless people who give their money away to charities “all day long”. John D. Rockefeller for example, was very wealthy. Today, when adjusted for inflation, his net worth would be around $392 billion to $663.4 billion. These huge corporation owners would be considered heartless because they destroy or buy out any competition to allow their company to vastly control the field that they are in. Since his first check Rockefeller would donate money to charity. He founded different charitable funds and 1901 he founded the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (later to be renamed Rockefeller University in 1965). In total Rockefeller gave away 550 million dollars of his fortune.
The movie took many different locations. The first place that was seen was Kansas. During this time Kansas was the center of the United States. In this time period, Kansas was a state of hardships and was plagued by tornadoes. Kansas was a rural area and was sparsely occupied. During the movie, Aunt Em tells Mrs. Gulch just because she owns half the county she doesn’t have to power to run everyone else. Kansas occupied by huge farms (plantations) like hers. The Emerald city could be a representation of a capital or authority. In Henry M. Littlefield’s The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism, Littlefield believes that the Emerald City could represent Washington DC. In the book Emerald City is not emerald, buy grey. The people see it all in green because they wear green glasses to give the illusion. This could be true because Washington DC is a place of authority and it is where the president resides. The Wizard of Oz which is the title character, can be considered someone with this high authority who lives within Emerald City.
The name Oz could be considered many things, but one interesting point is brought up by an anonymous author who wrote The Wizard of Oz- an Allegory… He believes that Oz is not a name but an abbreviation for ounce, a unit familiar to those who fought for a 16 to 1 ounce ratio of silver and gold in the name of bimetallism. This is a well brought up point, though it is more nonsense than an arguable representation.
In Littlefield’s Parable on Populism, the yellow brick road represents the gold standard. The monetary system in the United States in the late 1800’s was that paper money was redeemable for gold at a fixed exchange rate. Gold certificates were used as a currency that could be exchanged for gold coins from 1882-1933. Populists regarded the gold standard as unfair and wanted to use bimetallism which was the use of both silver and gold as the monetary standard. This could be a good representation of the yellow brick road. The ending of the yellow brick road in the capital, Emerald City, could represent the ending of Gold Certificates when the US government ended it in 1928.
The good and bad witches could be the politicians of the late 1800’s. The good witches could be the uncorrupted politicians, while the bad witches could be the corrupt politicians such as Tweed ring in New York City. William M. Tweed was a corrupt leader who stole over 200 million dollars from New York taxpayers through political corruption. The New York Times found evidence in 1871 that found him guilty of corruption. He offered 5 million dollars for the Times not to publish it by they went ahead and did it anyway. He died behind bars in seven years later. In the late 1800’s most of the authority was run by corrupt politicians, even Grant’s cabinet was corrupt. Scandals such as the Credit Mobilier scandal tarred the easy going grant. In the Wizard of Oz, the bad witches ruled most of Oz. During the late 1800’s most politicians were corrupt. Grant, the president, had a cabinet was full of corrupt politicians. The good witches could represent some of the other politicians without corruption.
The Scarecrow could represent the farmers in the late 1800’s. They were considered unintelligent. The farmers of the Midwest were actually getting poorer while the rest of the United States was getting richer. Wikipedia proclaims that those who interpret Wizard of Oz as a political allegory often see the Scarecrow, a central figure, as a reflection of the popular image of the American farmer-although he has been persuaded that he is only a dumb hick, he possesses a strong common sense, remarkable insight and quick-wittedness that needs only to be reinforced by self confidence.
The Lion, according to Littlefield’s Parable on populism, represents William Jennings Bryan, who made the first of three unsuccessful bids for the presidency in the election of 1896. The book would make more sense of this thought, but in the movie the lion could represent industry leaders as well because they ran down competition in fear that someone else can become a threat to a company. They may seem ruthless and cold-hearted, but they actually might be running down their competition because the fear that they can become a threat to their company.
Dogs and Monkeys were used in political cartoons in the late 1800’s. Monkeys were used to make fun of politicians. According to Wikipedia, the winged monkeys could represent the Chinese workers on the cross country railroad project. They came from the west therefore are minions of the wicked Witch of the West, linking the manufacturing East to the raw products in the West. This representation could be true because the Chinese had to work on the railroad with very low pay. Dogs in political cartoons are used to represent politicians or parties. En.allexperts.com believes that Toto is a play on the word Teetotaler. Teetotaler means the complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages. So this would not be a good representation of Toto. Toto could represent followers who follow others like sheep. Toto played a huge role in the film because if he didn’t bite Mrs. Gulch, Dorothy wouldn’t have run away and so on. Toto was put in the story to follow Dorothy to amuse the readers and probably has no political meaning or allegory.
The munchkins were ruled by the witch of the east. The munchkins could be considered ordinary citizens. They can’t do anything to stop their corrupt leader (the witch) because they don’t have a voice. Without Dorothy they would have still been ruled under her. If the New York Times (Dorothy) didn’t find the evidence against Tweed (the witch), the munchkins (taxpayers of New York) would still be robbed from.
The Ruby Slippers were given to Dorothy after her house fell on top of the witch governing Munchkin land. In the book the Ruby slippers are actually silver. The ruby slippers were picked to be in the film to take advantage of the new Technicolor technology. The slippers would be the silver standard if this was representing the book. Though this is based on the movie, the ruby slippers would signify railroad cars. The yellow brick road could signify railways because in a sense it links Munchkin land and the Emerald city and to get to emerald city, Dorothy walks with the slippers. The witch in a sense could be train robbers because she wants the slippers.
In conclusion, populism was an idea that failed to reach out to people. The belief that political allegory could be in the Wizard of Oz is true. Dorothy represents American People, just as the witches are good and corrupt leaders. Different characters mean different real life people or scenarios.
Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Bailey.
The American Pageant: A History of the Republic. 12th
ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Henry Littlefield, “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism,” American Quarterly 16 (Spring, 1964), p. 53.