For my final unit paper of the semester, I was asked to write an annotated bibliography on a topic of my choice. Overwhelmed with relief that I would get to ramble on about my favorite book and it be counted for my exam grade I excitedly began working on my paper that ended up being over 1500 words long. Grateful for the constructed criticism from my classmates, especially Haylee Carpenter, Racheal Rosemass, and Seth Davis, and my professor, I now present my final draft.
Symbolism, Economics, and Politics Oh My!
The mind-numbing sound of my AP US history teacher flipping through PowerPoint slides was only a few clicks away from putting me in a comatose state, until I heard the fragment of a sentence including the words “the wizard of oz”. Jerking upright in my seat, I honed into Mr. Dickson’s words as he proceeded to spout the similarities and symbolism of the Gilded Age to that of my favorite novel.
Reading the numerous amounts of footnotes in my personal copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz gave me an inside look into the author L. Frank Baum’s writing inspiration. From the blue-and-white check of Dorothy’s gingham dress, to the name of her cherished dog Toto, I was entranced by the detail that Baum put into his writing. Now seen in a different historical perspective, I fell in love with the idea of a possible allegory and have since then never been able to forget.
Be it merely coincidental, or simply analyzed too deeply, the thought of a correlation between my favorite book and a crucial time in American history has encouraged me to find inspiration for my own writing in all that is around me.
The succeeding bibliographies elaborate to an extensive detail of the examples of symbolism, or lack thereof, in the novel. My third source, written by Quintin Taylor, simplifies the extensively written prose which originally hinted at the idea of an allegory proposed by Hugh Rockoff. To avoid redundancy, I mentioned the parts of the book that Taylor did not include in his recount of Rockoff’s idea. On the other hand, Bradley Hansen disputes against Rockoff’s claim and then proceeds to expose many allegations with more seemingly logical explanations.
Hansen, Bradley A. “The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard Of Oz in Economics.” Journal Of Economic Education 33.3 (2002): 254-264. Business Source Premier. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Openly questioning the credibility of Hugh Rockoff, Bradley Hansen writes of his speculation toward the relation between the beloved children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, and the implication of an allegory. Published in 1900, The Wizard of Oz unknowingly illustrated the lives of many Americans living in the Midwest. Unknowingly given that few were able to recognize the seemingly obvious similarities from the reality of those in the Midwest and of those in Baum’s fictional Kansas and Oz.
Primarily what faulted Rockoff’s claim of political ties was the fact that Baum never out rightly stated his political status. In addition, he never left a diary or personal letter specifically linking his book with support to the Populist Party. He began writing TWWOO shortly after his move to Dakota, which then was not under the influence of the populists. Furthermore, none of Baum’s other books were found to have parallels in relation to the government. While in Dakota, Baum also wrote editorials in which he supported the republican party including his poem submitted in 1896 where he wrote of the excited anticipation for McKinley to lead the nation—clearly not in line with the populist ideology.
Aside from Baum’s personal life, looking more into the book solidifies Hansen’s opposition toward the alleged allegory. At the end of the novel, all the main characters do not support a democracy, but a monarchy. The Scarecrow takes the place of Oz in ruling over Emerald City, the Tin Man rules over the Winkies, the Lion over the forest, and in the later four novels, Dorothy is a princess. This then suggests that Oz was not supposed to represent America, but an unattainable utopia—a mocking of the Populist Party’s dogma. Finally, the seemingly unopposable argument of the importance of color and numbers in Rockoff’s “Monetary Allegory” too has a riposte. During the time of the 1900’s printing in color became a new fashion, one for only those who could afford it. In the original printings of the novel, the illustrator W. W. Denslow expressed the importance of the upcoming trend of printing images in color—not only to keep up with the times, but also to appeal to the desired audience, the color and use of specific numbers were used to enchant the minds of Baum’s young readers.
Rockoff, Hugh. “The `Wizard Of Oz’ as a Monetary Allegory.” Journal of Political Economy 98.4 (1990): 739. Business Source Premier. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Written mostly in 1899, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz highlighted the rising triumph of the Populist Party. The original title “From Kansas to Fairy Land” could have represented the expedition of the Populist Party from the small Omaha platform of the Midwest to Washington D.C. The rarely mentioned Wicked Witch of the South is to represent, obviously, the south. Seemingly separate from the gold standard crisis, the southern part of the United States could plainly see the rift caused by the silver versus gold. Similarly, only the Wicked Witch of the South knew the true powers that Dorothy’s silver shoes possessed.
Taylor, Quentin P. “Money and Politics in the Land Of Oz.” Independent Review 9.3 (2005): 413-426. Business Source Premier. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Referred to as, “The Parable of Populism”, L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has thus far been found to have staggering similarities in that of the Land of Oz and that of the Land of the Free. Published in 1900, TWWOO was read during the climb of popularity for the Populist Party. Leading the underdog of the populists, was the flamboyant William Jennings Bryan, who was then beaten by the later (President) McKinley in election of 1900.
The novel begins as the drought-wrought land of Kansas is being swept across by a “twista!” The first couple of paragraphs alone are full of symbolism. The people of “real” Kansas in the 1900’s were all farmers; farmers were known as the common man. Mary E. Lease dubbed the Populist Party take-over of the mid-west the “Kansas Cyclone”. After being swept away by the tornado, Dorothy, and her house, literally landed themselves in the Land of Oz. Fortunately for the Munchkins their ruler, the Wicked Witch of the East, was the landing ground. The Wicked Witch of the East enslaved the Munchkins who were portrayed as people of small stature and could thus be thought of as “the little people” otherwise known as the common man. Dorothy’s house also plays a key role into the fact that the industry that built the house also runs the bank, which could just as easily take away one’s humble Kansas abode.
The common man of the United States sided with the Populist Party during the debate of the time for the country—the gold standard. Wanting to coin the more accessible silver, the poor argued with the bourgeoisie, traditional gold-favoring rich. The Witch of the North (notice the absence of the word wicked) appears dressed in white. Notably, silver’s nickname is white metal. Dorothy then embarks on her journey to the Emerald City, in her silver shoes, on the yellow brick road. She meets the lonely Scarecrow who claims he is without brains and hopes the wizard will give him some—the common man, the stupid man, the scarecrow. William Peffer and Jerry Simpson were a couple real-life examples of those “simple minded” members of the Populist Party. Dorothy continues her walk along the yellow brick road and encounters the rusted tin man who accidentally cut off his limbs while working. The Wicked Witch of the East replaced those limbs that he lost with tin until finally he was forgotten and left out to be rusted and immobile. The Tin Man was a working man, who was slowly replaced by an industry akin to those jobs that replaced working men with machines in the United States. The Tin Man’s desire for a heart mirrors the Populists’ cries to be used again. Again, William Jennings Brian is brought into the spotlight as his character is shown through the Cowardly Lion. Though Brian was said to give animated speeches that held promise, when he lost the election to McKinley, the fire that drove the Populist Party quickly burned out such as the Lion’s intimidating roar and his petrified reaction to Toto.
Finally arriving in Oz, which “coincidentally” is also the abbreviation for ounces, how gold and silver are measured, the symbolic arrival is alike to the desire for establishment of the Populist Party in Washington D.C. Known as the Gilded Age, the presidents of that time all contributed their character to the illusion that is the Wizard of Oz. Like all politicians, the wizard refused to grant Dorothy and her friends their wishes until they offered something for him in return. “Killing” the Wicked Witch of the West with water was essential in the comparison of saving Oz (Kansas) from turmoil (drought). Successfully accomplishing the elusive Wizard’s task, it is then revealed that he is nothing more than a fraud who was a “full of hot air” circus balloonist. The color of the patches on the Wizard’s ratty balloon is green. Also green was the “courage” he bestowed upon the Lion. Green, like the paper money that was fleeting, was nothing more than a placebo. The combination of the gold and silver throughout the novel seen in Dorothy’s silver shoes on the gold path, and the new gold and silver ax given to the Tin Man lead evidence to show that an argument was not what the book was trying to portray.