The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism Essay
Proceeding down the road, the duo encounter the Tin Woodman. Once healthy and productive, the Woodman was cursed by the wicked Witch of the East, lost his dexterity, and accidentally hacked off his limbs. Each lost appendage was replaced with tin until the Woodman was made entirely of metal. In essence, the Witch of the East (big business) reduced the Woodman to a machine, a dehumanized worker who no longer feels, who has no heart. As such, the Tin Man represents the nation's workers, in particular the industrial workers with whom the Populists hoped to make common cause. His rusted condition parallels the prostrated condition of labor during the depression of 1890s; like many workers of that period, the Tin Man is unemployed. Yet, with a few drops of oil, he is able to resume his customary labors-a remedy akin to the "pump-priming" measures that Populists advocated.
Having liberated the Tin Man, the trio proceeds through the forest, only to be accosted by a roaring lion. He is none other than William Jennings Bryan, the Nebraska representative in Congress and later the Democratic presidential candidate in 1896 and 1900. Bryan (which rhymes with "lion," a near homonym of "lying") was known for his "roaring" rhetoric and was occasionally portrayed in the press as a lion, as was the Populist Party itself. Bryan adopted the free-silver mantra and won the Populists' support in his first race against McKinley. Like the Lion of Oz, Bryan was the last to "join" the party. His defeat in the general election was largely owing to his failure to win the support of eastern workers, just as the Lion's claws "could make no impression" on the Tin Man.
Although Bryan's supporters considered him courageous, his critics thought him "cowardly" for opposing war with Spain in 1898 and the subsequent annexation of the Philippines. Yet, for anti-imperialists, who counted many Populists among their ranks, Bryan's unpopular stand was courageous indeed. Less courageous, however, were his final decision to vote for annexation (albeit as a tactical move) and his failure to fight vigorously for free silver in the election of 1900, both of which disappointed Populists.
Still, the Lion, without knowing that he possesses courage, really does. Near the end of the story, he slays a spiderlike monster that is terrorizing the animals of the forest. The predatory beast symbolizes the great trusts and corporations that were thought to dominate economic life at the turn of the century. Cast as the chief villains in the Populist drama, the trusts were often portrayed as "monsters" of one kind or another. "Sockless" Jerry Simpson called the railroads a "giant spider that controlled our commerce and transportation" (qtd. in Clanton 1991, 51), and the author of , the leading free-silver tract of the 1890s, represented the Rothschild money trust as an octopus. Baum himself used the monopoly-as-octopus metaphor in a number of later works, including a specific reference to the Standard Oil Company. Breaking up the trusts and nationalizing the railroads were key components of the Populist agenda, and Bryan favored trust busting if not outright nationalization. Accordingly, the Lion attacks and kills the great beast by knocking off its head. Freed from the eight-legged monster, the grateful forest dwellers vow fealty to the conquering Lion. Would not the Populists have done likewise if Bryan had defeated McKinley and, presumably, slain the trusts?
Of Mice and Monkeys
Another scrape with a menacing beast recapitulates the metaphor. When a "great yellow Wildcat" lights upon the Queen of the Field Mice, the Tin Man decapitates the feral feline with a single swing of his ax. For delivering the Queen from her "enemy," the mice pledge obedience to the Tin Man. Their first act of service is to rescue the Lion from the "deadly poppy fields," where the powerful scent of the flowers has felled the king of beasts.
The diminutive rodents represent the common people, and the "yellow" cat is yet another reference to the malign power of gold. By killing the Wildcat, the Tin Man symbolically slays a chief "enemy" of the people. The timely support of the mice parallels the importance of the common folk in Bryan's bid for the presidency.
The Winged Monkeys, the unwilling minions of the Witch of the West, add a further dimension to the allegory. These creatures represent the Plains Indians. As the Monkeys' leader relates, "we were a free people, living happily in the great forest flying from tree to tree, eating nuts and fruit, and doing just as we pleased without calling anybody master." The Monkey King admits to having engaged in a degree of "mischief," but nothing to justify the harsh treatment the Monkeys received when "Oz came out of the clouds to rule over this land." The Monkeys were initially sequestered, a reference to the government's reservation policy. Later, they are forced to do the bidding of the Western Witch, who commands them with the golden cap. Yet the Monkeys are not inherently bad; they have become so only through an unnatural and evil force. This scenario parallels the view of reformers who blamed the Indians' condition on the whites' inhumane practices. Under Dorothy's benevolent influence, the Monkeys are kind and helpful-that is to say, "assimulated."
Chinatown and the Yellow Winkies
On the journey to find Glinda, the good Witch of the South, Dorothy and company pass through Dainty China Country, which they enter by climbing over a high white wall. China and its Great Wall are the obvious references. But what does China have to do with Gilded Age politics? First, China was in the process of being divided by the great powers (including the United States) into "spheres of influence" for the purpose of commercial exploitation. In 1899 and 1900, Secretary of State John Hay issued the famous "Open Door" notes in an effort to prevent rival nations from gaining "unfair" economic advantages in China. Second, the Celestial Kingdom was the only major nation still on the silver standard. It is apt, then, that Dainty China Country's wall and floor are white, the color of silver bullion. Third, the Lion's careless destruction of the china church echoes the territorial "breakup" of China by foreign intruders and the active proselytizing by Christian missionaries. Finally, the china Princess, who rejects Dorothy's invitation to visit Kansas, resembles the dowager empress, who strongly opposed the foreign presence in China. The last two parallels recall the antiimperialism that Bryan and others championed.
Another anti-imperialist theme appears in the form of the Winkies, called "yellow" because they reside in the Land of the West. The Winkies, who are forced to work for the Witch of the West, represent the "yellow man" of Asia, especially the Chinese immigrants and the native Filipinos. For decades, the Chinese had immigrated to the Far West to labor in various capacities. Given their "exotic" appearance, clannish habits, and willingness to work for low wages, they were often the targets of abuse, discrimination, and even murder. Under pressure from the authorities in California, Congress passed the Exclusion Act (1882), which banned Chinese immigration for twenty years.
The Winkies also resemble the Filipinos, who, after their country's annexation by the United States, found themselves (once more) subjected to a Western power. Demands for independence were denied on the grounds that the Filipino people were "unfit" for self-government. The assumption that the United States knew what was best for the natives was satirized in Baum's original script of the stage version of , where the Scarecrow remarks, "It isn't the people who live in a country who know the most about it. . . . Look at the Filipinos. Everybody knows more about their country than they do" (qtd. in Dighe 2002, 93).
Oz, Emerald City, and the Wacky Wizard
The Land of Oz, with its varied landscape and diverse inhabitants, is a microcosm of America, and Emerald City, its center and seat of government, represents Washington, D.C. In an effort to be made whole, Dorothy and her band travel to the capital to see the Wizard, who presumably has the power to grant them their wishes. The journey to Emerald City corresponds to the Populist effort to acquire power in Washington, and the travelers recall the "industrial armies" who marched on the capital during the depression of 1893-97. The most famous of these, "Coxey's Army," was led by a successful businessman who urged the government to fund public-works programs (most notably a "good roads bill") to alleviate unemployment. Coxey, who hoped to meet with President Cleveland, was arrested for trespassing, and his proposals were ignored. Dorothy and company also face hazards on the road to Emerald City and are turned away by the Wizard, who shows little sympathy for their plight.
The Wizard, who "can take on any form he wishes," represents the protean politicians of the era, especially the presidents of the Gilded Age. Given the even division of Democrats and Republicans, and the razor-thin majorities of most presidential elections, candidates rarely took clear stands on the issues. As a result, voters often had difficulty in determining what the candidates stood for. The Wizard fits this description, for "who the real Oz is," Dorothy is informed, "no living person can tell." Indeed, when the foursome enter the throne room, the Wizard appears to each in a different form. Like many politicians, he is unwillingly to help them without a quid pro quo: "I never grant favors without some return."
Politicians are also infamous for failing to keep promises, and the great Oz is no different. When Dorothy's party returns after killing the Witch of the West, the Wizard keeps them waiting, then puts them off. By accident, the all-powerful Wizard is exposed and his true identify revealed. Far from a mighty magician, "Oz, the Terrible" is merely a "humbug," a wizened old man whose "power" is achieved through elaborate acts of deception. The Wizard is simply a manipulative politician who appears to the people in one form, but works behind the scenes to achieve his true ends. Such figures are terrified at being exposed; the Wizard cautions Dorothy to lower her voice lest he be discovered and "ruined."
As it turns out, the Wizard hails from Omaha, where he became a talented ventriloquist and later a circus balloonist. Bryan was from Nebraska, was famous for his "hot-air" oratory, and in the minds of his critics was something like a circus ringmaster. Nebraska was also a bastion of Populism, and Omaha the site of the 1892 Populist National Convention, where the party adopted the "Omaha platform," the movement's leading manifesto. Following the party's convention of the previous year, , a popular magazine, parodied the Populists on its cover, which depicted a hotair balloon made of patches that bear the names of the groups and parties that had rallied to the Populist standard: Knights of Labor, Prohibition Party, Socialists, Farmers Alliance, and so forth. In the balloon's basket are caricatures of Populist leaders, preaching the "Platform of Lunacy."
Identification of the Wizard with Bryan would seem to raise an obvious problem. Is he represented by the Lion the Wizard? Bryan was never president, but he was a masterful politician and an aspirant to the White House. In conjunction with references to Omaha, ventriloquism, and the balloon, the link between Bryan and the Wizard is a reasonable inference. Just as some of Baum's metaphors serve as a composite, the Lion and the Wizard represent different aspects of Bryan.
The Colors of Money
The Land of Oz is colorful, to say the least, and is replete with references to gold, silver, and green. A number of these references have been noted already, but the story makes several others. The references to gold and silver echo the prominence of monetary politics in the 1890s, especially the bimetallic crusade led by Bryan and the Populists. Moreover, gold and silver are often portrayed as working in combination. The Witch of the West conjures her minions with a silver whistle and a golden cap, and the Tin Man receives a new ax made of gold and silver, as well as a new oil can that contains both metals. Of course, there is Dorothy on her sojourn through Oz, "her silver shoes tinkling merrily on the hard, yellow, roadbed." The word itself is the abbreviation for an ounce of gold or silver. There are additional references to gold and silver, but the ones given here amply illustrate Baum's use of the monetary metaphor.
Green, often in combination with gold, is also a recurrent image. Then as now, green was the color of paper money. The Greenback Party, a precursor of the Populists, advocated the expansion of the money supply via the increased circulation of "greenbacks." Jacob Coxey was a greenbacker, as was James B. Weaver, the Populist presidential nominee in 1892. Most of the green imagery in Oz is general in nature and does not appear to indicate specific parallels. Toto wears a green collar that fades to white (silver), and later he receives a gold collar, as does the Lion. In Emerald City, everyone is required to wear green glasses with golden bands, so that nearly everything appears in a resplendent green. The Lion's liquid "courage" is poured from a green bottle into a gold-green dish, and the Wizard's balloon is patched with green silk of various shades. As the spectacles create an illusion, the liquid courage is only a placebo, and the balloon is a mere patchwork, so the demand for paper money is exposed as a panacea for the farmers' woes.
At the end of the story, the Scarecrow supplants the Wizard as the ruler of Emerald City, the Tin Woodman is made master of the West, and the Lion is placed over the animals of the forest. Dorothy transports herself back to Kansas by clicking her silver shoes together three times. All this is achieved with the help of Glinda, the good Witch of the South. The message? Populism is triumphant, the goal of gaining political power is achieved. Or is it? Neither the Scarecrow nor the Tin Man nor the Lion truly lacked what each believed he was missing; the great Wizard's powers proved illusory; and Dorothy had the power to transform her condition all along. These features of the story point to a more ambivalent result. Indeed, Populism's outright failure is suggested when Dorothy's silver shoes fall off in the desert and are "lost forever." After Bryan's defeat in 1896, the free-silver movement went into rapid decline. McKinley's reelection and the statutory adoption of the gold standard in 1900 spelled political oblivion for the Populists.
Critics of the allegorical reading of have made much of the discovery that L. Frank Baum was not a Democrat or a Bryan supporter. In itself, however, this discovery proves nothing. At most, it suggests that is not a -Populist parable, something quite different from the claim that there is "no evidence that Baum's story is in any way a Populist allegory," as Hearn (1992) argued. The originator of the allegorical interpretation characterized as a "critique" of Populism, not a defense. The assertion that there is "no evidence" of an allegorical subtext is simply myopic in the extreme. As the foregoing reconstruction shows, the evidence from the text is overwhelming, and, in light of Baum's political background, trickster personality, and subsequent work, it is all but conclusive: is a deliberate work of political symbolism.
Again, this conclusion does not require that each correspondence I have cited was intended allegorically or represents Baum's precise intention. Nor does it imply that each symbolic reference has a specific correlate; often the metaphors and analogies are merely suggestive. Conversely, the presence of "inconsistencies" and the absence of an obvious moral in no way diminish the reality of the symbolism.
is clearly neither a -Populist parable nor an -Populist parable. Strictly speaking, it is not a parable at all if parable is defined as a story with a didactic purpose. Baum aimed not to teach but to entertain, not to lecture but to amuse. Therefore, the tale is best viewed as a symbolic and satirical representation of the Populist movement and the politics of the age, as well as a children's story. Quite simply, operates on two levels, one literal and puerile, the other symbolic and political. Its capacity to fascinate on both levels testifies to its remarkable author's wit and ingenuity.
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Clanton, Gene. 1991. . Boston: Twayne.
Dighe, Ranjit, ed. 2002. he Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
Gardner, Martin, and Russel B. Nye. 1957. . East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
Gessel, Michael. 1992. Tale of a Parable. (spring): 19-23.
Hearn, Michael Patrick. 1992. "Oz" Author Never Championed Populism. , January 10.
Koupal, Nancy Tystad. 1989. The Wonderful Wizard of the West: L. Frank Baum in South Dakota, 1888-91. 9: 203-15.
---. 2001. Add a Pinch of Biography and Mix Well: Seasoning the Allegory Theory with History. 31: 153-62.
Littlefield, Henry M. 1964. The Wizard of Oz: Parable of Populism. 16: 47-58.
---. 1992. "Oz" Author Kept Intentions to Himself. , February 7.
Moyer, David. 1998. Oz in the News. (winter): 46.
Parker, David B. 1994. The Rise and Fall of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a "Parable on Populism." 15: 49-63.
Rockoff, Hugh. 1990. The "Wizard of Oz" as a Monetary Allegory. 98: 739-60.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
8. Littlefield, "Parable on Populism," 58. For a brief discussion of how he came to write the essay, see Henry M. Littlefield, "The Wizard of Allegory," 36 (Spring 1992):24-25. The Baum Bugle is published by the International Wizard of Oz Club.