Some Interpretations of
W.W. Denslow's depiction of Dorothy & friends
MGM's depiction of Dorothy & friends
Most Oz fans would probably agree that L.Frank Baum's book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900,
and MGM's 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz represent, respectively, one of the best examples of children's literature and one of the most beloved
movies of all time. However, since their conception, much theory and criticism has evolved surrounding both of these works. This page is intended
to expand your knowledge of what might come to mind when you think of The Wizard of Oz. My goal is to expose you to other individual's
interpretations and to help you gain more insight into the incredible World of Oz.
Some of the information that follows is the result of certain individual's scholarly research, while some of it is nothing more than just plain, old "opinion".
In all cases, however, I am citing the source of the information. The reason for doing this is twofold. First, of course, is to give credit
to those individuals who conducted the research or formulated the idea. Second, is to allow you the opportunity to obtain these sources if you
would like to learn more.
As I stated earlier, much has been written about The Wizard of Oz over the years. Therefore, I am only commenting briefly on a few of the
interpretations that I came across. In my opinion, these are the ones which I consider to be the most interesting. In addition, I am including a bibliography at the end
of this page containing more sources for you to check out.
Do you have a personal theory, criticism, interpretation or anecdote about The Wizard of Oz? If so, I would love to hear about it. Please
send me email.
Parable on Populism:
This is probably one of the most popular and controversial interpretations of Baum's, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This
theory belongs to Henry M. Littlefield who in 1963 used Baum's book to educate his class of History students about the turn-of-the-century Populist Movement.
Littlefield alleged that Baum used to march in torch-light parades for William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Littlefield
states that when Baum went on to write his classic fairytale in 1900 he dressed it up as a Populist allegory. Littlefield makes the following
comparisons between Baum's book and the Populist Movement: the stark opening of the book depicts the rural worker's despair and blasted hopes;
the Wicked Witch of the East, who kept the Munchkins in bondage, stands for Eastern financial interests; Dorothy stands for everyman, ie. a naive and innocent citizen; the Tin Woodman represents dehumanized
machine-like labor in the factories; the Scarecrow represents the farmers; the Cowardly Lion represents William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic/Populist candidate
with lots of roar, but not much accomplished; the Wizard of Oz represents William McKinley, the Republican president who upheld the gold standard; the Emerald City
represents the national capital; the Silver Shoes were the silver standard; and the Yellow Brick Road was the gold standard; and Oz is the
popular abbreviation for how gold is measured.
- SOURCE: Littlefield, Henry M. The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism, pp. 221-233. From The Wizard of Oz by L.Frank Baum, edited by
Michael Patrick Hearn, New York : Schocken Books, 1983.
The Wizard of Oz in American Popular Culture:
This interpretation was actually conceived as a Doctoral Dissertation by Neil Earle, but was later published as a book.
This book consists of seven chapters. In the introduction, Earle describes his intentions as follows: "To answer the question as to why a fairy tale
has lingered so long and so lovingly in the minds of generations of Americans and has cast such a spell across the popular arts necessitates
this broad-based approach. This explains my analysis in Chapter Two. Chapters Three and Four aim to provide a fresh commentary upon the
original text informed by theories derived from both popular and archetypal studies. Chapter Five analyzes the 1939 film and its significance.
Chapter Six attempts to do the same for the all-black 1978 musical film The Wiz. Chapter Seven will try to summarize how Baum's classic
helps define popular culture and its critical parameters. Fortunately, this historical and literary journey along the "Yellow Brick Road" has a
neat and timely starting point: the year 1900. It is to that period of history we will have to first turn to place the events that were shaping
not just the Gale farm in Kansas but also the larger American scene. Before all of this, however, I want to recall earlier, ingenious attempts
to unravel the Baumian world. The analysis of these interpretations takes us to Chapter One."
- SOURCE: Earle, Neil. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in American Popular Culture : Uneasy in Eden, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.
Analogy between the Yellow Brick Road and the Information Superhighway:
This interpretation by Oscar H. Gandy sort of picks up where Littlefield's theory left off. In this article, the story of
Oz as the underlying metaphoric hook concerning information technology and the Information Age it portends is presented. Gandy suggests
the following in his article: "Whatever else we know about Baum's wonderful tale, it is clearly a story about illusion, deception, and sleight of
hand. It is my contention that much of what we think about the Information Age, and the information superhighway that is supposed to take
us there, has been heavily influenced by similar forms of craft. And further, I suggest that these illusions serve the same kinds of instrumental
purposes in political economy as they do in popular fiction."
- SOURCE: Gandy, Oscar H. "The Information Superhighway as the Yellow Brick Road", National Forum: Phi Kappa Phi Journal, v.74:2, Spring 1994,
The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth:
This interpretation by Paul Nathanson was also first conceived as a Doctoral Dissertation but later made available to
the public as a book. According to the abstract from Dissertation Abstracts Nathanson's interpretation of The Wizard of Oz as a
secular myth can be described as follows: "Formal and cultural analyses of The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) indicate that
Dorothy's passage from Kansas through Oz and back to Kansas symbolically recapitulates paradigmatic stories of both America (the nation's
passage from utopian origin, through history, to utopian destiny) and Christianity (the cosmic passage from paradisian origin, through history,
to paradisian destiny). In order to "go home" (the explicit theme), Dorothy must "grow up" (the implicit theme); this link is also paralleled
symbolically at both national and cosmic levels. Resonating profoundly with the collective ethos, this movie has come to function in a
modern (ostensibly secular) society the way myths function in traditional (overtly religious) societies. I conclude that popular movies may be
effective replacements for the mythic aspect of traditional religion and that modern societies may appear to be more secular (hostile or
indifferent to religion) than they actually are."
- SOURCE: Nathanson, Paul. Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America, Albany, NY : State University of New
York Press, 1991.
Salman Rushdie's Theories of Oz:
Salman Rushdie, best known for his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, was also influenced by The
Wizard of Oz. On the back cover of his book, Rushdie's theories about The Wizard of Oz are described as follows: ""The Wizard
of Oz was my first literary influence", writes Salman Rushdie in his account of the great MGM children's classic. At the age of ten he had
written a story, "Over the Rainbow", about a colourful fantasy world. But for Rushdie The Wizard of Oz is more than a children's film,
and more than a fantasy. It's a story "whose driving force is the inadequacy of adults", in which the "weaknesses of grown-ups forces
children to take control of their own destinies". And Rushdie rejects the conventional view that its fantasy of escape from reality ends with
a comforting return to home, sweet home. On the contrary, it is a film which speaks to the exile. The Wizard of Oz shows that imagination
can become reality, that there is no such place as home, or rather that the only home is the one we make for ourselves."
- SOURCE: Rushdie, Salman. The Wizard of Oz, Series: BFI Film Classics, BFI Publishing, 1992.
The Wizard of Oz as a Theosophical Allegory:
At a faculty colloquium presented by David B. Parker, Assistant Professor of History, at Kennesaw State University, he
suggested a relationship between certain themes, episodes, and characters in the Oz stories and L.Frank Baum's theosophical beliefs. Theosophy
was a sort of New Age occult religion that was popular among certain groups of people a hundred years ago; Baum was a theosophist. Parker
explains that the basic tenets of theosophical thought are relatively simple and included such notions as cosmic unity, planetary chains, human
evolution within seven planes of existence, reincarnation, etc. It was upon re-reading Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that led Parker
to discover the relationship between Baum's Oz writings and his theosophical beliefs. Parker states that given its closeness to Asian
religion, theosophy might help explain Baum's "dainty China country", the title of one of the chapters in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Through more research, David Parker came across John Algeo's work on Baum and theosophy. Finally, Parker gives some specific examples to
illustrate how Baum's belief in theosophy could have several other implications for his writings. These include: 1) Many early theosophists were
feminists and theosophy stressed a basic equality of the sexes. And, most of the major characters in the Oz series were female; 2) One can
see a similar possible theosophical reflection in Baum's anti-intellectualism. For example, as Parker explains, the Scarecrow, who mistakenly
thinks he needs brains ("head-learning"), actually gets by very well without brains, and is in fact the "smartest" of the travelers on the
Yellow Brick Road; 3) The theosophical belief in reincarnation can be seen in how Baum's characters sometimes change identities which
is the case of Tip, the young boy who is the main character in The Marvelous Land of Oz. At the end of the book, Tip is transformed
into Ozma. And, furthermore, as Parker points out, "Ozma" is similar to "Atma", the theosophists' name for the Spirit, the highest level of
man's evolution; and 4) Colors were also important to early theosophists says Parker. Charles M. Leadbetter, an important shaper of
early theosophical thought, came up with a list of colors and their correspondences with the astral body. Yellow meant "intellect" while
emerald green stood for "versatility, ingenuity and resourcefulness". So, as Parker explains, Dorothy on her quest, follows the Yellow
Brick Road (intellect) and discovers, at the end, only a humbug (the Wizard)--"head-learning" alone is useless. Only after Dorothy applies
the lessons of the Emerald City--"versatility, ingenuity and resourcefulness, applied unselfishly"--does Glinda tell Dorothy that she always
had the power to return home.
- SOURCE: Parker, David B. Oz: L.Frank Baum's Theosophical Utopia, Faculty Colloquium Speech given at Kennesaw State University, 1996.
I would like to thank Dr. Parker for sending this theory to me via email. I hope you enjoyed learning about it as much as I did! Professor Parker
now has his own website!! So, please visit it to read this article in its entirety plus his article on debunking the Parable on Populism.
Click here to go to his website.
The Wizard of Oz as a Banned/Censored Book:
"At a state library conference in 1957 the director of the Detroit Public Library system fueled a controversy heard
across the nation. He voiced the sentiment that L.Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz stories had no value. ... Furthermore, numerous librarians
rallied in support of the Detroit director's proclamation, calling the Oz books "poorly written", "unimaginative", "negativisitic", and
"unwholesome"." This information is stated on the back cover of Martin Gardner and Russel B. Nye's book, The Wizard of Oz and Who He Was.
This book was originally published in 1957 as a counter attack to this controversy and to pay tribute to L.Frank Baum's unique approach to
writing children's literature.
- SOURCE: Gardner, Martin & Nye, Russel B. (editors), The Wizard of Oz and Who He Was, East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, 1994.
For more information regarding The Wizard of Oz, you may want to consult one of the following sources. Some of these may be available from
your local public/academic library. If not, you may be able to obtain them through interlibrary loan. In any case, I hope you enjoy learning more about
the World of Oz.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF A FEW MORE WORKS ABOUT
INTERPRETATIONS OF THE WIZARD OF OZ:
- Geer, John G. "William Jennings Bryan on the Yellow Brick Road", Journal of American Culture, v.16:4, Winter 1993, pp. 59-63.
- Murphy, Michael J. "The Wizard of Oz as Cultural Narrative and Conceptual Model for Psychotherapy", Psychotherapy, v.33:4, 1996, pp.531+.
- Paige, L.R."Wearing the Red Shoes: Dorothy and the Power of the Female Imagination in The Wizard of Oz", The Journal of Popular Film
and Television : JPF&T, v.23:4, 1996, pp. 146+.
- Payne, D. "The Wizard of Oz : Therapeutic Rhetoric in a Contemporary Media Ritual", Quarterly Journal of Speech, v.75, February, 1989, pp. 25-39.
- Szymanski, Michael. "A Jaundiced Look at the Yellow Brick Road", The Advocate: The National Gay & Lesbian Newsmagazine, no.548, April 10, 1990,
- Weininger, O. "Mourning as Reflected in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", Journal of the Melanie Klein Society, v.6:2, December 1988,
- Perrin, Stephanie. The Works of L. Frank Baum: American Fantasy in Changing Times, Masters Thesis (M.A.)--Carleton University (Canada), 1994.
- Groch, John R. Corporate Reading, Corporate Writing: MGM and CBS in the Land of Oz, Thesis (PH.D.)--The University of Iowa, 1996.
- Riley, Michael O'Neal. Introductory Interiors: The Development of L. Frank Baum's Imaginary World, Thesis (PH.D.)--Emory University, 1988.
- Swartz, Mark E. Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939, Thesis (PH.D.)--New York
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