Above: The front cover to the first publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. Found on the website “The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale” (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/oz/images/vc9p1.jpgl)
Despite certain pieces of literature being labeled as being intended for a younger audience, adults are fairly ever deterred from reading and forming their own opinions on such works. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise found a tremendous audience, both young and old, ready to follow the titular character’s adventures from his adolescents to his adulthood. Even stories aimed at those who are even younger still can create a fascination among an older crowd, such as the several books written by Dr. Seuss. However, fewer “children’s books” have created such a phenomenon in America across readers of all age groups as L. Frank Baum’s classic story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Perceived initially as a fun story for young readers to enjoy, Baum’s book managed to garner a tremendous fan following, leading to a successful film adaptation which would come to be seen as a classic. However, during the second half of the 20th century, perceptions over the story would change, as scholars began to search for a deeper, more complex meaning behind the wondrous world of Oz. This practice seems to be common, as stories intended for younger readers that also capture the attention of a wider audience tend to be put under close scrutiny, as though there is a “hidden appeal” to them that actually deals with considerably more mature subject material than was initially perceived.
One such belief surrounding The Wonderful Wizard of Oz popularized the thought that the story was intended to be an commentary on the dichotomy in the United States on the subject of the Gold Standard. In the article “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism”, Henry M. Littlefield draws several parallels between the characters and events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the debates over American monetary management that occurred during the time when L. Frank Baum had written the story (page 49). In Littlefield’s piece, he claims that the three friends that the main character Dorothy meets during her travels mirror specific individuals involved in the debates: the Scarecrow serves as an analog for the farmers of America, the tin man as factory workers, and the cowardly lion as Williams Jennings Bryan, who served as prominent Populist figure during the time that attempted to gain the support of workers (pages 52-53). More analogies followed with the additional elements of the book, according to “Parable on Populism”, with the Emerald City that Dorothy was directed toward serving as Washington, D.C., the capital, and the Wizard who was in power being the United States President (page 54). Joining these parallels are the antagonists known as the Wicked Witches, whom represent the owners of industrial corporations, like oil and railroad, who did not support the efforts of the Populist community and were made out to be the “oppressors” of the common worker (page 55). Soon after its publication, “Parable on Populism” was credited with being the first piece to usher in the period in which such in depth analysis of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would take place.
Dorothy encounters the Tin Woodsman, who follows her on her journey. Found at the webpage Yakezie Carnival: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Edition (http://www.debtfreebythirty.net/2011/08/yakezie-carnival-wonderful-wizard-of-oz.html)
However, this view of the tale is seen as dubious by others. In direct response to “Parable on Populism”, Bradley A. Hansen’s “The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics” disproves many of the claims made previously by Henry M. Littlefield in his original piece. Hansen calls particular attention to the fact that no one had come to any sort of conclusion in over 64 years, despite the fact that, when the book was published, the nation was in the midst of what the story was supposed to be an allegory for and commentators would recognize such similarities more readily (page 257). The author of “The Fable of the Allegory” also brings up the fact that Baum was known as the author of several articles in support of the Republican party, who were in direct contention with the Populist movement (page 257). Additionally, the fact that no other Populist ideals appeared to be embraced in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz also serve to supply Hansen’s argument with even greater weight, and help to call into question whether or not Littlefield was right with his claims (page 258).
Dorothy, her dog Toto, and her two friends The Scarecrow and The Tin Woodsman come across The Cowardly Lion. Also found on the webpage Yakezie Carnival: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Edition (http://www.debtfreebythirty.net/2011/08/yakezie-carnival-wonderful-wizard-of-oz.html)
This phenomenon is not unique to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, however. One of the sources of inspiration for L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland In Wonderland, has been closely scrutinized by numerous scholars since its creation. Most of the analysis that Carroll’s work goes under pertains to the perceived links the scenes described in the story or portrayed in both the illustrations of artists and the animated adaptation produced by Disney have with drug-induced hallucinations individuals have experienced throughout the years. Sadly, such suspicions are often circulated through popular culture as though they were fact, and bring a slight blemish to these works, despite the intent of the original creators. Particularly in the case of Baum and Carroll, who shared the simple belief that stories intended for children need not involve morals to be appropriate and exciting, such a turn of events is unfortunate, as it does not seem as though such interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland are expected to disappear any time soon.
Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Chicago: George M. Hill Company, 1900.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: Macmillan Publishers, 1865.
Hansen, Bradley A. “The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics.” Journal of Economic Education. 33.3 (2002): 254-264. 15 Feb. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1183440>.
Littlefield, Henry M. “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism.” American Quarterly. 16.1 (1964): 47=58. 15 Feb. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2710826>.