Title: The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a ‘Parable on Populism’ by David B. Parker
As published in the JOURNAL OF THE GEORGIA ASSOCIATION OF HISTORIANS, vol. 15, pp. 49-63.
Location: Bluegrass Special Date: 2009
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of America’s favorite pieces of juvenile literature. Children like it because it is a good story, full of fun characters and exciting adventures. Adults–especially those of us in history and related fields–like it because we can read between L. Frank Baum’s lines and see various images of the United States at the turn of the century. That has been true since 1964, when American Quarterly published Henry M. Littlefield’s “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism.” Littlefield described all sorts of hidden meanings and allusions to Gilded Age society in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: the wicked Witch of the East represented eastern industrialists and bankers who controlled the people (the Munchkins); the Scarecrow was the wise but naive western farmer; the Tin Woodman stood for the dehumanized industrial worker; the Cowardly Lion was William Jennings Bryan, Populist presidential candidate in 1896; the Yellow Brick Road, with all its dangers, was the gold standard; Dorothy’s silver slippers (Judy Garland’s were ruby red, but Baum originally made them silver) represented the Populists’ solution to the nation’s economic woes (“the free and unlimited coinage of silver”); Emerald City was Washington, D.C.; the Wizard, “a little bumbling old man, hiding behind a facade of paper mache and noise, . . . able to be everything to everybody,” was any of the Gilded Age presidents.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was no longer an innocent fairy tale. According to Littlefield, Baum, a reform-minded Democrat who supported William Jennings Bryan’s pro-silver candidacy, wrote the book as a parable of the Populists, an allegory of their failed efforts to reform the nation in 1896. “Baum never allowed the consistency of the allegory to take precedence over the theme of youthful entertainment,” Littlefield hedged at one point; “the allegory always remains in a minor key.” Still, he concluded that “the relationships and analogies outlined above . . . are far too consistent to be coincidental.”
It was an interesting notion, one scholars could not leave alone, and they soon began to find additional correspondences between Populism and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Continue reading the article by following the link above.
For more information, see Political Interpretation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Photo credit: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Website