Finding Truth in The Wizard of Oz

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on

I’ve been watching The Wizard of Oz over and over again for as long as I can remember. As a child I was terrified by the flying monkeys, and if you follow my blog regularly you will know why. It has to do with an incident that involved a little monkey jumping on my back and not letting go. I find it strange that after my own fear of certain scenes in The Wizard of Oz, that I then introduced the film to my young daughters. I viewed the film with them almost every single year of their childhood at Thanksgiving. By then I knew the outcomes, but still found myself cringing over the thought of having a flying monkey land on my back. 

Eventually my grown daughter laughingly purchased a sign that said, “I’ve got flying monkeys and I’ll use them.” That alleviated my worry that I may have scarred my children for life with a movie that seemed to be a somewhat violent child’s tale. Imagine my surprise when I learned that L. Frank Baum actually wrote it as political satire at the end of the nineteenth century. People who read it back then recognized all of the characters and understood the deeper meanings, much like we do with Saturday Night Live. The book was quite popular and eventually Mr. Baum even wrote a musical on the same theme. It was all commentary about the industrialization of the country and the plight of farmers fighting for a waning way of life. Some even think it was concerned with financial and banking issues, such as whether to use a gold, silver or bimetal standard for our currency. 

There have been many analyses of The Wizard of Oz over time, but Baum was always a bit cagey about revealing his real intent for the tale. I suppose that it was indeed some kind of allegory whose message and characters might be repurposed to comment on almost any era. The only things that seems to be certain is that Dorothy was supposed to represent innocence and goodness. Her companions on the journey to Oz, which is said to actually be the abbreviation for “ounce,” are theoretically, depictions of farming, industry, and politics. The various and sundry witches might be any powerful individuals who have lost touch with humanity. The Wizard is a charlatan who appears to be kindly, but cares little for Dorothy. His only concern is wanting to eliminate the Wicked Witch of the West to increase his own power. The Wizard sends Dorothy on a dangerous journey without regard for what might happen to her. Oz itself is the DisneyWorld of its time, a place of escape from reality where security and happiness are a facade. Of course, the main theme of the piece is that there really is no place like home, and we should find ways to be content with who we are and whatever we have. 

I’m not going to reveal my own version of who might be the characters in a modern day version of The Wizard of Oz, but I think it is rather apparent that the basic story is just screaming for thoughts on who is today’s Dorothy, who the huckster Wizard might actually be and which people in our society are the witches. Of course it is debatable as to who among us are the deluded citizens of Oz. I suppose arguments might be made for all sorts of possibilities. I know I have my own thoughts, but I rather like the idea of leaving it to each individual to decide who they believe is fooling us now. 

As an educator, I don’t like unkind descriptions of people, but I have seen a great deal of ignorance that would make many people perfect candidates for the scarecrow. They tend to have kind hearts and good intentions, but don’t always think things through. As for the tin man, we’ve all known people who don’t seem to realize how insensitive they appear to be. In today’s world it would not take too much effort to find a pride of cowardly lions. As for Dorothy, I still believe in the innocence and goodness of our youth, and I say all that time that the young men and women of today will one day save us in spite of ourselves. They are not the clueless wonders that so many seem to believe that they are. They can deal with witches and flying monkeys and magic with great courage. They are truth seekers who have seen things that many of us have been too busy to imagine or accept. I have great faith in them.

The movie version of The Wizard of Oz gave us a more literal version of the tale, but I always believed that the very ending gave away the truth and the power of its intended meaning. I also thought that the classic song, Over the Rainbow, provided the key to interpreting what the story was really all about. The film was released in 1939, a time when Adolf Hitler was conquering countries like Poland. There was still a great deal of wishful thinking and naïveté in a world that wanted to believe that there would not be another world war, and that Hitler’s intentions were were not as frightening as they seemed. Soon his flying monkeys would descend on Europe, and it would take a new Dorothy and her companions to save us all.