16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed

Steve - October 18, 2018

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum and followed by the iconic cinematic masterpiece starring Judy Garland in 1939, has remained one of the most enduring and popular stories over a hundred years later. Exploring serious themes such as courage, humanity, and evil in an open fashion accessible to children and adults alike, the story equally contains numerous hidden messages and meanings, many of which were not discovered until decades after publication, with scholar Quentin Taylor concluding “Oz 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.”

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
Original title page of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

Here are 16 hidden symbols and messages that you might never have noticed before in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”:

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Wikimedia Commons.

1. The lead character, Dorothy Gale, symbolizes the average American

Dorothy Gale, the lead character of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is an 11-year-old orphan girl who resides in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Allegedly influenced by the immense popularity of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s works, Baum structured his own story around a similarly sympathetic and identifiable protagonist. Multiple theories exist regarding the naming of the character, with some claiming the role was so named in memory of a victim of a tornado in Irving, Kansas, in May 1879 whilst others assert Dorothy was named after Baum’s own niece who died in infancy and whom his wife Maud grieved extensively for.

Less known is that Dorothy symbolically represents the average American, and arguably serves as an allegory for the United States itself. Described as “each of us at our best – kind but self-respecting, guileless but levelheaded, wholesome but plucky”, Dorothy figuratively speaking stands for the average American stoically looking for a solution to their worldly problems. In “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” Dorothy is characterized by a level of independence beyond her years, as an incessant optimist in the face of uncertainty, and through her own assertiveness the leader of her group in spite of her young age. Each of these traits, upon closer inspection, resembles a defining trait of the United States: a young nation which won independence from an older force and who idealistically believes in opportunity and a better future for herself and others.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Tin Woodman as illustrated by William Wallace Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

2. The Tin Man represents mistreated factory workers in the United States

The Tin Man is a secondary character in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, and one of Dorothy’s companions as they quest to slay the Wicked Witch of the West. A woodsman by the name of Nick Chopper, his ax was cursed by the Wicked Witch of the East to cut off his limbs to prevent him from marrying his true love. His body parts were gradually replaced by Ku-Klip, using prosthetic limbs made of tin; the only exception was his heart, without which he believed he was bereft of his humanity.

Despite this inherently childish exterior and appeal, the Tin Man represents one of the most important political sub-tones of the novel: the dehumanization of American factory workers as a result of the industrial revolution. During the time of writing the 1890s experienced the final stages of industrialization and mechanization in American labor, resulting in standards of living, work, and pay, that were considered by many to be unacceptably insufficient. The Tin Man, once a healthy, strong individual, was dispossessed of his limbs by repeated workplace accidents and has lost his heart – his love for his labors – due to the soulless condition of modern mass manufacturing. Equally, when first encountered by Dorothy the Tin Man is rusted – a contextual reference symbolizing the high unemployment caused by the American economic depression of the 1890s – but ready and able to work if conditions allowed, in the case of the novel: a few drops of oil.

Interestingly Baum’s inspiration for the Tin Man was the use of tin pieces in political cartoons and advertising in the late-19th century, providing a political origin underlying the inherently political undertones of the character.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Scarecrow, as illustrated by William Wallace Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

3. The Scarecrow stands as an allegory for Midwestern farmers and the troubles facing them in late 19th century America

The Scarecrow is another secondary character in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, and who likewise joins Dorothy on her mission. Convinced he does not possess a brain after being mocked by an old crow, and with its intelligence, the Scarecrow desires above all else to be smart like the others. In actuality, however, the Scarecrow is only two days old and demonstrates that in spite of this he already possesses the intelligence he seeks, being declared “the wisest man in all of Oz” and appointed interim ruler of the Emerald City by the end of the novel.

Like the Tin Man, contained within a childish exterior the Scarecrow acts as a political allegory for Midwestern farmers in late 19th century America. The Scarecrow faces considerable ridicule by the crows, among other characters, resulting in a “terrible sense of inferiority and self-doubt” comparable to that felt by many Kansas farmers in the 1890s; an example of this historical attitude is reflected in a newspaper editorial of 1896, accusing said farmers of “ignorance, irrationality, and general muddle-headedness” for their political opinions. In contrast to this prevailing opinion, Baum suggests that just like the Scarecrow the supposed dumb hicks of the Midwest, typically supporters of the populist politics sweeping the nation at the turn of the century, are in fact not simpletons but rather insightful and quick-witted individuals possessing brains all along.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Cowardly Lion as illustrated by William Wallace Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

4. The Cowardly Lion actually represents Democratic presidential candidate and populist politician William Jennings Bryan

The Cowardly Lion is the third and last of the secondary characters who accompany Dorothy on her journey in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. An African lion, albeit anthropomorphized and able to speak to humans, the Cowardly Lion believes his fear makes him adequate as a lion for he should instead be the brave king. Despite this self-doubt and external displays of fear, the Cowardly Lion repeatedly performs brave deeds throughout the novel to save his friends and is invited by the other animals to be their king after defeating the Giant Spider.

Not only a rhyming pair – Bryan and Lion – there are significant parallels between the two which render a frequent assumption that the Cowardly Lion is heavily based on the populist politician William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic Presidential Candidate in 1896 and 1900. First, the fact that Bryan himself was depicted as a lion by the political press of his day due to his tendency to elicit a roar to assembled crowds. Secondly, Bryan proved unable to win either the 1896 or 1900 elections, won instead by William McKinley, due in large part to the monolithic opposing votes of eastern industrial workers; this defeat is reflected in the novel, wherein the Cowardly Lions claws “could make no impression” upon the Tin Man.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Wicked Witch of the West, as portrayed by Margaret Hamilton in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Wikimedia Commons.

5. The Wicked Witches serve as a metaphor for powerful interests in American politics

The Wicked Witches serve as the primary antagonists of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. The Wicked Witch of the East, having enslaved the Munchkins of eastern Oz and caused the amputations of Nick Chopper, appears only briefly in the novel when she is crushed by Dorothy’s falling house; upon her death the Munchkins celebrate their freedom from bondage, thanking Dorothy for saving them and gifting her a pair of slippers. The Wicked Witch of the West serves as the evil ruler of Winkie Country, ousting Oz and enslaving its people. Seeking first to destroy and later capture Dorothy in order to obtain her magical shoes, she is killed when a bucket of water is thrown over her by the protagonist causing her to melt.

Despite their seeming pantomime and absurdist nature, the Witches serve as a politically charged metaphor condemning the power and influence of moneyed interests as a threat to American political life. The Wicked Witch of the East represents the industrial and banking interests of the East Coast of the United States. As the character who stole the Tin Man’s heart, symbolizing the deteriorating conditions of industrial laborers, she is killed by a falling house in a veiled reference to Wall Street and financial greed. Concurrently the Witch is noted as offering assistance to her subjects only at unreasonable costs, resembling the avaricious inclinations of east coast banking institutions.

Similarly, the Wicked Witch of the West represents the moneyed interests of the West Coast, including railroad owners and wealthy oilmen. Enslaving the Winkies, a thinly-disguised metaphor for Asian economic migrants in the American West, she is dissolved by water in an allusion to monetary liquidity; it has also been proposed the Witch symbolizes the threat of drought in the western states, with her defeat at the hands of water cited as evidence for this interpretation.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Emerald City, as illustrated by William Wallace Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

6. The Emerald City represents America’s national capital of Washington, D.C.

The Emerald City, situated at the end of the yellow brick road, serves as the capital of the fictional Land of Oz and is home to the Royal Palace of Oz. Whilst likely inspired by the White City of the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, for which Baum moved especially to Chicago in anticipation of and the illustrator Denslow professionally sketched for the Chicago Tribune, in addition to these real-life inclusions it is often contended that the Emerald City symbolically represents the capital of the United States: Washington, D.C. A city of entrancing green, Dorothy believes the city capable of solving her problems before realizing the entire edifice is, in fact, a deception. Dorothy, as the average American, discovers that the Emerald City’s splendor is illusory, with the green coloration a product of all its citizens being required to wear green-tinted glasses at all times.

Serving as a disappointing mirage it is widely asserted that Baum, an opponent of the introduction of unsecured “greenbacks” – green paper currency not back by a fiduciary holding of gold or silver by the federal government – into the American economy from the 1860s, uses the Emerald City as a political allegory. Just as the Emerald City initially appears wonderful its positive qualities exist only as part of a shared delusion among the inhabitants, akin to the inherent worthlessness of unsupported paper money except by popular convention assigning an accepted value. Dorothy’s optimistic hope of a solution to all of her problems quickly evaporates upon reaching the Emerald City, with her understanding that the entrancing panacea was nothing more than a mirage all along serving as a sub-textual condemnation of the seemingly wonderful prospect of an unlimited supply of paper money. Furthermore, the golden yellow brick road apparently leads only to the Emerald City, and thus only towards paper money, reflecting Baum’s potential pessimism concerning the unyielding direction of the nation’s future fiscal arrangements at the turn of the century.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Wizard of Oz, as illustrated by William Wallace Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

7. Just like the Emerald City, the Wonderful Wizard is a fraudulent illusion symbolizing the American presidency

The character of the Wizard of Oz, real name Oscar Zoroaster and the initials of whom the name of Oz is derived in-universe, is the highly regarded ruler of the Land of Oz. Initially believed to be a powerful sorcerer, appearing in a variety of wondrous forms before the traveling companions, it is later revealed that the Wizard is, in fact, a conman from Nebraska; having arrived by accident one day in a hot air balloon, the leaderless people of Oz immediately worshiped him as a great wizard and appointed him Supreme Ruler. After discovering his magic to be nothing more than trickery to sustain the original myth, the Wizard abdicates his throne in favor of the clever Scarecrow.

Described by literary critic Henry Littlefield as “a little bumbling old man, hiding behind a facade of papier mache and noise”, the Wizard is widely assumed to be a derogative amalgam of all of Baum’s disliked U.S. Presidents between the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century, in particular, Grover Cleveland and William McKinley. A cowardly and Machiavellian politician by nature the Wizard tricks the people of Oz, including the Good Witches, into believing he is a righteous and wise man rather than the selfish charlatan he actually is. Further reflecting his political attitude the Wizard responds to Dorothy’s request for help by stating “I never grant favors without some return”, sending her into mortal danger against the Wicked Witch of the West at his expense.

However rather than simply representing an individual politician, like the Cowardly Lion and William Jennings Bryan, the Wizard symbolizes the office of the president itself. A recurring political critique of the American presidency is its lack of effectual power, comprised of mostly soft powers and often described as merely the “power to persuade”; this innate powerlessness is noticeably reproduced in the eponymous Wizard of Oz. Just like the city, he rules the Wizard’s power is fraudulent, admitting to Dorothy that he is “a very bad Wizard” and forcing him instead to rely upon a little girl to rid himself of the more powerful Wicked Witch of the West; with the Western Witch herself representative of commercial and industrial interests in American politics, Baum subtly suggests the power of President of the United States is illusory and in fact inferior in strength to these moneyed interests.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Winged Monkeys carrying Dorothy, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion, as illustrated by W.W. Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

8. The Winged Monkeys are a representation of the plight of dispossessed and enslaved Native Americans and Asian laborers

The Winged Monkeys of Oz are a race of intelligent and mischievous flying monkeys who were cursed by Princess Gayelette for playing a prank on her fiancée and enslaved to a magical Golden Cap, the wearer of which could command the monkeys to perform any three tasks. Acquired by the Wicked Witch of the West, she used the monkeys to enslave Winkie County and retain dominion over her lands until upon her death it passed to Dorothy; later Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, granted the cap to the monkeys themselves thereupon freeing them from the curse.

It has been repeatedly suggested that the Winged Monkeys are a subtle depiction of the condition of Native Americans in the United States, specifically the Plains Indians, with their leader explaining to Dorothy that “we were a free people, living happily in the great forest, flying from tree to tree, eating nuts and fruits, and doing just as we pleased without calling anybody master…This was many years ago, long before Oz came out of the clouds to rule over this land.” Within this statement is an unquestionable allusion to the arrival of European settlers to the North American continent and the subsequent enslavement and eradication of the native populations. Baum himself wrote extensively on the subject of Native Americans, and whilst displaying the typical racist overtones of his day also showed a degree of compassion and sympathy for the dispossessed and marginalized people. It has also been contended that the Winged Monkeys concurrently represent the situations of indentured Asian laborers in the western United States, bound like the monkeys in bondage to foreign powers and compelled to obey.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
One of the pairs of “ruby slippers” used in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Wikimedia Commons.

9. The Wizard of Oz is a cleverly disguised political treatise railing against American monetary policy in the late-19th century

Whilst the iconic cinematic portrayal of the fictional Land of Oz in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” has forever enshrined in popular memory the association of “ruby slippers” with the story, in Baum’s original novel the slippers were actually “silver”. Changed to most likely take advantage of the emerging technicolor capabilities of 1930s cinema, the slippers served as one of the most politically charged metaphors throughout a novel constructed around a sub-textual attack on American monetary policy during the late-19th century. The introduction of the gold standard in the United States remained a highly contested political issue throughout Baum’s lifetime, eliminating the previous use of silver as a fiduciary backing metal, increasing reliance upon paper money, and causing massive deflation. This transition caused particular economic harm and provoked the greatest backlash from farmers, with falling prices and an inability to repay rising mortgage costs leading to repossessed farms fanning the flames of Populist politics during Baum’s formative and younger years.

The fragmented Yellow Brick Road leading to the Emerald City – itself the color of America’s new paper money – symbolizes the dangerous path the gold standard places the United States upon, that its future will invariably be connected to the illusory value of said paper money; as Baum writes in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” the bricks were “very uneven”, sometimes “broken or missing altogether”. The Scarecrow, who as noted represents the typical Midwestern farmer, repeatedly falls on the road whilst Dorothy’s silver slippers enable her to tread safely around the uneven surface; it should also be noted that the very fictional land of “Oz” itself is an abbreviation for ounce, the measure of gold and silver by weight. Baum, a proponent of the Populist monetary policy of the reintroduction of “free silver” as a mechanism to encourage inflation and assist with mortgage repayment among impoverished communities due to the abundance of silver, cleverly suggests through metaphor of the security and stability of the Silverite ratio used prior to the Coinage Act of 1873, an event referred to discreetly by the seven passages and three flights of stairs taken by Dorothy at the Emerald Palace for her audience with the Wizard, and encourages the abandonment of the recently adopted gold standard. Only Dorothy’s silver slippers have the power to take her home to Kansas, just as Baum argues only the return of silver in U.S. monetary policy can bring about a return of economic prosperity to struggling American households.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
Dorothy Gale, as illustrated by W.W. Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

10. The Wizard of Oz is a feminist manifesto about female empowerment and independence

Despite its seemingly childish exterior and protagonist, as literary scholar Michael Patrick Hearn contended “The Wizard of Oz is now almost universally acknowledged to be the earliest truly feminist American children’s book, because of the spunky and tenacious Dorothy”. Heavily influenced by his mother-in-law, the prominent suffragist and theosophist Matilda Joslyn Gage who fought alongside Susan B. Anthony for women’s rights throughout the latter half of the 19th century, Baum consciously sought to create a fantasy story in deliberate contrast to traditional portrayals of women as passive characters requiring rescue and assistance.

As an independent female character, in the words of Michael Hearn, Dorothy “refreshingly goes out and solves her problem herself rather than waiting patiently like a beautiful heroine in a European fairy tale for someone else”. Adequately protecting herself Dorothy, as the “first feminist role model“, even assists the male characters she encounters during her quest, each of whom possesses an innate flaw or are found to be lacking in a vital quality: without heart, courage, brains, or in the case of the Wizard a complete fraud. In fact, the most powerful characters of the novel are all women – Dorothy, the Wicked Witches, and the Good Witches – whilst the supposed “great and powerful” ruler of Oz turns out to be Princess Ozma.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
A still of the cyclone, from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz. Metro Goldwyn-Mayer.

11. The cyclone which transports Dorothy to the magical Land of Oz is a metaphor for the political upheaval caused by the Populist political movement in the United States

Although only a minor reference in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, the cyclone is responsible for transporting Dorothy, her faithful dog Toto, and the farmhouse they inhabit from the Kansas prairies to Munchkin County in the Land of Oz; in so doing the cyclone might be held at fault for the death of the Wicked Witch of the East, with the falling house landing on top of the evil oppressor of the Munchkins.

Not only a meteorological phenomenon and plot devise, but the cyclone also acts as a symbolic representation of the Populist movement during the so-called “Mauve Decade”. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Populism spread rapidly across the American Midwest, with Dorothy’s home state of Kansas serving as its epicenter and electing a Populist governor, U.S. Senator, and with the movement winning the lower house of the Kansas legislature. Furthermore, Baum was not the progenitor of such iconography, merely reproducing it within his novel, with Mary E. Lease, a Populist orator known as the “Kansas Cyclone”, among those to adopt and utilize the image of a cyclone; several political editorial cartoonists throughout the 1890s were recorded using similar metaphorical depictions for the Populist movement and political revolution.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Yellow Brick Road leading to The Emerald City. Wikimedia Commons.

12. The Wizard of Oz has been interpreted as both a religious and atheistic allegory at the same time

In the decades since original publication, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” has been recurrently used by Christians as a religious allegory similar to that of C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. Citing the yellow brick road as a symbolic representation as the path to spiritual enlightenment, the characters encountering various forms of sin and temptation along their journey to the Emerald City – itself interpreted as a wondrous paradise for the righteous – or the Wicked Witch being destroyed by water in reference to the Christian rite of baptism, several instances of religious iconography and depiction have been drawn from Baum’s novel.

Ironically, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” has concurrently been interpreted by some as an early example of atheism in children’s literature. The omnipotent and supposedly God-like ruler of Oz, the Wizard, is revealed to be nothing more than mortal playing tricks for his own benefit, whilst the Emerald City is only green because everybody chooses to wear glasses to perceive it in such light as part of a mass delusion. Advocates of an atheistic reading of the novel contrarily assert the Land of Oz is a world characterized by illusion and duplicity rather than truth and morality, an argument reinforced perhaps by the fact Christian groups in the United States sought to ban the book at the time of publication on the grounds of blasphemy for allegedly denigrating the divine.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
One of the more fantastical scenes illustrated by W.W. Denslow for “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900): Scarecrow being attacked by a Fighting Tree”. Wikimedia Commons.

13. The Wizard of Oz is alleged by some to be an ode to psychedelic experimentation and drug use

Drug use was a commonplace activity in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, with drug prohibition only beginning in earnest with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914, and during the writing of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” cocaine, opium, and morphine remained ordinary household products. As a result, it has been contended that Baum’s novel of 1900 is in fact littered with allusions towards the consumption of narcotics, particularly those possessing a psychedelic or hallucinatory component.

Dorothy’s journey into the Land of Oz, argued by some as “a common way to describe the effects [of hallucinogenics] to people who’ve never tried it”, is undeniably surreal on the surface. Furthermore, the Wicked Witch of the West places a field of poppies in the path of Dorothy and her friends, an alleged reference to opium, sending her into a deep sleep whilst not affecting the artificial Tin Man and Scarecrow who rescue Dorothy; in the 1939 film adaption, the connection to drug use is more overt, with Dorothy being awoken by Glinda the Good Witch sprinkling her with “snow” – a slang term for cocaine. Whether or not this interpretation of what Baum always claimed was a children’s fantasy story is accurate it was widely embraced by members of the counterculture during the 1960s, including by the organizer of the first “love-in”, Peter Bergman, hosting Radio Free Oz in which he played a psychedelic character called “the Wizard”.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
The Cowardly Lion, Dorothy, Scarecrow, and the Tin Man, as depicted in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939). Wikimedia Commons.

14. The story is a tale encouraging children to not resist growing up, and instead surpass the existing inadequacies of contemporary adults

Although as a children’s fairy tale “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” invariably places child characters to the forefront, it has been asserted by renowned author and essayist Salman Rushdie that the novel deliberately seeks to explore and highlight the inadequacy of adults. In addition to other motifs, Rushdie contends the story demonstrates how the weakness of adults compels children to seize control of their own destinies and to grow up themselves; in this light, Dorothy’s quest through the Land of Oz is a “rite of passage” into adulthood at a time when she was already considering running away from home and becoming independent.

Throughout the novel is a consistent theme concerning the weakness of adult characters initially believed by Dorothy to be strong. Beginning with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry’s inability to save her beloved dog and companion Toto from the mean neighbor Miss Gulch, to the powerless eponymous Wizard of Oz, and even the Wicked Witch of the West, who as she grows down into nothingness observes Dorothy having grown up as a result of her journey.

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
Glinda the Good Witch of the South, an amalgam of both the Good Witches for the cinematic adaption, alongside Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Wikimedia Commons.

15. The Good Witch of the North is a metaphorical representation of an imperial American foreign policy

The Good Witch of the North, sometimes called Locasta, reigns as ruler of Gillikin Country having freed its people from the clutches of the Wicked Witch of the North. She encounters Dorothy after the latter crushes the Wicked Witch of the East by accident with her farmhouse and welcomes her to the Land of Oz. Claiming to be inferior in power to the Wicked Witches, hence her inaction to save the Munchkins before Dorothy’s arrival, she suggests Dorothy travels to the Emerald City to seek help from the Wizard of Oz.

Despite her seemingly pleasant demeanor, granting Dorothy with a protective kiss to aid her on her journey, it has been suggested that the Good Witch of the North is, in fact, evil and representative of an imperialist foreign policy. At the time of Baum’s writing, the United States had just begun the acquisition of imperial possessions, notably the annexation of Hawaii in 1898 and the colonial products of the Spanish-American War, with a number of political movements contextually opposing the United States seeking to build an empire akin to European powers. Proponents of this interpretation suggest Locasta, like Glinda the Good Witch of the South, was aware of the powers of Dorothy’s slippers – that they could take her home to Kansas – and instead sent Dorothy to eliminate her territorial rivals on her behalf; this theory is somewhat explored in the 2013 cinematic prequel “Oz, The Great and Powerful”, in which the Wicked Witch of the East feigns goodness to persuade Oz to attack Glinda. According to W. Geoffrey Seeley, the Good Witch “used an innocent, ignorant patsy to overthrow both her own sister witch and the Wizard of Oz, leaving herself as the undisputed master”

16 Hidden Symbolic Messages in The Wizard of Oz You May Have Missed
Terry The Dog as Toto, in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939). Wikimedia Commons.

16. Toto symbolizes the Prohibitionist movement in the United States

An ever-present yet unspoken character throughout “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is Toto, Dorothy’s faithful canine companion. Accompanying her to the Land of Oz, and then on her journies therein, Toto lacks the capacity to speak like the animals of Oz; although later books in the series grant him the ability, he declines to do so for an unknown reason.

Despite this relatively minor if noticeable prominence in the story, it has been suggested Toto represents the Prohibitionist movement. First, the name Toto is claimed is a pun, a shortening of the word “teetotaler”. Moreover as noted the companions and Dorothy represent the Populist movement supported by Baum, of which the Prohibitionists were among their political allies; proponents of this interpretation of Toto highlight frequent descriptions from the novel depicting the dog as “soberly” following Dorothy.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, L. Frank Baum, Gutenberg Online (1900 edition)

“From Wonderland to Wasteland: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Great Gatsby, and the New American Fairy Tale”, Laura Barrett, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (2006)

“Growing Up in Oz”, Stuart Culver, American Literary History (1992)

“L. Frank Baum and the Progressive Dilemma”, Fred Erisman, American Quartlerly (1968)

“The Politics of Oz: A Symposium”, Michael Gessel, Nacy Koupal, Fred Erisman, South Dakota History (2001)

“Magic Abjured: Closure in Children’s Fantasy Fiction”, Sarah Gilead, PMLA (1991)

“There’s No Place But Home: The Wizard of Oz”, Jerry Griswold, The Antioch Review (1987)

“Secrets of the Wizard of Oz”, Rumeana Jahangir, BBC News Magazine (2009)

“Utopian Tension in L. Frank Baum’s Oz”, Andrew Karp, Utopian Studies (1998)

“Strategic Credulity: Oz as Mass Cultural Parable”, Helen Kim, Cultural Critique (1996)

“Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum”, Michael Riley, University of Kansas Press (1997)

“Following the Yellow Brick Road: How the United States Adopted the Gold Standard”, Francois Velde, Economic Perspectives (2002)

“The Wizard of Oz as a Monetary Allegory”, Hugh Rockoff, Journal of Political Econonmy (1990)

“Money and Politics in the Land of Oz: The extraordinary story behind the extraordinary story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, Quentin P. Taylor, USA Gold.

“The Secret Political Symbolism You Never Knew Was Hidden Within The Wizard Of Oz”, Genevieve Carlton, Ranker, July 1, 2019

The Grunge – The Real Meaning Of These Wizard Of Oz Characters

National Museum of American History – Populism and the World of Oz

McGill – Would Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion have Passed an Emerald City Entrance Drug Test?

Florida State University – The Wizard of Oz: More Than Just a Children’s Story by Lauren Houlberg

Advertisement