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 was 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.