Characters

 

 

 

 

 

Below are some passages about the three primary friends Dorothy meets on her journeys through Oz.  Each of them may represent some of the problems facing the United States in 1900.  Again, this is taken from an article published in 1997 by Gretchen Ritter and a full citation is below.

 

 

 

 

“The first character to join Dorothy’s entourage as she travels west toward the Emerald City is the Scarecrow.  The Scarecrow is an agrarian figure, a stuffed man lacking in brains, with the limited knowledge of one who ‘was only made the day before yesterday.’  This is a great tragedy for the Scarecrow, who relates that it is ‘an uncomfortable feeling to know one is a fool.’  So he joins Dorothy on her journey to the Emerald City to ask Oz for some brains.

 

          The Scarecrow is a man knowledgeable from daily experience, but his sense of his own intelligence is expressed only after he receives social validation from the Wizard, who places pins in the Scarecrow’s head ‘as proof that he is sharp.’  This common agrarian man, who is the favored character among Dorothy’s friends, is then chosen to replace the Wizard when he departs.

 

          Much is revealed about Baum’s attitudes towards farmers from this portrayal.  Despite the growth of urban areas, farmers still occupied a central place in the American cultural order.  They were the virtuous common man, even as their position seemed easily threatened by the illegitimate rule of social and political elites in state capitals and Washington, DC.  In his writings as an editor in South Dakota, Baum represents the farmer’s movement as a noble attempt to retrieve political control for the common man.  He also portrays the farmers as sometimes foolish and easily duped.  The utopic ending of the book involves not just Dorothy’s return to Kansas, but the Scarecrow’s ascension as the new ruler of Oz.

 

          The Tin Woodman is the next character to join Dorothy’s group.  The Tin-man is a worker form the East who was turned from a man to a heartless machine by the Wicked Witch of the East.  Explaining how this happened, the woodchopper tells Dorothy and the Scarecrow that he once lived as an independent workman in the land of the Munchkins.  He fell in love and intended to marry.  But the selfish old woman for whom the girl worked struck a bargain with the Wicked Witch of the East who enchanted the Woodman’s ax.  With each swing the ax chopped off another body part, which the woodman replaced until he was made entirely of tin.  No harm was done to the Tin Woodman’s work skills – indeed he was more efficient that ever – even as he lost his soul and ceased to care about anything but work.  In the Tin Woodman’s travels with Dorothy and discussions with the Wizard, he, too, discovers his lost heart beneath the metal exterior.  The Tin Woodman’s life may be read as a lesson about the dehumanizing effects of industrialism and the machine age, which began in the East.  In his writings, Baum appeared variously enthralled with the magic of technology and wary of the social consequences of the machine age.

 

          The entourage is completed with the addition of the Cowardly Lion, who is accustomed to commanding authority with his roars.  When confronted by assertive opposition, however, the Lion becomes frightened…  Yet, like the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, the Lion learns that his true self is a brave leader rather than a cowardly Lion.  As the Wizard confirms later in the book, ‘True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.’

 

          Some scholars have speculated that the Cowardly Lion represents William Jennings Bryan, or political reformers more generally…Certainly, Bryan rose to fame in the House of Representatives and at the 1896 Democratic Convention in Chicago because of his oratory prowess.  Once he gained the position of presidential standard-bearer for the Democratic and Populist Parties in 1896, Bryan was burdened with great expectations from voters and movement activists who hoped for him to lead the way to dramatic political and economic change.  These were expectations that Bryan ultimately failed to meet.  In his confrontation with the established powers of Washington, Bryan lost and lost again in three separate presidential races.” 1

 

 

 

 

1 Gretchen Ritter, “Silver Slippers and a Golden Cap:  L. Frank

Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Historical Memory in American Politics,”

Journal of American Studies, 31 (1997), 2, 179-181.

 

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