Gender and Oz
The issue of gender also plays an important role in the Oz series. One issue that is not lost on many literary historians is the fact that the main character, Dorothy, is a girl and not a boy. In and of itself, this is significant. There are also several female characters in the book and movie who are very strong (even if they may practice witchcraft). Also, the one character who was supposed to have the ability to save Dorothy (the Wizard) not only turns out to be a fake, he is also male. Below are some specific references to the role of gender in Oz and a brief discussion of the author’s attitudes toward women in general, and the issue of women’s suffrage in particular. Maybe Baum’s wife and mother-in-law influenced his attitudes toward women and the portrayal of female characters in his books…?
“Who is Dorothy?
Baum’s choice of a girl instead of a boy for this central role is
significant in several respects. Many of
the rulers and protagonists in Oz were female.
In addition to Dorothy and Glinda, later books
introduce Ozma and Lurline,
both benevolent rulers. Frank Baum was
committed to the cause of women’s rights.
Both his wife and mother-in-law campaigned for women’s suffrage [the
right to vote for women]. The Populists
of South Dakota were also proponents of women’s rights. As the editor of the Saturday Pioneer,
Baum published political tracts written by his mother-in-law, and the paper
endorsed women’s suffrage in
“The Wizard of Oz is now almost universally acknowledged to be the earliest truly feminist American children’s book, because of spunky and tenacious Dorothy. Homely little 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, whether prince or commoner, to put things right. Katharine Rogers praised Dorothy in “Liberation for Little Girls” (Saturday Review June 17, 1972, p. 72) for being ‘a brave, resourceful girl who rescues three male characters and destroys two evil witches.’ Baum’s books are full of girls who are enterprising, ingenious, adventurous, or imposingly self-reliant.”2 This may not seem significant over 100 years after the first publication of the Wizard of Oz, but very well may be. Traditional fairy tales often portrayed young heroines as passive characters who allowed boys, men, fathers, or some other male character (such as a passing woodsman in Little Red Riding Hood), to solve their problems for them or save them from disaster. In Oz, Dorothy not only protects herself, but also helps to solve the problems of the male characters with whom she has become friends. In contrast to Dorothy’s exploits, we can view another male character, the Wizard. He is known as the “great and powerful Oz” but in fact, he is a fake. He has not seen his subjects in years and hides behind the technology he has developed to improve his image. He is unable to help Dorothy and Dorothy and her friends discover he is a fraud (like many politicians in the East…?).
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, p. 178.
2 Michael Patrick Hearn, The
Annotated Wizard of Oz,
Norton & Company, 2000, p. 13.