Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism | Teen Ink

Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism

January 10, 2010
By Dakota Richardson BRONZE, Stamford, Connecticut
Dakota Richardson BRONZE, Stamford, Connecticut
4 articles 8 photos 0 comments

In the novel and the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” there has been many opinions brought about that are controversial on whether or not Frank Baum meant to use the novel as a parable on the Populist movement. Frank Baum moved to the Midwest in the height of the Populist movement and witnessed many of the hardships that the farmers withstood. He understood there problems and supported their plead to receive government regulation on the railroads and banks. Baum also experienced the Panic of 1893, which was a overflow of silver on the market, causing people to rush to there banks, creating bank runs. From, the economies instability, the European investors only received gold credits, which almost depleted the U.S.’s gold reserves and forced a depression upon the country with the severe low value of the dollar. Through, Baum’s personal experience of the Populist movement and his support for the William Jennings Bryan, it was conceived that his novel was created as a parable of that time. Did Frank Baum really write his novel based on the Populist movement, even though his family denies the theory? Although there is no definite evidence, there is enough support and symbols in the theory that makes me believe that Frank Baum’s novel “The Wizard of Oz” is a parable on populism.

Throughout, the Populist movement Frank Baum showed support for William Jennings Bryan and the troubled farmers; however, he was never a political activist and was misinterpreted by many who thought he was sympathetic to Native Americans and sympathetic to the farmers. The evidence behind Baum’s populism support comes from the idea, that he always voted for democrats and was a leader with William Bryan in the

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government protests. However, this was not the case as Frank Baum wrote many editorials in support of the Republican Party and wasn’t very supportive of the Native Americans. Baum supported the Republican Party’s idea of tariff protection, which was against the populist movement’s theme and showed Baum’s opinion against the movement. It was also conceived that Baum moved to the Midwest and it was a democratic region where everyone agreed that it was them against the east and west and he felt sympathetic to these people, when this was for the most part wrong. Although, the democrat-populists did well in the 1890 elections it was a clean sweep for the Republicans in the 1892 and 1894 elections, showing that the region was filled with people against the movement and Baum was not necessarily sold on the movements ideas and pleads.

However, even though there are many skeptics, I firmly believe that his novel was a parable on the populist movement because there are just too many symbols and connections to that time. Many would say that Frank Baum was sympathetic to the farmers and populists because he showed support for the movement’s leader William J. Bryan and he was a newspaper editor who wrote in favor of the farmers plead for government regulation. The theory on the parable is largely accepted because of the incredible amount of connections and there precise accuracy. In the novel, the original scenes in Kansas are depicted as bleak, barren lands that are shown without color and have no life to them opposed the magical land in Oz. This shows an example of the image that was painted of the Midwest where the weather predicted the farmer’s success and they had rarely any control over anything. Also, the change of color from the Kansas

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scenes to the Oz world, depict the Gilded Age, where things can improve and the song sung by Dorothy, “Over the Rainbow,” shows that normal people like Dorothy were mainly good and they were being manipulated by the east and west, knew things could get better. Also, the song emphasizes that they believe things can change with help from the government and regulation on the railroads and banks. Another connection is when the huge tornado ruined the house and changed life in that area by knocking Dorothy into the oz world. This event is similar to the Panic of 1893, where the country was in an economic frenzy because the dollars value was very low due to an overflow of silver and a depletion of gold. The silver and gold aspects of the depression were illustrated in Baum’s story through the Yellow Brick Road and Dorothy’s slippers. The Yellow Brick Road represents the hard treacherous road that leads back to the Wizard and Emerald City, who could be considered Washington D.C. and William McKinley and the gold was the country’s most important resource for the economy. Also, the Oz in the novels title is the symbol for Gold, which gives further support of the parable. In contrast, Dorothy’s silver slippers were what the common Midwest man wanted to have as currency because it was available to them and the slippers eventually would kill the wicked witch of the east and west like the silver killed the country’s economy in the Panic of 1893. The connection that Frank Baum used between the witches were that the east and west coasts of the county were evil and kept the Midwest in control. The east coast has the government and banks and the west had the country’s important gold resources. This is also similar to the way that the munchkins or the Midwest people were kept in check by both the wicked witch of the east and west. The Munchkins also sang songs to Dorothy

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describing the lollipop Guild and the Lullaby League, which could be symbols for labor unions of the populist movement because we know that they were pushing for immigration control and 8-hour workdays. Now, after looking at all the connections between the plot and setting, there are a huge amount of parables with the characters in the novel. For example, the Scarecrow was similar with that of the farmers because he had no control over fields like the farmers had no control in the government. Also, he says that, “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.” This could be compared to politicians who may seem to be only faces in front of campaign platforms and don’t really do their own thinking. William McKinley could be a prime example of this because some said that he had no idea what to do with his political power and in the end of the novel the Wizard, who is compared to William McKinley, is flying off in the balloon and says I don’t know how to work this. The Tin man represents all the eastern industries that were rusting and falling into the 1890’s depression. The Tin man also represents the degree of evil in the east because he has no heart and this shows the dehumanized workers that were turned into machines, in contrast to the farmers who did everything themselves. The cowardly Lion was a symbol of W.J. Bryan because like in the end of the novel he realizes that he always had courage, but never really showed it. Also, it was sort of ironic because as the lion he should be the king of the jungle when W.J. Bryan was anything, but a lion as he lost the presidential race 4 times. Also, the wizard character represented all that the people want and expect of the political leaders. However, in the end he turns out to be just another Kansas man who wasn’t a bad man, just a bad wizard. Lastly, in the end of the novel, the story ends like the real life situation

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did as the silver slippers help Dorothy get back home, similar to the way that country learned to control the silver and gold and realigned the economy. Also, the Scarecrow becomes the ruler of Oz and gains knowledge, similar to the way the farmers became smarter and began to earn more control against the manipulative East and West. The Lion also gains the strength and courage that he lacked, which helps him become a better leader, like W.J. Bryan and in the end Dorothy shows that one person can make a difference.

Looking back on the similarities between the populist movement and the novel there is little doubt in my mind that Frank Baum at least had some idea of a parable, when he wrote it. There are possibilities that the novel is a plain and simple children’s novel, because it does contain all the qualities that a fairy tale should have. Also, Baum’s family denies the theory and there is no empirical evidence that Baum wrote the novel as a parable. However, the sheer amount and accuracy of the connections makes me a strong believer that Frank Baum wrote “The Wizard of Oz” as a parable on the populist movement.

The author's comments:
A lot of controversy has arisen from the movie and the
history on the populist movie, which got me interested.

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