Scrolling through what I thought was a remake of L. Frank Baum’s movie, Wizard of Oz, this cartoon of William Randolph Hearst popped up. Stories say that the movie had political connotations. Read on–this from Wikipedia.
Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz include treatments of the modern fairy tale (written by L. Frank Baum and first published in 1900) as an allegory or metaphor for the political, economic and social events of America in the 1890s. Scholars have examined four quite different versions of Oz: the novel of 1900, the Broadway Play of 1901, the Hollywood film of 1939, and the numerous follow-up Oz novels written after 1900 by Baum and others.
The political interpretations focus on the first three, and emphasize the close relationship between the visual images and the story line to the political interests of the day. Biographers report that Baum had been a political activist in the 1890s with a special interest in the money question of gold and silver, and the illustrator Denslow was a full-time editorial cartoonist for a major daily newspaper. For the 1901 Broadway production Baum inserted explicit references to prominent political characters such as President Theodore Roosevelt.
In a 1964 article, educator and historian Henry Littlefield outlined an allegory in the book of the late 19th-century debate regarding monetary policy. According to this view, for instance, the “Yellow Brick Road” represents the gold standard, and the silver slippers (ruby in the 1939 film version) represent the Silverite sixteen to one silver ratio (dancing down the road).
The thesis achieved considerable popular interest and elaboration by many scholars in history, economics and other fields, but is not universally accepted. Certainly the 1901 musical version of “Oz”, written by Baum, was for an adult audience and had numerous explicit references to contemporary politics, though in these references Baum seems just to have been “playing for laughs.” The 1902 stage adaptation mentioned, by name, President Theodore Roosevelt and other political celebrities. For example, the Tin Woodman wonders what he would do if he ran out of oil. “You wouldn’t be as badly off as John D. Rockefeller,” the Scarecrow responds, “He’d lose six thousand dollars a minute if that happened.”
Littlefield’s knowledge of the 1890s was thin, and he made numerous errors, but since his article was published, scholars in history, political science and economics have asserted that the images and characters used by Baum closely resemble political images that were well known in the 1890s. Quentin Taylor, for example, claimed that many of the events and characters of the book resemble the actual political personalities, events and ideas of the 1890s. Dorothy—naïve, young and simple—represents the American people. She is Everyman, led astray and seeking the way back home. Moreover, following the road of gold leads eventually only to the Emerald City, which may symbolize the fraudulent world of greenback paper money that only pretends to have value. It is ruled by a scheming politician (the Wizard) who uses publicity devices and tricks to fool the people (and even the Good Witches) into believing he is benevolent, wise and powerful when really he is selfish and cruel. He sends Dorothy into severe danger hoping she will rid him of his enemy the Wicked Witch of the West.
He is powerless and, as he admits to Dorothy, “I’m a very bad Wizard.”
Littlefield and other historians have suggested that Baum modeled the Cowardly Lion after politician William Jennings Bryan, or politicians in general. Republicans mocked Bryan as indecisive, or a coward, which became the basis of the character.
Historian Quentin Taylor sees additional metaphors, including:
- The Scarecrow as a representation of American farmers and their troubles in the late 19th century.
- The Tin Man representing the American steel industry’s failures to combat increased international competition at the time
- The Cowardly Lion as a metaphor for the American military’s performance in the Spanish-American War. For numerical references here’s the link:
Its fascinating to look at this suspense filled adventure for a little girl in another way. The Wizard of Oz became a venue for political awareness. Or did it? Did you think that the movie was a political commentary?