Walt farmers and workers.[4] In the Wizard of Oz,

Walt Disney
once said, “Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives
in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal
adulthood.” 1 To an extent Mr. Disney
was justified in the fact that everyone has had a favorite movie as a child of
which they obtained some values and integrated them into their own lives. At
the same time though, all movies have a backstory. On May 17,1900, L. Frank
Baum published the children’s book The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz.2
Even though most people view The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a great fiction tale for kids, it represented the
social, political, and economic condition of America in 1890s.

In the
1890s, America was going through an industrial revolution. Machines replaced
hand labor and new railways were created for trade. This caused businesses to
rise and railways to become an important structure in society. Economic growth
also spurred and the availability in jobs in industries drew people from farms
to cities. This caused about 25% of people to live in urban areas. Immigration
also increased and provided labor for businesses because new immigrants
relocated to the largest cities and worked low wage jobs to get by. 3 Farmers suffered heavily after
the Civil War due to overproduction, tariff policies and bank policies. They
ended up forming the Populist Party which called for governmental action to
help farmers and workers.4

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In the Wizard of Oz, a tornado cuts through
Kansas and forces Dorothy, the main character, and her dog to leave and head to
the land of Oz. They desperately want to get home, so they follow the Yellow
Brick Road to head to the Emerald City to meet with the Wizard who would inform
them on how to get back home to Kansas. Enroute, they meet a scarecrow that
needs a brain, a tin man that’s missing a heart, and a cowardly lion that wants
courage. Dorothy invites them to join her on the journey and they accept the
offer. When they get to the Emerald City, the wizard asks them to bring him the
broom of the Wicked Witch of the West to receive his help. The Wicked Witch had
been terrorizing the land of Oz and her broom would be proof that they had
killed her. They kill the witch by throwing water on her and Dorothy receives
the information on how to get home. She safely returns home.

The Wizard of Oz contains
numerous allegories. Hugh Rockoff, a professor at Rutgers University, examined
the book as a reflection of the monetary politics of the Populist era. He found
that in the book Dorothy traveled the Yellow Brick Road in silver shoes and not
in ruby shoes. This is connected to the main argument of the Populists. They advocated
for “free silver”, which is the “free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold
at a fixed ratio of sixteen to one.”5 The goal of the Populists was
to raise the money supply to the point where it was easier for farmers and
laborers to borrow money and pay off debts. In the book, Dorothy, the main
character, represented the American people at their best. She was self-respecting,
innocent, sensible, healthy, and courageous. She was the daughter of a typical
farming family and lived in Kansas where everything was dull and gray. Baum
described Kansas as having “treeless prairies, sun-beaten grass, and
paint-stripped houses.”6 This hints at Kansas in
the 1890s. Winters, droughts and insects had made Kansas bleak by ruining crops
and vegetation. Farmers had either became angry and took their anger out at politicians
or quit their jobs as farmers and moved on. During this, the populist movement
began.

Other
examples of Populism are with the scarecrow, the tin man, and the cowardly
lion. Frank L. Baum describes the Scarecrow as someone who doesn’t “know
anything” because he has “no brains at all”.7 He represents the western
farmers who were seen as inferior and unintelligent because they were
uneducated. The Tin Man represents a dehumanized industrial worker who has lost
his passion and heart due to his condition. The Cowardly Lion represents a
beast who has a lack of courage and feels scared. Therefore, he doesn’t live up
to his name and is the opposite of a beast. This beast is William Jennings
Bryan. Originally, he had strongly supported the free silver movement in the
presidential election of 1896, but he stopped strongly supporting the movement
in the next election. Thus, many people believed that he had just used the
movement to gain votes. People saw him as a typical politician who spoke about
important issues, but never addressed them. Overall, Bryan disappointed
Populists and was known as a coward.8

When the
Wicked Witch of the East was killed, the inhabitants of Oz, the Munchkins
rejoiced at her death. The Witch represented eastern industrial interests and
their allies which were main targets of the Populists. Farmers blamed their
misfortune on Wall Street bankers and leaders of the industry whom they
believed “were on a conspiracy to enslave the “little people” just like the
Witch had enslaved the Munchkins.”9 Populists saw
institutional politicians as accomplices to their enemies through the Silver
Purchase Act in 1893 which showed President Cleveland “bowing down to eastern
bankers” by repealing it.10 The Wonderful Wizard of
Oz also serves as an allegory for the problems with coinage and gold standard
issues. The gold standard was codified in 1890 and put a conversion price on
gold and an exact trade value to turn a dollar into gold.11 This is seen through the
Emerald City. Everything is green there and the green represents the American
dollar which if you had a lot of were considered wealthy. Many people’s
decisions reflect wealth. The government controls wealth and decides who are
wealthy. Consequently, Americans are subject to frauds by the government. In
the book, the Wizard of Oz scammed travelers just like the government does.

According
to the Library of Congress, the Wizard of
Oz is the most popular and influential film of all time. It was nominated
for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Song and Best Original Score.12 It has become an icon for
due to its’ timelessness, values, and provocative ideas. It highlights the
values of power/powerlessness, human nature, and dreaming big. The populist
movement is an underlying theme in the
Wizard of Oz and that is depicted through the plot and characters. Even
though it is hard to identify at first, the
Wonderful Wizard of Oz represented the social, political, and economic
condition of America in 1890s.

 

 

 

 

 

1 “Movies
can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of
entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.”, last
modified September 10,2012. Accessed November 02, 2017. 
https://seekingsalas.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/movies-can-and-do-have-tremendous-influence-in-shaping-young-lives-in-the-realm-of-entertainment-towards-the-ideals-and-objectives-of-normal-adulthood-walt-disney/.

2 “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” –
Classic Books – Read.gov. Accessed October 31, 2017.
http://www.read.gov/books/oz.html.

3 USA Center, Active.  “History of the United States,
Industrialization and reform”. Accessed November 03, 2017.
http://www.theusaonline.com/history/industrialization.htm.

4
“Agricultural Problems and Gilded Age Politics”. Accessed November
03, 2017. http://www.austincc.edu/lpatrick/his1302/agrarian.html.

5 “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz.”,
last modified Winter 2005.
www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=504.

6 “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz.”,
last modified Winter 2005.
www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=504.

7 “Money
and Politics in the Land of Oz.”, last modified Winter 2005.
www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=504.

8 “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz.”,
last modified Winter 2005.
www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=504.

9 “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz.”,
last modified Winter 2005.
www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=504.

 

10 “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz.”,
last modified Winter 2005.
www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?id=504.

 

11  “William McKinley”. Last Accessed 12/10/2017.
http://www.thegoldstandardnow.org/mckinley

12 “The
Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale–To See the Wizard”, last modified April
21, 2000. Accessed November 03, 2017.
http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/oz/ozsect2.html.

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