The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: Symbolism & Analysis

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  • 0:01 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • 0:26 The Wonderful World of Baum
  • 1:09 Hidden Meanings in Oz
  • 2:20 Oz as an Allegory
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stefani Boutelier

Stefani has a PhD in Education and is a life long learner.

The novel ''The Wonderful Wizard of Oz'' has deep and underlying meanings that symbolize various ideas. In this lesson, you will learn some of the symbols and then be quizzed on your understanding.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum wrote the children's fantasy book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. It was adapted into a Broadway musical by Baum in 1902, and then into its first movie adaption in 1939 after Baum's death. Popular culture revolving around Oz usually relates to the first movie, however, this lesson will give you details about the book.

The Wonderful World of Baum

Before we try to understand more about the hidden messages in the novel, let's try to picture Baum's life and era. Baum was born in 1856 in New York and started writing at a young age. Before his success with Oz, he tried to start his own newspaper in South Dakota, which eventually failed.

Baum and his wife were members of the Theosophical Society, where the focus of spirituality overpowered specific religious practices. He had some involvement in politics, sympathizing with the populist movement, and many believe his novel was what he idealized as his own utopia. He would later deny that his story of Oz was anything other than a children's fantasy.

Hidden Meanings in Oz

A symbol in a story is 'a specific thing that represents something greater or has a figurative meaning'. An allegory is not as limited as a symbol; it is a deeper, hidden meaning that is extended throughout the entire narrative or story. Oz has both symbols and allegories, some of which Baum denied and many that contradict each other.

For the last century, many teachers, philosophers, and critics have tried to analyze the true meaning of Baum's famous work. Many interpretations have been presented: some may make sense and others might seem as fantastical as the land of Oz. This is what happens with famous works: people try to read deeper into it. Symbols and allegory set people on their own journey down a yellow brick road to find meaning and make sense of a piece of literature.

William Wallace Denslow was the illustrator of the 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He actually owned half the copyrights to the first editions. He took Baum's words and created actual artistic symbols. Many believe through his drawings that specific symbols were certain, but this is still up to you, the reader, to interpret on your own.

Oz as an Allegory

Most analyses of Oz describe the story as a political allegory. During Baum's time, monetary policy in regards to silver and gold standards was a hot topic. Baum supported populism (belief that the government should follow the interests of the largest group - think the 99% in today's political jargon), which is why many believe this to be a political allegory. As well, industrialism had taken over by then, which is another politically-centered idea. Some specific symbols related to the political allegory are:

  • Dorothy's silver shoes (money or silver)
  • Emerald City (money or factory)
  • Yellow brick road (gold)
  • Kansas and farmland (commoners and populism)
  • Tin Man (industrialism and factory workers)
  • The Wizard (selfish acts of political leaders or elites)

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