Over the years, there has been much discussion of Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz as being a “parable of populism.” Reading Quentin P. Taylor’s Money and Politics in the Land of Oz, in the Independent Institute’s fine publication, The Independent Review, sparked me to dig into some of the more interesting theories on this.
According to Henry Littlefield, in The American Quarterly, the Wizard of Oz is rife with:
hidden meanings and allusions to Gilded Age society: the wicked Witch of the East represented eastern industrialists and bankers who controlled the people (the Munchkins); the Scarecrow was the wise but naive western farmer; the Tin Woodman stood for the dehumanized industrial worker; the Cowardly Lion was William Jennings Bryan, Populist presidential candidate in 1896; the Yellow Brick Road, with all its dangers, was the gold standard; Dorothy’s silver slippers (Judy Garland’s were ruby red, but Baum originally made them silver) represented the Populists’ solution to the nation’s economic woes (“the free and unlimited coinage of silver”); Emerald City was Washington, D.C.; the Wizard, “a little bumbling old man, hiding behind a facade of paper mache and noise, . . . able to be everything to everybody,” was any of the Gilded Age presidents.
Further research shows that Richard Jensen, in The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896, advanced Littlefield’s ideas,
finding analogies for Toto and Oz itself: Dorothy’s faithful dog represented the teetotaling Prohibitionists, an important part of the silverite coalition, and anyone familiar with the silverites’ slogan “16 to 1″ – that is, the ratio of sixteen ounces of silver to one ounce of gold – would have instantly recognized “Oz” as the abbreviation for ounce.
According to Salem Ajluni, from the Department of Economics at Siena College of Loudonville, NY:
Dorothy, just before leaving Oz, is told by Glinda, the Witch of the South: “Your Silver Shoes will carry you over the desert…If you had known their power you could have gone back to your Aunt Em the very first day you came to this country. All you have to do is to knock the heels together three times and command the shoes to carry you wherever you wish to go.” This is a direct reference to the ability of the people to control money- a democratic money- to serve their needs in any way they choose. It is the affirmation of the power of people to control their own destiny. Dorothy finds her way back to Kansas but loses Silver Slippers on the way which is Baum’s way of poking fun at the Populists for whom silver became an end in itself. Dorothy finds reality in Kansas less the silver shoes and perhaps minus the illusion of money in its silver form and the illusions that the solution to the problems of the people of Kansas are to be found in money.
In 1896, Baum published this poem in a Chicago newspaper:
When McKinley gets the chair, boys,
There’ll be a jollification
Throughout our happy nation
And contentment everywhere!
Great will be our satisfaction
When the “honest money” faction
Seats McKinley in the chair!
No more the ample crops of grain
That in our granaries have lain
Will seek a purchaser in vain
Or be at mercy of the “bull” or “bear”;
Our merchants won’t be trembling
At the silverites’ dissembling
When McKinley gets the chair!
In the end, it seems that perhaps Frank Baum gave a rather sophisticated commentary on the political economy of the Populist era. Myriad journal articles and doctoral dissertations have been written on the Wizard of Oz as a cultural narrative that turned grown-up satire into a child’s fantasy flick.