Populist Movement in the United States occurred mostly in the late 19th
century, and caused the Populist Party to be created. The Populist Party is
also known as the people’s party, because populists tried to support the common
people. The Free Silver Movement of the late 19th century was a call
for the coinage of silver to be unrestrained after an act by Congress made
silver coins unauthorized1. Both of
these significant events influenced L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz so much so that it reflects its time
period and is considered by some to be an allegory for the events and political
ideas of the late 19th century.
Although L. Frank Baum claims not to have
written his story as an allegory, it has clearly been influenced by the late 19th
century, for many scholars have analyzed it and agreed that intentional or not,
the story is an allegory for its time period.2 One of the
main scholars who holds the belief that The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written as an allegory is Henry Littlefield, who
even goes as far as to state that it is a parable about Populism.3 In the
story, the main character Dorothy meets a scarecrow on her journey who desires
a brain.4 According
to Quentin P. Taylor, a historian, an article was written by William Allen
White in 1896 accusing farmers of ignorance and irrationality. This is
reflected in the scarecrow’s belief that he is inferior to others, but it is
later shown that he doesn’t need a brain. The scarecrow is a representation of
farmers in the U.S., and he is neither ignorant nor irrational, which shows
that L. Frank Baum did not have the same view of farmers as William White, and reflected
this belief either intentionally or unintentionally upon the scarecrow.5
After Dorothy encounters the scarecrow,
she continues on her journey and meets a tin woodman. Once a normal woodman, he
had become cursed by the Witch of the East, and his body had slowly been replaced
by tin.6 Taylor
believes that he represents the eastern industrial workers of the U.S. He has
been turned to tin and greatly dehumanized by the Witch of the East, just as
the workers had been dehumanized and turned to machines by large business.
Similarly, because the woodman has become tin, he cannot work just as many
workers had become unemployed.7
When Dorothy continues on her journey,
she meets a lion who at first appears to be fierce and dangerous but turns out
to be cowardly instead.8 This
lion represents William Jennings Bryan, a politician who garnered the support
of the Populist Party for the 1896 election. According to Taylor, Bryan was
sometimes portrayed in the press as a lion, which could have influenced L.
Frank Baum’s creation of the character. Bryan was considered courageous by
supporters, but to critics he seemed cowardly because in 1898 he opposed war
Furthermore, the lion strikes the tin woodman when they first meet, but the
lion is unable to make an impression on the woodman.10 This
represents how William Jennings Bryan was unable to garner support from the
Dorothy and her companions then continue
on, and after encountering and overcoming several obstacles, make it to the
Emerald City. There, Oz the wizard agrees to see them each separately, and they
each see him in a different form. Dorothy sees him as a giant head, the
Scarecrow sees him as a lady, the Tin Woodman sees him as a beast, and the lion
sees him as a ball of fire.12
Littlefield believes that Oz the wizard represents the presidents and
politicians of the time, appearing in many different forms to many different
people. Dorothy, young and naive, sees Oz as gigantic and powerful, just as the
average citizens saw the president as having immense power. To the scarecrow Oz
does not seem gigantic and powerful, but lovely, just as the president would
have seemed lovely and kind to many farmers at the time. The tin woodman sees
Oz as dreadful and terrible. Many Eastern workers had this very same view of
presidents, because they were exploited and the presidents did not do anything
Finally, the lion sees him as fiery and intense. When he tries to approach Oz,
his whiskers are singed and he backs off in fear.14
Similarly, Bryan approached the presidency, being nominated three times, but
eventually backed off for he was never elected.
After Dorothy and her companions go off and
defeat the Wicked Witch of the West, they come back to the Emerald City, and find
out that Oz is unable to fulfill any of the promises he made, just as politicians
and the presidents at the time were unable to fulfill all of the promises they
made. It turns out that he is not a great wizard, but a humbug, and cannot
transform into the many different forms Dorothy and her companions thought. He
had achieved his power through deception, just as many politicians had achieved
their own power through deception and manipulation, appearing to different
people in different forms and making promises they couldn’t keep. Then Oz tells
Dorothy and her companions not to tell anyone, so that he can retain his power
and illusion over them. Similarly, many politicians feared being exposed for
being manipulative and deceptive.15
In addition to being an allegory for Populism,
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is also an
allegory for the Free Silver Movement and bimetallism. When Dorothy first receives
her silver shoes at the beginning of her journey, she does not understand the
power they hold, and neither does anyone else. Therefore in order to achieve her
goal she must travel the yellow brick road. Before the Free Silver Movement
began, the American people did not realize the value of having unlimited
coinage of silver, and just had to stay with what they had, which was gold.16
When Dorothy and her companions leave the Emerald
City in search of the Wicked Witch of the West, she finds them trespassing in
her country. She blows a silver whistle to call wolves, crows, and bees. None
of these creatures are able to kill Dorothy and her companions as the Wicked
Witch desires. Then the Wicked Witch uses a golden cap to summon winged monkeys
to attack Dorothy and her companions. This is the last time she is able to use
it, because it can only be used by a person three times.17 The
witch needed to use both gold and silver to achieve her goals, which represents
the power of bimetallism. The gold cap has finite power and cannot be used
forever. Gold itself also has a finite quantity and has finite power, and this
reflects how gold would eventually run out, and needed silver to sustain its
the end of the story, Dorothy goes to Glinda the Good Witch, and Glinda tells
her that the silver shoes have the power to take her home, and all she must do
is click her heels three times. Dorothy does this, and is taken across the
desert surrounding Oz back to her home. Unfortunately, she loses the shoes on
the way home. The shoes represent the power of free silver, but them being lost
represents the decline of the Free Silver Movement.19
Dorothy had sought out and trusted the wizard for help, it turned out that he
was unable to help her in the way that he promised, just like many politicians,
and it was up to her herself to get back home. On her journey she meets a few
friends, representing Eastern workers, farmers, and William Jennings Bryan
himself. Dorothy started off her journey in possession of the silver slippers
unaware of their power, and ended her journey by using them to get back home.
All of these aspects of The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz are evidence that it is a reflection of the Populist Party and
the Free Silver Movement in the late 19th Century.
Silver Movement,” Encyclopædia Britannica, accessed October 29, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/event/Free-Silver-Movement.
P. Taylor, “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz,” Independent Review 9, no. 3 (Winter 2005): 413, 416, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24562284.
M. Littlefield, “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism,” American Quarterly 16, no. 1 (Spring 1964): 47, doi:10.2307/2710826.
Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
(Chicago: Geo. M. Hill Co., 1899), 36-38.
Littlefield, “Parable,” 53.
Baum, Wonderful Wizard, 58-60.
Taylor, “Money and Politics,” 421.
Baum, Wonderful Wizard, 66-68.
“Money and Politics,” 421.
Baum, Wonderful Wizard, 66.
Taylor, “Money and Politics,” 421.
Wonderful Wizard, 127-135.
Wonderful Wizard, 134.
“Money and Politics,” 424.
“Money and Politics,” 414.
Wonderful Wizard, 141-147.
“Money and Politics,” 419.
“Money and Politics,” 425.