Money and Politics in the Land of Oz

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Here is the extraordinary story behind the extraordinary story of 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz'. Most of us have seen the movie version of this allegorical tale, but few of us are aware of what the various characters, places and things represented in the mind of Frank Baum, the tale's author. Professor Quentin Taylor of Rogers State University invitingly titles the piece presented below 'Money and Politics in the Land of Oz'. Though 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' was written over 100 years ago, the themes will be recongizable to those with an interest in golden matters. Though gold is painted as a villain in Baum's story, it represented then many of the same things fiat money does today. Whereas gold was considered a tool of oppression by the Populists of 1900, it is considered an instrument of financial and personal freedom today. So, as you can see, we have come full circle, and gold has travelled a yellow brick road of its own. Happy reading. --Mike Kosares

Abstract: L. Frank Baum claimed to have written The Wonderful Wizard of Oz "solely to pleasure the children" of his day, but scholars have found enough parallels between Dorothy's yellow-brick odyssey and the politics of 1890s Populism to suggest otherwise. Did Baum intend to pen a subtle political satire on monetary reform or merely an entertaining fantasy?

"The story of 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' was written solely to pleasure children of today" (Dighe 2002, 42). So wrote L. Frank Baum in the introduction to his popular children's story published in 1900. As fertile as his imagination was, Baum could hardly have conceived that his "modernized fairly tale" would attain immortality when it was adapted to the silver screen forty years later. Though not a smash hit at the time of its release, The Wizard of Oz soon captured the hearts of the movie-going public, and it has retained its grip ever since. With its stirring effects, colorful characters, and memorable music (not to mention Judy Garland's dazzling performance), the film has delighted young and old alike for three generations. Yet, as everyone knows, The Wizard of Oz is more than just another celluloid classic; it has become a permanent part of American popular culture.

Oz as Allegory

Is Oz, however, merely a children's story, as its author claimed? For a quarter of a century after its film debut, no one seemed to think otherwise. This view would change completely when an obscure high school teacher published an essay in American Quarterly claiming that Baum's charming tale concealed a clever allegory on the Populist movement, the agrarian revolt that swept across the Midwest in the 1890s. In an ingenuous act of imaginative scholarship, Henry M. Littlefield linked the characters and the story line of the Oz tale to the political landscape of the Mauve Decade. The discovery was little less than astonishing: Baum's children's story was in fact a full-blown "parable on populism," a "vibrant and ironic portrait" of America on the eve of the new century (Littlefield 1964, 50).

In supporting this thesis, Littlefield drew on Baum's experience as a journalist before he wrote Oz. As editor of a small newspaper in Aberdeen, South Dakota, BaumBaum had written on politics and current events in the late 1880s and early 1890s, a period that coincided with the formation of the Populist Party. Littlefield also indicated that Baum was sympathetic to the Populist movement, supported William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1896, and, though not an activist, consistently voted for Democratic candidates. (In 1896, the Populists joined the Democrats in backing Bryan's bid for the presidency.) Finally, Littlefield noted Baum's penchant for political satire as evidenced by his second Oz tale, which lampoons feminism and the suffragette movement.

In coupling Baum's political and literary proclivities, Littlefield built on the work of Martin Gardner and Russel B. Nye, who were among the first to take a serious interest in "The Royal Historian of Oz." According to Nye, Baum all but admitted that his writings contained a veiled subtext, confessing his desire to pen stories that would "bear the stamp of our times and depict the progressive fairies of the day" (Gardiner and Nye 1957, 1). For Littlefield, Baum's revelation appeared decisive. Yet even without it, the numerous parallels and analogies between the Oz story and contemporary politics were "far too consistent to be coincidental" (1964, 58). And although the parable remains in a "minor key" and is not allowed to interfere with the fantasy, "the author's allegorical intent seems clear"-that is, to produce "a gentle and friendly Midwestern critique of the Populist rationale" (50, 58, 57).

Read more at: http://www.usagold.com/gildedopinion/oz.html

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