“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely for the pleasure of children,” L. Frank Baum assured in the preface to the first edition in 1900. Half a century after the book was written, economists and historians discovered political and economic allegories in it. But did Baum put secret meanings into the fairy tale, and if so, what ones? And if not, why did he emphasize that The Magician was just a children’s book?
Journalist from Dakota
The life of the writer and journalist Frank Baum fell on the so-called Gilded Age – the years of rapid growth of the US economy after the Civil War. He was born in 1856 in the northeastern United States. In 1888, his father went bankrupt, and the family went to seek their fortune in the Midwest, in South Dakota. It was there that Baum gained his journalistic experience, working alone for the Dakota Pioneer newspaper. In it, he will one day write a joke about a farmer who, due to lack of food, puts green glasses on his cattle and feeds them with sawdust.
However, in the Dakota, the family was also unlucky, so the Baums moved to Chicago. Here Frank will come up with a fairy tale that will bring him fame and fortune.
And in 1964, US academic circles were blown up by an article by schoolteacher Henry M. Littlefield in the academic journal American Quarterly. The researcher stated that The Magician is nothing more than a “parable about populism”. The controversy only fueled interest in this topic, which by the 1990s. developed into a scientific theory.
In the footsteps of Dorothy, Toto and political promises
So, Dorothy from Kansas, who has no father and mother, lives with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. The girl Dorothy is the whole American people, honest, simple and a little naive. Lifeless steppe, gray colors, uncle and aunt girls who work from morning to night and never smile – this is a description of the catastrophe of the 1870s, when droughts, harsh winters and locusts turned the Kansas prairies into wastelands.
It was Kansas that became one of the centers of the populist movement, an influential force in the United States at the end of the 19th century. Among other things, the populists promised voters a bimetallic standard – equal circulation of gold and silver.
The fact is that after the Civil War, the States introduced the gold standard. Gold coins were minted in denominations of one, two and a half, three, five, ten and twenty dollars. Only a trifle was minted from silver – 50, 25 and 10 cents, while a one-time payment in silver could not exceed five dollars. Moreover, in 1875 the circulation of paper dollars was banned, which gave rise to the Greenbacker Party, which advocates the return of green bills. Farmers believed that their troubles were connected with the lack of cheap silver money. If silver was put into circulation along with gold, they reasoned, then inflation would raise the prices of products, and we would pay off our debts. One of the leaders of the Populist party who promised farmers unlimited silver minting was William Jennings Bryan.
The hurricane that swept Dorothy away is the same hurricane of confidence in the populist Kansas Farm Party. That’s why Dorothy walks in silver shoes along the yellow brick road – this is a nod to the populist promise of parity between gold and silver. The yellow brick road leads to the Emerald City – that is, Washington. The name of the land of Oz is the letter designation of the ounce (oz), which also speaks of gold and silver. The name of the dog Toto is derived from the word “teetotaler” – the so-called supporters of the sobriety movement, who ardently supported the populist leader and absolute teetotaler Brian. Thus, Toto is an image of support for a populist party.
Domik Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the East, taking the silver slippers from her. The mean old woman refers to Wall Street and the East Coast bankers who oppress the Munchkins, the farmers of the Midwest. Who then is the Wicked Witch of the West? This is an allegory of droughts and bankers who plunged farmers into trouble. The sorceress has a Golden Hat, with which she enslaved the Miguns (that is, the farmers). When the power of the Golden Hat ends, the sorceress of the West seeks to take possession of Dorothy’s silver slippers, and in fact – to take silver from the people. After the death of the sorceress, Dorothy puts on the Golden Hat – that is, gold passes from the bankers to the power of the people. The Tin Woodman receives from the Winkies a new ax with a handle of gold and a blade that shines like silver, another allegory for the bi-metal standard.
But who are Dorothy’s companions and the Wizard? The scarecrows are the farmers who didn’t have the brains to escape debt slavery. The Tin Woodman are the workers that the Sorceress of the East has turned into a heartless machine. And the Lion and the Wizard are two hypostases of the populist leader Brian. The surname Bryan is consonant with the English words “lion” (Lion) and “lie” (Lying), and in the cartoons the politician was often depicted in the form of a lion. Opponents called him cowardly for speaking out against the war with Spain in 1898.
The magician-deceiver who changes his appearance is the image of a politician of the times when a very thin line separated a Republican from a Democrat. “I do not provide services without remuneration,” says the Magician, and this is a very characteristic trait of a political lobbyist. And at the same time, the Wizard is from Omaha, Nebraska, Brian’s hometown. It was at the convention in Omaha that the populists decided to demand from the authorities unlimited minting of silver.
“Populist parable” or fairy tale?
As a result, Brian still lost the presidential election, and the idea of unlimited coinage was never implemented. In 1900, the gold dollar finally became the standard unit of account.
But was Frank Baum planning a book about Brian’s failed election campaign? Or did he simply write a wonderful fairy tale, in which secret meanings were unearthed half a century later? The issue is still open…