Political sources used in The Wizard of Oz Many of the events and characters of the book resemble the actual political personalities, events and ideas of the 1890s. The 1902 stage adaptation mentioned, by name, President Theodore Roosevelt, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and other political celebrities. (No real people are mentioned by name in the book.) Even the title has been interpreted as alluding to a political reality: oz. is an abbreviation for ounce, a unit familiar to those who fought for a 16 to 1 ounce ratio of silver to gold in the name of bimetallism, though Baum stated he got the name from a file cabinet labeled A-N and O-Z.
The book opens not in an imaginary place but in real life Kansas, which in the 1890s was well- known for the hardships of rural life, and for destructive tornadoes. The Panic of 1893 caused widespread distress in rural America.
Dorothy is swept away to a colorful land of unlimited resources that nevertheless has serious political problems.
This utopia is ruled in part by people designated as Wicked. Dorothy and her cyclone kill the Wicked Witch of the
East. The Witch had previously controlled the all-powerful silver slippers (which were changed to ruby in the 1939
film). The Wicked Witch of the West tries to seize the silver slippers, but cannot because they are already on
Dorothy's feet. The slippers will in the end liberate Dorothy but first she must walk in them down the golden yellow
brick road, i.e. she must take silver down the path of gold, the path of free coinage. Following the road of gold leads eventually only to the Emerald City, which may symbolize the fraudulent world of greenback paper money that only
pretends to have value, it may symbolize the greenback value that is placed on gold (and for silver, possibly), or it may symbolize the seat of power of the United States: The White House.
William Jennings Bryan also participated in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. The presiding Judge over the case, Judge Raulston, stated, “The man that only has a passion to find the truth is not a complete and great man; but he must also have the courage to declare it in the face of all opposition. It does not take any great courage for a man to stand for a principle that meets with the approval of public sentiment around him, but it sometimes takes courage to declare a truth or stand for a fact that is in contravention to the public sentiment.”
Note the Judge’s comment that “…it does not take any great courage for a man to stand for a principle that meets with the approval of public sentiment around him…” could be alluding to Bryan. Bryan argued the case for the State of Tennessee as the prosecutor: in favor of Biblical Creationism (the generally accepted public sentiment) and against Darwinism.
Who Cares For The Chorus: The Dog Which Barks Doesn’t Bite.Rocky Mountain News, August 15, 1896
Other allegorical sources of the book include:
Dorothy, naïve, young and simple, represents the American people. She is Everyman, led astray and who seeks the way back home. She resembles the young hero of Coin's financial school, a very popular political
pamphlet of 1893. Another interpretation holds that she is a representation of Theodore Roosevelt: note
that the syllables "Dor-o-thy" are the reverse of the syllables "The-o-dore."
The cyclone was used in the 1890s as a metaphor for a political revolution that will transform the drab country into a land of color and unlimited prosperity. The cyclone was used by editorial cartoonists of the 1890s to represent political upheaval.
Historians and economists who read the original 1900 book as a political allegory interpret the Tin Woodman as the dehumanized industrial worker, badly mistreated by the Wicked Witch of the East who rules Munchkin
Country before the cyclone creates a political revolution and kills her. The Woodman is rusted and helpless—ineffective until he starts to work together with the Scarecrow (the farmer), in a Farmer-Labor coalition
that was much discussed in the 1890s, which culminated in the successful Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota
and its eventual merger with the Minnesota Democratic Party to form the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in 1944.
The Cowardly Lion is thought to represent one of the largest political figures of the time period: William Jennings Bryan. His Cross of Gold speech, support of populism & Bimetallism, run for Presidency, and role in the Scopes Monkey Trial made him an extremely high profile figure.
Politicians as little people after they were on the losingside in the election. However, in Oz the Munchkins are
all dressed similarly in blue, unlike these caricatures.
Monkeys: Plains indians and their role as trouble makers. Quote from book: “once we were a people living happily in the great forest doing just as we pleased without calling anyone master!”
Wizard of Oz: a fake, a charlatan…any President, likely McKinley. Emerald green is thus an illusion too like
U.S. monetary policy sources From 1880 to 1896, the price level in the U.S. economy fell by 23% (deflation). Most farmers of the west during that time were debtors, making their interest owed to the banks worth more than expected due to the deflation. According to the Populists' beliefs of the time, the solution to the farmers' problem was free coinage of silver (the U.S. was operating under a gold standard at that time). Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan supported the free silver requisition, summarized in his Cross of Gold speech. Bryan was famous for his speeches, but little direction action or results ever followed. Republican William McKinley won the presidency and the gold standard
At the end of the story, Dorothy finds her way home, but it is not by just following the Yellow Brick Road. After her journey, Dorothy finds that the Wizard is incapable of helping her or her friends. In the end, she finds that the
magical powers of her silver slippers help her. It should be noted, however, that the historian David Parker, in an article referenced in this article, cites evidence that Baum was in fact an 1896 McKinley supporter who opposed "silverism" as undermining business confidence and believed that the answer to America's economic problems lay in the Republican policy of "sound money" and protective tariffs.
Both images are Thomas Nast political cartoons from Harper’s Weekly referencing the Greenback Party (1875, 1876 respectively)