The Wizard of Oz

1. Dorothy represents a quest for community. She personifies those who are still young enough to hope and to act. Dorothy is Dorothy Everybody...even you. On the other hand, hard times in life are symbolized by

2. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry: hard times in Kansas in 1896 had taken the sparkle from their eyes and the color from their life. They lived in a in a grey house in a grey land; and they were sober grey. They did not smile.

Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are all the people hurt by the social institutions of the USA; racism, class privilege, sexism, ageism and bureaucratic arrogance. At one time or another, we are all Uncle Henry or Aunt Em.

3. Kansas and the farm on which Uncle Henry and Aunt Em lived represented the economic conditions of the country after the depressions of 1873 and 1893. A great grey flat plain without trees, flowers, or water, it was hard-baked by the pitiless sun.

Once again there are hard times; crime, unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, increasingly inequality between rich and poor, black and white in the USA as well as between the rich countries of Europe and North America and the poor countries in the 3rd world.

4. Toto was the one bright spot in Dorothy's life. Toto represents the clown/jokester in history who unmasks pretense and deception. Baum is Toto and so is everyone who laughs at a Kings, Charlatans and Tyrants. Toto can be anybody; even you as you use your imagination to poke a bit of fun at the candidates for president in 1996.

5. The Cyclone represents the power of the people to overturn alienating social conditions. It is comprised of the North, East, West and South winds in the story. When people from Wyoming, California, Texas and New York come together, they can better work for change and renewal.

In this version of the story, we will let the four winds represent workers who lose jobs to 3rd world countries; folks who are angry about violence and sex on television and in movie; retired people who are worried about social security and cost of health care. You can add a fourth wind or even make up your own list. That is what is nice about a metaphor...the rules permit everyone to play.

6. The house in which Dorothy descended represents the government; it is safe enough in good weather but doesn't give much protection in bad weather. The four winds pick it up and set it down in the Land of Oz. We can agree, I think, that the federal government still provides shaky shelter for those who have to live with it every day.

7. Oz is Utopia. With bright colors, happy people and a brook which bubbled nearby, Oz is the possibility of a good and decent society. But things weren't always good in Oz...until the house crushed one of them, there were two evil witches who oppressed the people.

Oz is, in the movie, Some Where Over the Rainbow. It is still there, somewhere. Maybe we can find it in the 21st Century.

8. The Wicked Witch from the East represented finance capital which keep the country on a gold standard with high interest rates while the Wicked Witch from the West represented railroad barons who exploited the farmers of the Midwest. The farmers had to pay high interest rates, high prices for manufactured goods and high prices to ship their beef and grain to Eastern markets by rail as a result of monopolies.

9. There were four regions of Oz in the original story. See Map. Dorothy came down in the Land of the Munchkins. They once were full-sized people but were made small by the working conditions imposed upon them by the Wicked Witches. The Munchkins were very happy that Dorothy killed the Eastern Witch and wanted her to stay and be their Queen but Dorothy wanted to go home to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em.

10. Dorothy was helped by the good Witch from the North, Jocasta who symbolized abstract good. She gave Dorothy the kiss of Goodness which protected her from the many dangers on.

There were two good witches: Jocasta and Glinda. Baum may have had his mother-in-law, Matilda Jocelyn Gage, in mind for the good Witch. She was an early suffragette and worked with Susan B. Antony. In Greek mythology, Jocasta was mother of Oedipus. I think we better leave that one to the freudians among us. I have no idea who Glinda might have been but, if I were to nominate one today, it would be Molly Ivins, the columnist from the Great and Glorious State of Texas.

. 11. The Yellow Brick Road. The gold bricks of the road stood for the gold bricks of the Eastern Bankers who insisted upon the gold standard, itself a symbol of the tight money policy which was ruining farmers and small businesses. You may have heard of the famous speech by Wm. Jennings Bryan who said that America was being crucified on a Cross of Gold. The road fell apart as one travelled on it and ended in the poppy field.

12. The Silver Slippers (not ruby) embodied the people's demand for bi-metal money policy: populists wanted both the gold standard and the silver standard to back up the currency.

In the book, whoever wore the silver slippers was safe when walking on the Yellow Brick Road...that is why the Wicked Witch from the West demanded Dorothy give them to her. She wanted control of money and monetary policy. The populist politics of the time demanded low interest rates, good wages and fair prices for farm products as against the high interest rates and high prices of the 'great malefactors of wealth' who organized the monopolies and cartels. They thought that silver would make money easier to borrow since there was so much more silver than gold.

13. The Strawman was a takeoff on the farmers who didn't have enough brains to vote for Wm Jennings Bryan. The Strawman embodies the quest for good theory and good understanding. We all would be better off if we only had a brain. You may recall that the Strawman was first seen hung on a cross in the cornfield. Again there is that crucifixion theme. Y.P. Harburgh wrote a lovely song about the Scarecrow...he would '...unravel every riddle for any individle in trouble or in pain...' if he only had a brain.

In 1996, farmers may once again be showing signs of stupidity. The new Farm Bill removes all the farm subsidies over the next seven years. Conservative Senators they sent to Washington from the farm states drafted the Bill and helped pass it.

14. The Tinman once had a heart; he had been in love with a girl but he worked for the Wicked Witch from the East. The Witch, wicked lady she is, made him work so fast that he cut off first an arm, then a leg, then split himself down the middle with his ax. After each accident, a tinsmith repaired him but after it was all over, the Tinman didn't have a heart. He wanted a heart so he could, once again, love his sweetheart.

His is a search for the authentic sharing and giving of love. Christians call this kind of love, compassion, caritas and agape. Each religion has their own name.

Few of the candidates in the 1996 campaign have much of a heart. Indeed hate, malice and loathing seem to fill most of the campaigns ads. Maybe they will read this and join us in our effort to find a bit of compassion in our own lives.

15. The Cowardly Lion was a putdown of Wm. Jennings Bryan who was too cowardly to enter the race for President after being defeated the first time he ran. Bryan raved and roared at small critters like Toto but he was too cowardly to attack the big tycoons of industry and finance again after being defeated in 1896. But in the book, the Lion drew courage from his friends and protected them from the giant Kalidahs...two fearsome beasts not used in the movie.

Baum went bankrupt in the 1893 depression; his assets were seized by the Sheriff. He may have had the police in mind for one of these two great beasts.

16. The Wizard of Oz symbolized alienated politics. Baum was making fun of people who assign their power to politicians then go back to them, hat-in-hand asking for help. The Wizard was the kind of politician who don't want to see the people since he can't give them what they don't have in the first place or what they already have. His real name was Oscar Z. Phadrig Isaac Norman Hinkle Emmanuel Ambroise Diggs.

Folks in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina complained that they never saw the candidates...only their advertisements. They like Pat Buchanan because he is out there shaking hands and talking to people. He also represents a lot of the 1886 populist politics; a mix of fundamentalist religion, protectionist policies and the concerns of small people...just like the Munchkins. Mr. Buchanan serves excellently well for the Wizard of Oz in 1996; the question is, if he is elected, will he stay in touch with people??

17. Washington D.C. inspired the Emerald City concept. It was green because green is the color of money and in Washington, money is the name of the game. Washington represents any false solution to any social problem. It takes more than money to solve problems; it takes heart, brains, courage and community. In the book, our four heros/heroines find these on the journey itself. The Tin Man weeps for the ants he crushed on the Yellow Brick Road; the Strawman uses his brain several times to solve problems; the Cowardly Lion saves the tiny group from the Kalidahs and Dorothy brings a sense of community and sharing with her. That is the final moral of the story; we find already have the capacity to solve our own problems...we don't have to rely on politicians to save us.

18. The Flying Monkeys may have represented the newly freed slaves. Baum lived in the aftermath of the Civil War. In the story, there was a Golden Cap; the Monkeys were slaves to whomever had the Cap: it came with three wishes. Dorothy took the Cap after she killed the Wicked Witch from the West and used the third wish to get them to fly her and her three companions back to the Emerald. Then the monkeys were free.

MGM was having labor troubles in the 30's so Samuel Goldwyn turned the monkeys into villainous Russians. Goldwyn also ordered the song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow to be cut from the movie; he thought it to radical; the director and actors insisted he keep it. Wow, near thing, that!

19. The Golden Cap represents learning and understanding. Both can be used to hurt people or to help them. What do you think? Would you use what you know about workers, customers, or voters to deceive and swindle them? Naaah. Do candidates in 1996 use what their pollsters tell them to deceive voters? Naaah!

20. The Poppy field was used to represent anything that put people to sleep...that immobilized them. Drugs, Monday Night Football, HBO, whatever turns people into couch potatoes. Are you a couch potato or would you rather learn all the days of your life so you can help Dorothy and her friends go over the Rainbow and make a dream come true?

There is a lot more to the book that didn't make Hollywood; the Hammerheads who were rooted in one spot and knocked down anyone who tried to go beyond them; the China people who were crushed underfoot by vandals; the Octospider which devoured all creatures it reached; the Wildcat who chased the Queen of the Mice who rescued Dorothy and her friends from the Poppy field; the trees that grabbed and caught at all who passed by them represented the various branches of science used against the people. Then too, there were two great ditches in the book; the depressions of 1873 and 1893. Lots of good stuff left to make another movie.

The most important part of the book was destroyed by Goldwyn and his writers. When you read the book, you see that the Strawman learns to think when his friends have problems, the Tinman learns compassion when he finds he has crushed ants on the yellow brick road and the Lion finds enough courage to save the foursome and Toto from the giant Kalidahs which pursue them. We can't get love, brains or courage from a bottle or from a Wizard; we can only get them by doing them.

This story ends when Dorothy demands that the Wizard give the people what he promised them. So he gave the Strawman a 'bran'-new brain complete with pins and needles so he would be sharp. He gave the Tinman a heart shaped watch which was guaranteed to go on ticking. He pulled out a bottle of green liquid and gave the Lion a big the Wizard said, lots of people get courage from a bottle. (There are a lot of horrible puns in the book). But he could not help Dorothy get back home...later the Good Witch from the South told her that she always had the power to go home; she was wearing the silver slippers. Dorothy did go home. She found Uncle Henry and Aunt Em smiling; there was pink in their cheeks and red in their lips. The house was newly painted; the grass, fields and trees were green and once again the promise of Spring was fulfilled. The Tinman and the Strawman stayed to help govern the other lands of Oz.

However, the story never really ends. History begins anew with each generation; it begins anew when you too exhibit brains, courage, compassion and community. In the USA, in the Eastern Communist Bloc, in the poor barrios and small farms in Latin America, in the wonderful savannas and shambas of Africa, in the lovely cities and quiet villages of Asia, the same four virtues, wrapped in policies of social justice, move us toward our full humanity.

In as much as each of those who read or hear this story cannot but move toward the fullness of your morality, on behalf of the Wizard of Oz and as the self-proclaimed Official Populist Historian of the Great and Mighty Land of Oz, I hereby grant each of you the right and obligation to work all the days of your life for social justice. You can begin by working toward better gender relations; toward the end of racism; toward economic dignity and democracy and toward a sense of community that embraces all creatures bright and beautiful on this good earth. When you do this, you are living the best of your religion. What better journey can you take through the pages of your life????

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Somewhere, over the rainbow, 'way up high;
there's a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
and dreams that you dare dream really do come true.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
and wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where troubles smell like lemons drops
away above the chimney tops,
that's where you'll find me.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly;
birds fly over the rainbow,
why and oh why can't I???

If happy little bluebirds
fly above beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why, can't I???

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Ding dong, the witch is dead,
the rich old witch, the wicked witch--
Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead
Raise up your sleepy head,
rub your eyes, get out of bed,
Wake up, the wicked witch is dead.

Ding Dong the merrie oh,
Sing it high; sing it low,
The wicked witch is dead.

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Follow, follow, follow,
follow the yellow brick road
Follow the yellow brick,
follow the yellow brick
follow the yellow brick road.

line = 1720

You're off to see the Wizard,
the wonderful Wizard of Oz
Because he is a wiz of a wiz--
if ever a wiz there was.
If ever, ever a wiz there was,
the Wizard of Oz is one beecauussse;
Because, because, because, beecaauseee;
Because of the wonderful things he does.
You're off to see the Wizaaard,
the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
[repeat: this time with, 'we're']

We're off to see the Wizard,
the wonderful Wizard of Oz
Because he is a wiz of a wiz--
if ever a wiz there was.
If ever, ever a wiz there was,
the Wizard of Oz is one beecauussse;
Because, because, because, beecaauseee;
Because of the wonderful things he does.
We're off to see the Wizaaard,
the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

line = 1900

If I only had a brain, I could while away the hours
conferring with the flowers,
consulting with the rain
and my head I would be scratching
while my thoughts were busy hatching.......
if I only had a brain [a heart; the nerve]

I'd unravel every riddle for any individle
in trouble or in pain.
Oh, I could tell you why
the ocean's near the shore
I could think of things
that I've never thought before
and then I'd sit....and think some more.

I would not be just a nuffin';
my head all full of stuffin'
and my heart all full of pain;
I would dance and be merry;
life would be a ding a derry
If I only had a brain.

line = 2200

When a man's an empty kettle,
he should be on his mettle
and yet I'm torn apart.
Just because I am presumin',
I could be kind of human
If I only had a heart.

I'd be tender, I'd be gentle;
an awful sentimental
Regarding loving art;

I'd be friendly with the sparrows;
with the boy who shoots the arrows----
if I only had a heart.

line = 2620

You can't believe in me, see;
when you're born to be a sissy
without the vim and verve.

I could show off my prowess;
be a lion, not a mou-wess
if I only had the nerve.

I'm afraid there's no denyin'
I'm just a dandy lion
a fate I don't deserve;

I'd be brave as a blizzard
[I'd be gentle as a lizard]
[I'd be clever as a gizzard]

[All] If the wiz is a wizard who will serve.

Lyrics by Yip Harburg, Music by Harold Arlen

Interpretation by TR Young, March 4, 1996
Cross of Gold

Then we heard these glacial boulders
across the prairie rolled;
'The people have a right
to make their own mistakes...
You shall not crucify mankind
upon a cross of Gold.'

Election night at midnight:
Boy Bryan's defeat.
Defeat of silver,
Defeat of the wheat.
Victory of letterfiles
and plutocrats with greasy smiles
with dollar signs upon their coats
diamond watchchains on their vests
and spats on their feet.

[...more in the original]

Vachel Lindsay

About L. Frank Baum

1. Baum was born in upper New York State. He took courses at Columbia University; some in journalism.

2. Baum married Maud Gage, daughter of Matilda Jocelyn Gage, well known Suffragette.

3. After trying several jobs, Baum took his family to South Dakota where he owned and edited a paper in S. Dakota. He depended upon small business and small farmers for survival ... the railroads finance capital put many out of business ... Baum went bankrupt; sheriff's officers seized his assets...

4. Baum moved to Chicago just in time for the Haymarket Massacre which he covered as a reporter.

5. Baum met Wm. Jennings Bryan and was actively reporting the campaign of 1896 ... on the side of the populist movement.

6. Baum was a born right after the Civil War and grew up in the racist climate of the post-war period... and reported on the election of 1877 that gave the election to Hayes and sold out the interests of Afro-Americans to southern gentlemen...

I have absolutely no outside evidence for my interpretation that the Flying Monkeys may have symbolized former slaves, however in the book, the flying monkeys were under the control of whomever had possession of the Golden Cap... (Dorothy stole it and used it to get to the Emerald City the second time round... little juvenile delinquent, she]. The WWWest had the Cap; it gave three wishes to which the monkeys had to respond... by the time Dorothy got it, there was one wish left... she used it and the monkeys were freed ... they were very happy to be rid of their captivity by the golden cap... and its owner.

7. Baum's stories became increasingly depoliticized [and considerably less interesting as he prospered]. I think it fair to say that he lost the critical edge when he joined the establishment.

8. There were a lot of events in the book which I've not mentioned... all of which have a very critical edge:

There were a lot of other stories... I used some of them in an old 1972 article published, I think, in Soc Enquiry entitled, The Yellow Brick Road to Success in American Sociology... lots of fun, that.

9. Finally, if one wants to take a postmodern view of literature, one could argue that every exegesis of every text is original ... not even the same author gives the same meaning to the same story at subsequent readings ...

That true, my 'reading' of the Wizard of Oz stands on its own merits. If you hesitate to attribute these interpretations to Baum, you can most certainly attribute them to me.... at least until I get rich from all royalties and fees from my interpretation and change my mind.