Populism magical Land of Oz by a tornado.

Populism in the World of OzThe Wizard of Oz, a novel written by L. Frank Baum and originally published on May 17, 1900, was one of the most popular children’s fantasy books. It was written with a combination of humor and wit about a girl and her dog being transported in their home from Kansas to a magical Land of Oz by a tornado. They travelled the yellow brick road in search of the Wizard for help and met friends along the way who likewise has their own wishes. Dorothy had encounters with the Witch and just like most children’s stories, it ended happily ever after.  Any child will probably be amused and awed by such a fun, and adventure-filled story. It was not until the advent of Littlefield’s claims when an allegory surfaced over gold and silver coinage scheme, that the adults shared the same amazement of a kid but in a different context; that of uncovering the hidden meanings behind the literary piece prompting an argument. The Wizard of Oz turned from a fairy-tale to that of real-life story during the Gilded Age when corruption was at it’s height and the rich dominated the system. What was known as fantasy fiction children’s literature became the headline of controversy when a professor made a deeper study of the novel. With the use of allegory and metaphors, it links the novel to politics and ridicule. These were made possible through the interpretation of a high school history teacher named Henry Littlefield who published an article in the journal American Quarterly stating that the tale reflects the world of political reality at that time.1 The cultural context of the famed literary piece was awakened by the story’s connection to political administration and allegations. Populism from the word “populist” coined in 1891, is a political reform movement that dominated in the latter part of the 19th century. While the high ranking businessmen generally support frugality and the gold standard; reformers preferred expansion of the money supply through the coinage of silver or the issuance of paper money. The Populists’ main focus is on monetary reform that will create more reasonable economic growth and opportunity. This movement was mainly supported by farmers, small businessmen, and other powerless groups who suffered acutely from economy throughout the post-Civil War era. In the late 19th century, also known as the Gilded Age, the prices of farm products in the United States deteriorated. Greatly affected by this, the farmers in the Midwest and South organized a politically oriented association known as the Populist movement whose aim is to pass various democratic political modifications. Also known as the People’s Party, the Populist Party that replaced the former Farmer’s Alliance was an agrarian-populist political party in the United States that ruled from 1892–96. Most Populists were pro-silver, while Congress and the Bankers were pro-gold. Along with the controversy surrounding The Wizard of Oz, Baum’s political affiliation got disputed. It was hard to decipher if Baum was pro or anti-populism. His themes in The Wizard of Oz seem to agree with the populist’s principles. Yet, further research showed that Baum was a writer and editorialist in South Dakota who wrote pro-Republican pieces.  Other scholars believe that Baum is neither pro nor anti as he has sympathy for any political viewpoint.  The argument on whether it is a political allegory or not, lies on the symbolic meaning of the characters. Through the succeeding years, other historians viewed Baum’s tale and were convinced that Littlefield is right, and that The Wizard of Oz was actually a political allegory. Some sources agree with comparing the characters to people of the populist movement. In the story, the characters were travelling to meet with the Wizard down the Yellow Brick Road that symbolizes the gold standard. It is meant to mimic the journey towards representation and reform. The characters represent people during those times. The Wizard was thought of to be a prominent politician that is President Grover Cleveland who are trying to survive under the control and manipulation of the elites. The Wicked Witches of the East are the elite businessmen, bankers and industrialists who are running the economy and political system while that of the West were railroads.  The people are represented by the Munchkins. The Good Witches  are people who are taken advantage of and are in opposition to these Wicked Witches.  Toto, Dorothy’s dog represents the Prohibitionists, an important group of coalition forces.                     The Oz was an abbreviation for ounce, a unit of measurement for metal. The bimetallists wants a fixed ratio of value; that is 16 ounces silver and 16 ounces gold on every coin.  The Cowardly Lion who joins the other characters to ask for courage was thought of as William Jennings Bryan. It is very ironic that like the Lion of the Oz, Bryan was the last to “join” the party.2 Dorothy, the girl who travelled the path represents someone who is has decent morals, and stands up for hard-working people. Dorothy’s Silver Slippers is meant to denote Populists’ solution to the economic woes with the free and unlimited coinage of silver.    Littlefield uses the scene where the Lion striking the Tin Man with his sharp claws could make no impression on the Tin. He compares this scene to when, in 1896, workers were pressured into voting for McKinley and gold by their employers.3 who delivers strong speech but his refusal to go to war with Spain in 1898 branded him a coward.  The Scarecrow is for the farmer, who though characterized as uneducated, was feared by lawmakers for their involvement and support of the Populist movement. They are the midwestern farmers, whose years of hardship and subjection to ridicule had created a sense of inferiority and self-doubt.4 The Tin Man is the industrial worker who is being manipulated and used by the wealthy employers. He represents the nation’s workers, whom the Populists hoped to make common cause.5 He represents the hoped-for other faction in the People’s Party, or the factory worker.6 The Munchkins were the minority group of Jewish, Italian and other immigrants. In a different analogy, an article by Hugh Rockoff in the Journal of Political Economy. Rockoff, The Deadly Poppy Field, where the Cowardly Lion fell asleep and could not move forward, was the anti-imperialism, an issue that proved to of more importance than the “silver” issue. In the Emerald City that represents Washington DC, Dorothy had to pass through seven halls and climb three flights of stairs; seven and three make seventy-three, which stands for the Crime of ’73, the congressional act that eliminated the coinage of silver and that proved to all Populists the conspiracy between congress and bankers.  The famous fabled tale, The Wizard of Oz by Baum relates to the political system at that time as the underprivileged working class captivates the attention of the government. The populists would like their voice to be heard and echo change in the midst of the rich and famous. The Wizard of Oz, as innocent as it may seem, adopts a discerning and sarcastic approach toward political power. In a sense, it was a satire aimed at exposing the monopoly within our government. However, it also touches the spirituality and moral aspect of an individual. It manifested the importance of positive thinking. It showed how there is power in numbers as the ordinary become majority when  people unite to make the most out of a difficult situation. Just like the characters in the book who found the solutions to what they were looking for when they looked into themselves and stopped depending on someone to tell them what to do; the populist took the initiative to appeal for reform that they believe would benefit the masses. The lesson learned is that the power to reshape and change their lives comes inherently from within them. Although, populism did not flourish, it showed how people’s power can never be underestimated. It became a proof that where there is a will and the courage to stand up for one’s principles, there is a way to carry the message across. Setting aside all these commentaries and interpretations, The Wizard of Oz  remains a classic literary piece that will touch the hearts and minds of both young and old alike.