The world we live in today is fast. Everyone is looking to drive the fastest car, make the quickest buck, and take the shortest route to success. In society’s unyielding pursuit of happiness and their own denomination of the “American Dream,” humanity has looked toward outside factors as a judge of individual success. A person’s worth is often defined by their wealth, their career, or any other materialistic factors which we deem as being ”successful.” However, it is very rare that we weigh a person’s worth based solely on that individuals character. Intelligence, compassion, and bravery are all values engrained in us as children, but are swept aside for money and materials as we grow older. Anyone who does not believe in this “progressive” ideology is deemed as backward thinking by our society. Nonetheless, in L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz these are the true judges of success and power.
In The Wizard of Oz, the characters that are native to the land prove that this society values intangible factors above all else. The Scarecrow desires a brain, which is the physical manifestation of intellect. He wishes to be relevant, and knows that intelligence will help him achieve his goal rather than simply asking to be important. The Tin Man longs for a heart, for he longs for love and the ability to feel compassionate. This value is particularly alien to our society, considering that often times to be successful in business a person must separate heart and action. Finally, the Lion asks for courage because it takes bravery to make it through life. He simply wants the courage to face his problems, rather than asking for his problems to be solved for him. Each of these characters could have asked the wizard for any type of wondrous riches, but instead they searched for the intangible social traits that Oz values. These characteristics would help them achieve their goals through hard work, instead of asking for their desires to be handed to them.
On the other hand, the Wizard of Oz, being from our world, represents all too well the values of our society. His entire act is a sham of smoke and illusion. He is simply a con-man looking for the easy path to success. Just like our society, he does express redeeming qualities, but above all else he truly wants an empty, fast track to a “successful” life.
L. Frank Baum uses these beloved characters to impart his beliefs upon his child readers as to how he believes humanity should judge success. By creating characters these children love, he encourages them to emulate their values and enact them in their own lives. In this regard, Baum uses the “backwards” society of Oz to push our fiscally progressive society in a morally progressive direction.