LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Oz: A Backward Society?

on March 13, 2013 1:14pm

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.

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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.

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One response to “Oz: A Backward Society?

  1. smmejia says:

    I find it really interesting that you have taken this story to be able to be re-interpreted today as a commentary on our current society especially considering that the introduction Baum wrote states, “…the story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to please children.” Technically, we should not find any kind of deeper meaning or applicable lesson due to it being a book solely written for entertainment and not as a children’s book on morality.

    However, I also think it’s quite amusing and ironic that Baum, a man who was trying to make the quickest buck, wrote a story that today we see as a condemnation of that lifestyle. Today we do not appreciate the character of a person as much as what that person can get accomplished. I agree with you on that point, and I like that this interpretation can be read. Hopefully, this book, as a classic, can be read by the young and old and be understood in a similar vein to trigger a re-evaluation of what we value today.

    On another note, I do not see the character of the Wizard of Oz as a con-man. The Wizard says, “Oh, no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard, I must admit.” He proves himself by doing as much as he could for Dorothy, and he realizes how to appease the other three companions and inspire them to fulfill their own wishes. I see him as a man who is making the best of things with the best intentions. He admits his faults despite the bigger picture—his sham as a great wizard. If we were to overlook that, one could see his vulnerability and his good qualities. He took the position as wizard and ruler because it was forced onto him, and he made the best of it. When he left the Emerald City, he handed over the rule to a native of Oz, not Dorothy or to the citizens to decide amongst themselves, which would result in chaos. He also lies about where he is going, but not to trick his citizens but to leave them happy instead of in sadness. I would characterize the Omaha native as a man who grants happiness through “ignorance is a bliss” with that being said in the most positive light possible.

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