Like any book-to-movie adaptation, there were significant differences between L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. One of these differences is the characterization of the heroine and main character, Dorothy.
In Baum’s novel, though sweet and somewhat naïve, Dorothy seems to really have it together for someone of the young age that she seems to be presented as being. She is self-reliant, or at least becomes so by the time she returns to Kansas. She manages a band of outcasts. She stands up to the Wicked Witch, and responds to her wickedness with a flash of anger, ultimately leading to the witch’s demise. She rids the world of her wickedness, and indirectly improves the lives of all its inhabitants, especially her three close friends. She cultivates a type of independence and conviction that she can take back to Kansas, apply, and become a strong woman one day.
As a child watching The Wizard of Oz, I was not very partial to Dorothy’s character. Looking back on the movie now after reading the book, my feelings toward MGM’s Dorothy feel even more concrete. She was a typical American farm girl: sweet, innocent and somewhat mindless. She seems older than Baum’s Dorothy, yet acts less maturely. She cries and sings much more often than speaking her intelligent thoughts. Even when she defeats the witch, it is less out of anger and conviction than a reflex to the witch’s holding fire so close to the scarecrow.
I am not sure if the movie characterized Dorothy so differently, or if the choice of actress (though I do love Judy Garland) just made her seem so much older than in the book that her innocence became annoying. Either way, I think that MGM did not do the character of Dorothy justice. They took an entertaining and somewhat inspiring young girl, and turned her into an overly naïve, immature teen.