LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Big Brother Oz

America invades Oz: close analysis of the Wizard

The Wizard of Oz himself is a conman who just happened to arrive in a new land surrounded by good circumstance. He rose to power because of the people’s desires to believe in someone, and not because of his own skill set. Oz is clearly commentary on government and how capitalism and greed transforms governing powers, but I wanted to shift this commentary from the Emerald City as a whole and focus solely on the mastermind behind the transformation in Oz.

ImageIn the popular 1939 film adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, the conman predicting Dorothy’s future in the beginning of the film is the same man who plays the Wizard at the end of the film. I did not see this parallel until I was older, but once I noticed I also saw the parallels between their actions. Despite the characters’ means of achieving his goals, he typically had good intentions. The conman at the beginning of the film wanted to get Dorothy to go home and tricked her into doing so. The Wizard wanted Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion to emulate the qualities they desired instead of being handed them. He also wanted Oz to flourish, and did so in the only way he knew how: introduce the people to money. These actions remind me of government protection. The whole “we are doing this for your own good” mantra that gives purpose to the idea of Big Brother in this country.

ImageWicked is a popular Broadway musical that tells the story of the witches of Oz. The story follows Glinda, a good witch, and Elphaba, who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. In this version of the tale, the Wizard is responsible for stripping animals of their rights, but the biggest twist not seen in the original tale is that he plans to use Elphaba’s power to keep up his allusion of wizardry to the people. This technique, again, ties to the Big Brother idea of government in the U.S. Who and what exactly is controlling us? One of the problems with our government is the limited amount of transparency. The play Wicked as well as the other adaptations of Oz criticize the need for transparency in government to not only create a sense of mutual trust between citizens and those in power, but also to avoid abuse of power.

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Gay Theory and The Wizard of Oz

In Clark’s essay, “The Case of American Fantasy,” she mentions the popular idea, in LGBT sub-culture, that Dorothy’s companions are potentially homosexual, or at least not the stereotypical heterosexual man. There is a sense that the lion is ‘born to be a sissy,’ expressing that he is an effeminate male figure. This is obvious, perhaps, from his sensitive claws, upon touching the tin man’s body.
Within the sphere of gay culture, there are numerous types of gay men, include the term ‘Bears’, which are composed of a group of muscular, many looking men, who often possess quite a lot of chest hair, but tend to be quite tender at heart. It is not far fetched to claim that, if one were to look at The Wizard of Oz under such a lens, that the cowardly lion might fit into such a category.
Certainly, the idea of the tin man and the scarecrow, both men desiring what the other apparently has no need for, might be considered a good pair. To desire a mind, one might say is quite masculine; whereas to desire a heart is more effeminate. One could imagine a new family, with the tin man and the scarecrow as the parents, with the lion as perhaps the protective older brother.
Having not studied Baum’s life, it is difficult to discern whether or not he, himself, could have intended such a portrayal, but, regardless of whether or not it was intended, the fact that this vision is shared by many, is powerful in and of itself. It expresses the potential for such a family to exist, and raises social awareness of this homosexuality, and the homosexual family, in a non-threatening and pleasing manner, which can raise hope of acceptance.
Regardless of Baum’s intentions, in terms of homosexuality, his message about masculinity is clear. You do not have to be a handsome prince, of flesh and striking features, charm, wit, and courage to save the heroine; for even a tin man, a lion, and a scarecrow are worthy heroes.

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Political Issues In The Wizard of Oz!?!?

Nearly everyone has heard of the Wizard of Oz, but not everyone has

heard about how The Wizard of Oz references to political issues

during the late 1800s. A history teacher by the name of Henry

Littlefield noticed the parallels between life during that time and

the movie during the 1960s; if these parallels are true it wouldn’t

be anything new because authors have being making references to

political issues for centuries now.


Dorothy was said to represent American values and people; throughout

the novel she was loyal, resourceful, and determined; which are some

of the characteristics that people believe Americans had doing that

time. Others believed that she represented President Theodore

Roosevelt, not only because he was a loyal, resourceful, and

determined man but also because of the similarities in their names.

(The-o-dore and Dor-o-thy) The Tin Woodman represents the industrial

workers, who doing this time were experiencing dehumanization; which

is what happened to the Tin Woodman experienced when he lost his

human body. After losing his human body, the Tin Woodman became

immobile and rusted, which is how many factory workers felt when

businesses began to shut down due to the depression. The Wizard

represents Mark Hanna. Hanna was the Republican party’s chairman

during this time; and just how the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, and

Dorothy all saw the Wizard differently, Americans doing this time

also saw Hanna in many different faces. The Wizard and Hanna both

were portrayed as different people depending on the individual that

was in front of them. All of these things are interesting and may

point to the fact that in writing this he was telling the history of

the things he witnessed during this time.

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Dumbing Down Dorothy

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.



There’s No Place Like Home—Even if Home Certainly Isn’t Made of Emeralds

L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz presents the story of a young orphaned girl named Dorothy Gale who lives a seemingly mundane life on a farm in the dry plains in Kansas.  Although her exact age is unclear, it seems obvious throughout the story that she is still quite young and fairly immature—a result of her age, not to be mistaken with a more derogatory connotation.  She is a product of her environment, which is presented to the reader as not being highly desirable.  As a result of being orphaned, she is raised by Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, who are assumed to be an actual aunt and uncle but could simply be a foster family taking care of the child.  Needless to say, aside from her prized pet dog, Todo, there do not seem to be many sources of happiness in her life, which could arguably make anyone wish for an interesting adventure or escape.

The more popularized film adaptation of this story enlisted Judy Garland to portray the role of Dorothy.  I feel that she brings the role of a hopeless young girl blissfully wishing for an escape from reality more to light, namely in her singing “Over the Rainbow,” a song describing escaping to a place where “bluebirds fly” and dreams that you “dare to dream, really do come true.”  In reading the story, we find that the young girl meets other characters, who are also seeking a change in their current lives.  Dorothy seeks an escape while the Cowardly Lion seeks courage, the Tin Man seeks a heart, and as a result, love, and the Scarecrow seeks brains and consequently intelligence.  The three travel together until they find the Wizard, who can make all of their wishes come true as long as they withhold their end of the bargain in getting rid of the Wicked Witch of the West.  They put themselves in immense danger in trying to do so, until eventually Dorothy, in a tantrum resulting from the theft of a prized silver shoe that was gifted to her prior in the book, exterminates the witch using a bucket of water conveniently placed near her.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz”

The interesting thing about this story to me is that while the other three characters seem to receive what they originally wished for, Dorothy’s final wish at the conclusion of her journey is to simply go back to her home in Kansas.  Could the adventure filled with anthromorphic animals, unknown creatures, witches, wizards, magic, flying monkeys, and wishes have been too much for a young girl to handle?  Could Dorothy have received much more than she bargained for in venturing from the plains of Kansas to the Emerald City in the Land of Oz?  As a reader, I believe the answer to these questions is, “Yes.”  Dorothy Gale is a young girl who seeks a change in the life she is living, but later realizes that perhaps the comfort of an uninteresting life is more desirable than the peril of adventure.  She receives a glimpse of the Land of Oz, perhaps through mere imagination or a dream rather than an actual journey, and seeks to visit again, but eventually wishes to be back in Kansas.  To me, this seemed like an appropriate end to the story of a child, as while most of us sought some sort of adventure in life and our imaginations definitely aided this process, oftentimes no matter the circumstances, there really is no place like home.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Anthropomorphization and the Human Identity

ImageIn much of children’s classics, animals are attributed human qualities such as the ability to communicate creatively through language and are often given much importance through significant character roles. Among these classics is the greatest of all: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. In the novel, Baum toys with the idea of what exactly it means to be human by assigning personalities and emotions to inanimate objects such as a scarecrow and a pile of tin and rust. Baum transforms them from inactive objects and into characters with feelings, goals, and dreams. Baum explicitly addresses that these beings are not entirely human by indicating one is missing a heart and the other a brain (which are quite necessary to be alive and well), yet maintains their identity as pseudo-humans by conveying they, too, cry and experience things much like we would. Baum also experiments with anthropomorphization in giving a lion, an animal of the jungle, qualities such as “cowardly” or “brave” and the ability to speak in addition to his roar. Throughout the novel, these three nonhumans are contrasted with Dorothy who is clearly a human girl, perpetuating their differences and yet simultaneously illustrating we are not all that different.

ImageThe Tinman and Scarecrow, two characters constructed out of materials far from the animation of life, are each given significant roles in Baum’s novels despite their lack of humanity in the most technical sense. The Tinman, who claims to once be human, lacks a heart, which is necessary for life and ventures to Oz to request one from the Wonderful Wizard in order to feel emotion. Though lacking a cardiac system, the Tinman is far from heartless, often crying over dead beetles and the loss of brief acquaintances. In the Wizard’s “granting” of the Tinman’s humble request, we can see that a heart may not be entirely necessary to define the human condition, as he has the ability to feel before the acquisition of his gift from the Wizard. Much the same can be said for the Scarecrow, who is stuffed with straw and possesses a painted on face. He claims to lack a brain, in addition to lacking everything else that is necessary to be considered a human being. Despite not having a heart and brain, the Scarecrow and Tinman are the most human of all characters, often keeping in mind the feelings of others, especially Dorothy’s.

ImageThe Cowardly Lion is not very different than many of the other animals portrayed in classical children’s literature. He talks much like a human, yet can also roar like a lion of the jungle. Much like Kipling’s The Jungle Book and his classic Mowgli stories, Baum takes an intimidating beast and adapts its nature to be more appropriate for children, almost transforming a carnivorous lion into a cute and cuddly companion deserving of love and sympathy. Much like how the Scarecrow and Tinman compare to Dorothy in their lack of humanity, the Cowardly Lion is juxtaposed with Dorothy’s small dog Toto who barks yet cannot speak.

The Tinman, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion are arguably protagonists as important as Dorothy herself throughout Baum’s novel. In their origins, they draw one’s attention to the human condition and what exactly it means to be “human.” Though it is a question often explored in the genre of science-fiction, such thought provoking issues indicate an overlooked complexity in children’s literature.


The Wizard of Oz Bibliography

Hearn, Michael Patrick. The Critical Heritage Edition of the Wizard of Oz. New York, Schocken, 1986.

Littlefield, Henry. “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism.” American Quarterly. v. 16, 3, Spring 1964, 47–58.

“‘Oz’ Author Kept Intentions to Himself”. The New York Times Company. February 7, 1992

Rogers, Katharine M. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E. B. White. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1978.

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The Real Villain of Oz

If I asked you who is the villain of The Wizard of Oz, you know the answer, right?  But do you really?  Here is an interesting take on the true villain of Oz.


(Warning: there are quite a few curse words and lame pop culture references in this article.  But the logic is strong.)

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W. W. Denslow and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

William Wallace Denslow was an American illustrator and cartoonist who is today best known for his children’s illustrations, particularly his illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

oz 1Denslow was born in Philadelphia on May 25, 1856. He studied briefly as a teenager at the National Academy of Design and the Cooper Union Institute, both in New York, but he was largely self-taught as an artist. His earliest works appeared in magazines such as Hearth and Home and the children’s magazine St. Nicholas. In the late 1870s and early 1880s he traveled around the United States working as an artist and newspaper reporter. In 1888 he began working at the Chicago Herald, but he lost the job as a result of his heavy drinking. He then lived in Denver and San Francisco before returning to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, after which he remained in the city. He worked as a poster artist as well as designing books and bookplates, and he became the first professional artist employed by the Chicago-based Roycroft Press.

Denslow was a well-respected artist, but he did not gain widespread popularity until working with Baum on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The pair had first worked together on Baum’s Father Goose: His Book in 1899. Baum and Denslow jointly held the copyrights for the works on which they collaborated, but they argued over royalty shares from the 1902 stage version of The Wizard of Oz, for which Baum wrote the script and Denslow designed the sets and costumes. After this argument, Baum refused to work with Denslow on any further projects.

oz 2Denslow moved to New York in 1899 and continued illustrating books and working on comic strips, including comics that featured characters from his collaborations with Baum (but without Baum’s permission). He also created Billy Bounce, one of the earliest comic strips to feature a protagonist with superpowers. Using the royalties from both the print and stage versions of Oz, Denslow purchased an island off the coast of Bermuda and crowned himself King Denslow I. However, in the early years of the new century, Denslow began drinking heavily and had difficulty finding stable employment, working as a designer for various advertising agencies. He died in New York on March 29, 1915, of pneumonia that he caught after getting drunk while celebrating the sale of a full-color cover to Life magazine.

oz 3


Denslow’s Oz illustrations consist of 24 full color plates and numerous monochromatic illustrations in which the color mirrors the location of the story, such as the green coloring of the Emerald City illustrations or the blue of those set in Munchkin land. The Oz books have been illustrated by a variety of artists since Denslow. The first to follow Denslow was John R. Neill, who illustrated the remaining books by Baum in the series. Subsequent illustrators have remained closer to Neill’s illustrations than to Denslow’s, up until the work of Donald Abbott, whose illustrations from the 1990s have revived interest in Denslow’s classic illustrations.


Sources: (all images from this site)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can be viewed in full here.
Several of Denslow’s other works can be viewed in the Baldwin’s digital collection.

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Introducing Brittany Fining

Hello, class! My name is Brittany Fining.


          I am a fourth year student majoring in English with minors in Education and Family, Youth, and Community Sciences. My hobbies include reading, running, and spending time with my family and sorority sisters. I am originally from Brooklyn, New York, but lived in New Jersey for most of my childhood before moving to Punta Gorda, Florida just before high school. Upon graduation, I will be moving back to New York City to teach as a Teach for America 2013 Corps member. I could not be  more excited to move back to my favorite city and start impacting students’ lives!

I am really looking forward to taking this course. Since my plan for the past two years has been to teach after I graduate, I have found that taking classes on children’s and adolescent literature and culture have seemed not only most relevant to me, but have also interested me the most. This will be my fifth class offered by Center for Children’s Literature and Culture. This semester, I am looking forward to revisiting many of my favorite stories from my childhood, such as The Wizard of Oz and The Secret Garden, and analyzing them from a new, scholarly perspective.

I have loved reading since I was a small child. My favorite thing about books is that no matter how many times you may read them, they always affect you differently depending on where you are in life at the time that you are reading them. My favorite book from my childhood is The Giving Tree, a picture book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. To me, children’s literature refers to books that are primarily targeted toward children. I have learned, though, that often “children’s” books are much more structurally and thematically complex than they seem when taken at face value. To me, the term “Golden Age” refers to the time in our culture when the idea of children was romanticized, and children were treasured. It’s end marked a turning point not only in our literary culture, but our general social culture, in reference to how children were regarded.

I am looking forward to further exploring these texts and  topics throughout this course and getting to know you all better!

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