LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Role of the Man in The Wizard of Oz

I wanted to expand upon a comment I wrote about gender roles in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As I said, I think that the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man all have a duality to their nature.  The Scarecrow is on a masculine search, the search for brains.  He proves his worth to the group time and time again by coming up with schemes and ideas to get them across rivers or across canyons.  When Oz is in need of a new leader, he is the first choice, represented as the smartest, the best, and the most capable.

The Lion is also on a manly search for courage, but initially, he is shy and scared.  Throughout the story he comes into his manliness, becoming stronger and more brave, and able to protect the group.  He has a moment of weakness in the field of poppies and requires the help of little field mice to help him out, but his bulk and his weight which makes it a bit of a more difficult process assert his inherent masculinity.

The Tin Man is lovesick and on a journey for a new heart, so it’s reasonable to suggest that he would be more of an effeminate character, but throughout the novel he proves his manliness time and time again by cutting down trees, constructing rafts, and killing attackers to keep the group safe and sound on their journey to see Oz.

Both the Lion and the Scarecrow’s journey is a quest to become more masculine and even though the Tin Man’s desire for a heart is more effeminate, he too goes through a transformation into a stronger, more capable man.

Through these examples, Baum explores the idea that to be a man is to be in a position of power.  It requires cunning and bravery and strength.  Men are the leaders and the protectors of his world.

The only women in power are the witches, who are represented as either good or evil.  The good witches are ladylike and good and pure who bestow kisses on lost little girls to protect them, and the evil ones are simply easily destroyed, or cast away characters.  The only way to survive as a woman in the land of Oz is to be good and innocent like Dorothy and the good witches.

Advertisements
1 Comment »

There’s No Place Like Home

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

This quote from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reveals on of the major ideals of his novel: the importance of home and family. Although Dorothy’s home setting is gray and dull, what matters most is being in a place of love, warmth, and family. Many people would not like to call Kansas their home. It is a place filled with cyclones, cracked land, and colorless skies. Yet at the same time, it is also an area filled with love, caring, and happiness.

Image

When Dorothy is transported to the land of Oz, she is immediately amazed by the bright colors, beautiful flowers, and friendly little people. She meets new comrades along the way who provide for and protect her from the various dangers. Although Dorothy makes loyal friends and enjoys the beauty of Oz, she still dearly longs to return home to her family. The beauties and wonders of Oz are not as important to Dorothy as is being back with Aunt Em even though Kansas is gray and colorless.

Image

Through Dorothy’s desire to return home, Baum teaches readers a very significant lesson – simply being with family and loved ones is more important than materialistic ideas, such as beauty and splendor. Children learn that being in an environment of kindness and concern is what matters most in life. In addition, Baum also incorporates the dangers of a strange land to teach children that what may seem like a better life in a new world may in fact present more dangers and harm. I definitely that Baum’s theme of the importance of home permeates among children. The movie version successfully incorporates this theme. As a young girl, I remember dressing as Dorothy on Halloween and reenacting the clicking of the ruby slippers scene. The phrase, “There’s no place like home,” as stuck with me ever since and I still recognize the significance of my being with my family.

Here is a video of the scene from the movie.

2 Comments »

The Gateway as a Trope

In much of Children’s fiction, the Child is transported to a fantastic land by means of a gateway of some kind.  C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” possesses one of the most literal and iconic of these gateways: the wardrobe.  narnia-wardrobe_1112147726

The rest of the series also possesses such portals or gateways:  a magic ring in “The Magician’s Nephew,” and a portrait in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”   C.S. Lewis was not the first to use this mechanism, though.

In L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” the twister transports Dorothy from Kansas to Munchkinland.

 

images

Peter Pan and Wendy fly to the second star to the right.  Alice gets to Wonderland through means of the rabbit hole, and even in “The Water Babies,” Tom is transported when he falls in the river.

In modern times, the gateway has become a ubiquitous means of transporting the protagonist into a fantastic world, and has even departed the realm of Children’s Literature.  A machine turns a paraplegic into a nine foot tall blue man with a hair tail.  A girl travels through a tree in the middle of a labyrinth in Spain.  An entire team travels through an alien portal to various other worlds.  A man is transported by a church bell to 1920’s Paris.  Neo takes the red pill.

images (1)

Why has the portal to another world become so ubiquitous?  Perhaps it is because it is a simple way to show a distinct change between the real world and the fantastic one.  But perhaps it is because the  portal allows for the suspension of disbelief–once you go through the portal, anything can happen.

2 Comments »

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A children’s story?

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been known since its publication as a children’s book, but is that really appropriate in today’s society?  While children are inundated with violence and death every day through video games and TV shows, when it comes to books, adults remain a little puritanical.  Where are the banned video game lists or the banned movies?  And yet the list of banned books grows larger every day, so how does something like The Wizard of Oz stay off it?  Pure sentimentalism?

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a little girl is ripped from her home in a tornado and her house falls on top of a witch, effectively killing her.  In the very introduction of the novel we have a murder.  Later on in the book, Oz refuses to give anyone what they want unless they conspire together to commit another act of murder.  And then, of course, we have the herds of angry wolves, a murder of crows, and a swarm of bees whose sole mission is to attempt to murder Dorothy and her band of friends.  The book is riddled with stories of slavery and murder.

With all this torture and attempted murder, can this really be a book for children?  The violence, when looked at objectively, is enough to turn more than a few heads.  Dorothy remains the unsuspecting, innocent, simple child, but by the end of the novel she has killed two people.

All the same, can this simple story really be called something for adults or even teens to  read?  Dorothy’s simple logic and childish actions make it so this book couldn’t possibly be something targeted for older readers.  At her most wicked, Dorothy simply throws a bucket of water on the witch, having no idea that it would be the thing to kill her.  The language and the setup of the story are also very childlike– leaning more towards a fairy tale than an novel.

The only thing left to wonder is if maybe the times have just changed.  If it were not for the movie and the sentimentalism behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, would it still be a book we give our children to read?  What age group is it really appropriate for?

3 Comments »

Love of a Tin Man

One of the most intriguing and puzzling aspects of the Wizard of Oz story, for myself, centers around the Tin Man. More specifically: the Tin Man’s back story and how it creates a contradiction when viewed alongside the Tin Man’s intended actions as stated at the end of the Wizard of Oz. In the Tin Man’s back story we find out that the Tin Man falls in love with a munchkin girl and, in the attempt to win her hand in marriage, ends up cutting off all of his limbs and has them replaced with tin. The Tin Man then states that he believes that “I suppose she is still living with the old woman, waiting for me to come after her” and that, should Oz grant him a heart, “I will go back to the Munchkin maiden and marry her.”

Here we can see that the Tin Man clearly states his purpose: once he gains a heart he will find and marry his munchkin girl. However the reader later finds out this is not the case. Glinda inquires into the Tin Man’s plan once Dorothy returns home and the Tin Man replies: “The Winkies were very kind to me, and wanted me to rule over them after the Wicked Witch died. I am fond of the Winkies, and if I could get back again to the Country of the West, I should like nothing better than to rule over them forever.”

I always wanted to rule some people..... and thats it

I always wanted to rule some people….. and that’s it

At this point, Chapter 23, the Tin Man has already gained his “heart” from the great and powerful Oz and does not, at any point after obtaining the heart, think of his “love” the Munchkin girl nor does he even consider returning to munchkin territory as his final wish instead placing himself on the complete opposite side of Oz forevermore.

This then leads to the intriguing question about the Tin Man: Did he truly love the munchkin girl that he was willing to lose all of his limbs for? It appears that he was willing to sacrifice his limbs for her and yet I would argue that it is not love that he felt for this girl. Rather, I feel like the Tin Man can be seen as a “Knight” figure by comparing how  the Tin Man looks to that of a stereotypical image of a Knight in full battle armor as well as the Tin Man’s ruthless efficiency in killing the wolves.

Like Two Men inside some Armor

Like Two Men inside some Armor

This Knight Tin Man held a form of “fealty” to the Munchkin girl. This “fealty”, which the Tin Man wrongly labeled as love, gets transferred to Dorothy and thus he easily forgets the Munchkin girl he “loved” and no longer worries after her fate.

Leave a comment »

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Silver Shoes

As we have discussed in class, there are several reoccurring themes when it comes to children’s literature. L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is no exception considering it consists of a child protagonist, talking animals, self-sufficiency, virtue and a the battle between good and evil. In the case of Baum’s novel, the importance of a journey would be the most significant theme. The characters all strive to reach their goals by relying on the companionship of their traveling partners throughout their journey. Dorothy’s initial goal is to return home with her dog Toto. She is given magical, silver shoes that are acknowledged by most of the inhabitants of the Land of Oz. Interestingly enough, the silver shoes she is given in the beginning is the tool that would lead to the simplest solution for her to return to Kansas; however, she had no knowledge of the shoes’ abilities from the start.

250px-Dorothy_Gale_with_silver_shoes

Baum most likely used these silver shoes to reassure his readers that Dorothy was safe from danger the whole time and her answer was literally under her nose. Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, even states in the end, “If you had known their power you could have gone back to your Aunt Em the very first day you came to this country” (Baum 51). Undoubtedly, the mystery of the silver shoes’ power did prolong Dorothy’s journey back to Kansas, but through her travels she encounters traveling companions and learns several lessons in life. The silver shoes motif was used to accentuate Dorothy’s importance in Oz. A rich Munchkin by the name of Boq acknowledges Dorothy as a powerful sorceress for defeating a Wicked Witch due to the fact that she was wearing the silver shoes. She is noticed by several characters because of her silver shoes which give her the motivation to continue traveling and, in turn, gave her more insight on how to navigate throughout the Land of Oz.

Dorothy’s silver shoes were used as an important plot device that were with Dorothy from beginning to end which allowed the story to progress. In addition, the shoes were items the Wicked Witch of the West longed for and obsessed over. The shoes were tools for Dorothy’s use only and aside from being magical objects, the silver shoes are appealing to the Wicked Witch which she strives to steal from Dorothy. The Wicked Witch meets with her demise when she steals one shoe from Dorothy which in turn causes Dorothy to splash her with water and watch her melt. This desire for the shoes leads to dire consequences for the unfortunate witch.

It can be inferred that these shoes were given to Dorothy to lead her to a simpler path, but she chooses to help her companions reach their goals first as well as free several residents from their tyrannical rulers. The silver shoes symbolize her role in the story, without the silver shoes she would probably not be acknowledged by the other characters or targeted by the Wicked Witch. By putting on the shoes, Dorothy establishes her place in the Land of Oz and, although they would become the tool to return her home, she is sent on a lengthy journey and assists others along the way. In fact, the theme of Dorothy’s journey was required to help the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion reach their own goals. The journey theme was required to make Dorothy grow as a character and to eventually learn of the power of the silver shoes as soon as her role in Oz was complete.

1 Comment »