The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Suggested Essays
Suggested Essay Questions
How does Baum use repetition, dualities and doubles in the text?
In her introduction to the novel, Susan Wolstenholme comments that the text seems to make statements that double back on themselves: "the text exposes the machinery behind enchantment as it celebrates power to enchant...while fantasy allows for an escape, the fucntion of that escape is to allow a return to a repressive reality." The Wizard's fakery is exposed but nevertheless can enchant; Dorothy's friends believe in the gifts the Wizard bestows upon them. Oz is a breathtaking world, yet Dorothy yearns to return to the bleakness of Kansas; Baum celebrates both opposing environments. There are good witches and bad witches, North and South and East and West, the first chapter mirrors the last chapter, Dorothy is disappointed by the Wizard twice. There is also a very repetitive cast to the writing. Each of the characters explains their wish to the Wizard in the same way, one after the other. Each of them is told the same thing by the Wizard. When Dorothy talks to her friends they often answer her one after the other. The Wicked Witch sends her minions out one after the other. The Wizard meets with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion one after the other, their experiences and conversations proceeding in the exact same fashion. Baum's use of repetition provides structure and order to a fantastical book. It keeps the text sane and establishes the irrefutable reality of Oz and the events transpiring there.
How is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a fairy tale?
Baum was fascinated with fairy tales in his youth and spent time refashioning the famous stories of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. His own story has been interpreted multiple times - in theater, film, and further books. Dorothy resembles a princess like Cinderella in that she lives with people who are not her mother and father but is an heir to more than she can understand at the story's outset. There is a fairy godmother and a witch, strange and fantastical creatures, a dangerous journey, a magical mark and magical shoes, dark forests and splendid or terrifying castles, talking animals, stalwart friends, and a task for Dorothy to accomplish. Wonder tales have an aura of enchantment, which the Wonderful Wizard of Oz has in spades. The novel is not as dark as the European fairy tales that Baum grew up with however; the dangers are less terrifying, the villains dispatched quite easily, none of the protagonists die, Dorothy does not deal with any sexual issues or even any serious emotional ones, and the tone is lighthearted and whimsical. It is truly an American fairytale told with a childlike sense of ethics.
What is "American" about the novel?
There are many details in the novel that exemplify the American reality of the book's time - scarecrows, fields, farmers, prairies, forests, and deserts. The geography of Oz has been discussed in terms of its resemblance to America; the Emerald City was supposedly modeled after Chicago at the time of the World's Fair and the four quarters of Oz represent the east, west, south, and north of America. The Munchkins live in a country that resembles Dutch Pennsylvania. The north is said to resemble the forests and lakes of Michigan, which Baum visited. Baum had attended the World's Fair in Chicago and saw myriad strange and wondrous things that may have influenced him in his creation of Oz. The novel is also considered American for its expressed themes, including echoes of Populism, and its puritanical sexuality. The novel is simple and there are no real "adults". There is a simple dichotomy of good and evil, and innocence, diligence, and hard work are touted as virtues. Baum truly succeeded in fashioning a fairy tale that was American in its style and content.
How do the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion reveal that they already possess what they think they lack?
The Scarecrow believes that he does not have a brain, the Tin Woodman laments his lack of a heart, and the Lion desires a heaping of courage above all else. Despite their firm commitment to the fact that they are missing some crucial element of what makes one human, all three of Dorothy's friends in fact do possess the traits they believe they lack. This is very apparent when the Tin Woodman sympathetically cries after accidentally killing a beetle. The Scarecrow can obviously talk, and quite eloquently, but the presence of his heightened intellect becomes manifest when he solves many of the problems that the travelers face. He figures out how to get across the abyss, how to save Dorothy from the poppies, and how to fend off some of the Witch's minions. The Lion believes himself a coward but can often be found roaring threateningly at the dangerous creatures or humans that they face. He eventually becomes the king of all the animals. The fact that they have the traits they desire, if not apparent before, is even more obvious when the Wizard slightly and benevolently tricks them into thinking bran and pins are a brain, a silk heart is real, and drinking a liquid instills courage.
Discuss Baum's tone and style.
Baum's tone is very light-hearted and whimsical as well as enchanting. His prose is also straightforward and practical; he does not waste his time on extraneous details or spend much time on exposition of character or setting. His characters speak simply and lucidly. There are few words that would perplex a child and no apparent deeper meanings or underlying themes (although critics have since published many analyses on the text). He enjoys having his characters speak one after the other and often repeats both dialogue and actions. There are many binaries and doubles in the text - the good witches mirror the evil, and enchantment and practicality are both equally celebrated. He enjoys making up words and delights in their phonetic and aesthetic appeal; there is often no literary, historical, or linguistic meaning to his creations. Sometimes his writing is slapdash and harried; critics comment that he had so many ideas and could not get them out in an organized fashion. Overall, though, his work is light and pleasing to read, and above all appropriate for children in theme and style.
What role does color play in the novel?
Most viewers of the famous 1939 film adaptation remember the pivotal moment when Dorothy arrived in the vibrant Technicolor land of Oz after spending the first part of the film in the stark black and white Kansas prairie. Color is important in the novel as well. Each land is delineated by color. The land of the Munchkins is bright blue, a fresh and thrilling color. The land of the Winkies is yellow and the land of the Quadlings is red. These are the primary colors and the primary lands of Oz. Baum's earlier book Father Goose, His Book (1899) was also illustrated by W.W. Denslow and had monochromatic color illustrations is yellow, reddish orange, brown, and gray. Baum was familiar with color theory from his time as a window dresser and even wrote about it in his book The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors (1900); he would have known that yellow was considered "west" of blue and red was to the "south". Yellow and blue intersects in the Emerald City and there is a brown area to the south in the china country. Color was not only a stylistic choice but one informed by Baum's background.
How is Dorothy an "Everywoman"?
Dorothy, the protagonist of The Wizard of Oz, is an Everywoman that all children can relate to. She is not sharply drawn and possesses very few, if any, unique traits or characteristics. She is not magical and does not appear to have any special skills. She is not overly anxious or stressed by her predicament and spends her time fully in the present, taking each situation as it comes and trusting in her friends and herself. She adapts to different circumstances without worrying or complaining. The focus often seems to be on the strange people and places that she encounters rather than on herself and her thoughts. She is cheerful, virtuous, and kind. Like most children, she simultaneously desires something different from her reality - a boring and bleak life on the Kansas prairies with her stoic guardian - but needs, deep down, the familiarity and comfort of home. While independent, she still needs mother and father figures as well as companions. Overall, most children reading the novel could identify with Dorothy and quite easily place themselves in her (silver) shoes.
Is the Wizard of Oz good or bad?
While it sounds like a simple question and one that is apropos to the black-and-white morality of the novel, it is not as easy to answer as it seems. The Wizard has no real powers but due to his impressive balloon and slick ingenuity, he was taken for a sorcerer by the people of Oz and made their leader. He did not protest this misunderstanding and instead enjoyed his newly-found power. He commissioned these people to build the wondrous Emerald City but did not treat them like slaves. In fact, the denizens of the Emerald City were very happy and pleased with their stunning home. The Wizard did lie to Dorothy and her friends, however, and sent them on a dangerous quest in order to satisfy his own desire to eradicate the Wicked Witch - a threat to his position due to her real power. He made up for this deception by giving the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Dorothy what they asked for. He tried to help Dorothy but ended up departing the city without her. This did not harm her, and it turns out she never needed his help in the first place; she had the silver shoes and the determination all along. In sum, the Wizard misled many people and claimed to be something he was not; at the same time, he had a benevolent heart and tried to make up for his wrongs. His trickery helped Dorothy's friends self-actualize. It is thus hard to claim that he was either wholly good or wholly bad; as Oz himself said, he was a bad Wizard but a good man.
How is the novel similar to and different from Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, two of the most famous children's books?
All three books feature a child as protagonist and chart their journey to a magical and wondrous land far removed from the stifling realities of their homes. In Alice, the character experiences literal growth as she vacillates between tall and short depending upon the substances she ingests. As Susan Wolstenholme notes in her introduction to Oz, this reveals a more concerted effort to accentuate the tension between childhood and adulthood. In Peter Pan childhood is everything - adulthood is to be shunned. Marriage and parenthood are not part of the reality. Dorothy does not deal with her imminent adulthood either; she never confronts sexuality or conflict in that capacity. Also, whereas Wonderland is a topsy-turvy world that is unfamiliar and irrational, like a dream, Oz is more of "an exaggerated caricature" of the world Dorothy already knows. Even though it is alluded to that the Wizard has aged since he came to Oz, in latter books Baum rids his world of that idea and proffers the premise that one never ages in Oz, just like in Peter Pan's world. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is not a coming of age story per se, but the value of self-reliance provided by the journey will certainly help Dorothy as she matures. The novel both revels in childhood and sets examples for adulthood.
How are the novel and the famed movie adaptation of 1939 different?
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that in the novel Dorothy truly goes to the physical land of Oz whereas in the film it is merely a dream that is populated with people from her daily life who take the for of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Lion, and Wicked Witch. There are large sections from the novel taken out of the film - the abyss, the china country, the Witch's minions, the Hammer-Heads - and, of course, several musical numbers and bits of exposition added in. The latter include the Wizard-as-fortuneteller and the Witch-as-neighbor, as well as the problems with Toto. Dorothy is a teenager in the movie and a child in the book. There are four witches in the novel but only three in the film. The Wicked Witch of the West also has a greater role in the film, as she is the dream version of Miss Gulch. The moral of the story is the same. The film's classic song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" articulates Dorothy's desire to explore another world but by the end of both book and film, she learns "there is no place like home."
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Essays and Related Content
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Major Themes
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: E-Text
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Questions
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- L. Frank Baum: Biography
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Summary
- About The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters I-IV
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters V-VIII
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters IX-XI
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XII-XV
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XVI-IX
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XX-XXIV
- The World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893
- Related Links on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources