Monday, June 25, 2007

Great fairy stories as political comment

I was meditating on life and my part in it yesterday and the story of the Wizard of Oz popped into my mind. More specifically the two characters below, the Lion who needed courage and the Tin Man who needed a heart. Any endeavour requires these things doesn't it? Without courage and heart we might as well not start.

It seems such a simple truth but this site discusses the deeper meaning of the story. Check out
Symbolism of the Wizard of Oz if you are interested.

The Cowardly Lion, according to Henry Littlefield, represents William Jennings Bryan, who made the first of three unsuccessful bids for the presidency in the election of 1896. Bryan was the Democratic Party's nominee for president and he embraced some Populist issues, most notably "free silver," the bi-metallic monetary standard that Populists thought would allow farmers greater access to credit. The Populists were faced with the choice of either running their own candidate or choosing "fusion" with the Democratic Party. The Populists opted to select Bryan as their candidate as well, risking being absorbed by the Democratic Party and dwindling as a movement. By casting their lot with the Democrats, the Populists felt they could expand their influence outside of the rural parts of the country. Ultimately, however, it appears the Populists made the wrong bet. Bryan lost the election and the Populists were never regained the influence they enjoyed in the 1890s. Perhaps the undoing of the Populist movement was their failure to attract the support of industrial workers. In Baum's original story, upon first meeting the Cowardly Lion strikes at the Tin Man, but his claws do not make a dent in his metal body—just as the Populists efforts to create a coalition between farmers and industrial workers were unsuccessful. Littlefield equates this futile act on the part of the Cowardly Lion with Bryan's failure to win the vote of industrial laborers. Littlefield suggested that Baum revealed his skepticism about politicians through the character of the Cowardly Lion. Bryan may have been a great orator, but despite his roar, he had no real power.

Gene Clanton agrees that the Cowardly Lion could represent Bryan but he sees a broader meaning in this symbol. He interprets the "Cowardly Lion as William Jennings Bryan or any major party politico cowed by the money power." [2] In The Historian's Wizard of Oz, R. Dighe includes editorial cartoons from the 1890s that depict William Jennings Bryan as a lion. He points out, however, that the image of a lion was also used for the Populist Party in political cartoons, so perhaps the Cowardly Lion represents not an individual, but the Populist Party generally.

The Tin Man according to Henry Littlefield, the Tin Man represents industrial workers. In Baum's original book, the Tin Man explains that he had once been human, but that the Wicked Witch of the East had put a curse on his axe. With each swing of his axe he had chopped off a part of his body. The only person who could help him was the tinsmith, who replaced the severed parts of his body with artificial limbs made out of tin. Eventually his entire body was made of tin. The fate of the Tin Man suggests the dehumanization of industrial labor. When Dorothy and the Scarecrow find the Tin Man he has rusted to the point where he is immobile. According to Littlefield, this is a reference to the depression of the 1890s that had closed many factories and left large numbers of workers unemployed. Most of the analysts who see The Wizard of Oz as a political allegory agree that the Tin Man represents industrial workers. According to Gretchen Ritter the Tin Man is the "hardened worker".


RUTH said...

How interesting the story behined the story is...fascinating. A lot of nursery rhymes have historical origins too.

Jeni said...

Now that was really interesting! I never would have thought of an analogy there between the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and politics, farmers and organized labor. Keep on reading, posting and explaining and teaching us - especially me!

latt├ęgirl said...

Well, well. I read the Oz books voraciously as a child, and I don't remember the story behind the Tin Man losing body parts. That's rather gruesome, isn't it! Then again, some children's rhymes (as ruth said) have dark origins, as well. Such as "Ring about the Rosie" -- which was a rhyme started by children during the Plague.

Ring around the rosey (or rosie, sic?) - the red marks that appeared on the skin as the illness manifested itself
Pocketful of posey (posie?) - I can't remember what this part meant
Husha! Husha! - sneezing, another symptom
They all fall down -- e.g. DEAD

Gene Bach said...

Hmmm, I can't open the link from here but I'm thinking people are reading too much into the story maybe.