Money and Politics in the Land of Oz



Wizardofoz.jpg
Here is the extraordinary story behind the extraordinary story of 'TheWonderfulWizard of Oz'. Most of us have seen the movie version of this allegorical tale, but few of us are aware of what the various characters, places and things represented in the mind of Frank Baum, the tale's author. Professor Quentin Taylor of Rogers State University invitingly titles the piece presented below 'Money and Politics in the Land of Oz'. Though 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' was written over 100 years ago, the themes will be recongizable to those with an interest in golden matters. While many today consider gold an instrument of financial and personal freedom, in Baum's tale, it is painted as a villain -- the tool of oppression. So, as you are about to see, we have come full circle, and gold has travelled a yellow brick road of its own. Michael Kosares

Dorothy (and Toto) of Kansas
Rare Photo Of Dorothy And Toto - the-wizard-of-oz photoDorothy, the protagonist of the story, represents an individualized ideal of the American people. She is each of us at our best-kind but self-respecting, guileless but levelheaded, wholesome but plucky. She is akin to Everyman, or, in modern parlance, "the girl next door." Dorothy lives in Kansas, where virtually everything-the treeless prairie, the sun-beaten grass, the paint-stripped house -- even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry -- is a dull, drab, lifeless gray. This grim depiction reflects the forlorn condition of Kansas in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when a combination of scorching droughts, severe winters, and an invasion of grasshoppers reduced the prairie to an uninhabitable wasteland. The result for farmers and all who depended on agriculture for their livelihood was devastating. Many ascribed their misfortune to the natural elements, called it quits, and moved on. Others blamed the hard times on bankers, the railroads, and various middlemen who seemed to profit at the farmers' expense. Angry victims of the Kansas calamity also took aim at the politicians, who often appeared indifferent to their plight. Around these economic and political grievances, the Populist movement coalesced.


In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Populism spread rapidly throughout the Midwest and into the South, but Kansas was always the site of its most popular and radical elements. In 1890, Populist candidates began winning seats in state legislatures and Congress, and two years later Populists in Kansas gained control of the lower house of the state assembly, elected a Populist governor, and sent a Populist to the U.S. Senate. The twister that carries Dorothy to Oz symbolizes the Populist cyclone that swept across Kansas in the early 1890s. Baum was not the first to use the metaphor. Mary E. Lease, a fire-breathing Populist orator, was often referred to as the "Kansas Cyclone," and the free-silver movement was often likened to a political whirlwind that had taken the nation by storm. Although Dorothy does not stand for Lease, Baum did give her (in the stage version) the last name "Gale"-a further pun on the cyclone metaphor.

The name of Dorothy's canine companion, Toto, is also a pun, a play on teetotaler. Prohibitionists were among the Populists' most faithful allies, and the Populist hope William Jennings Bryan was himself a "dry." As Dorothy embarks on thetwister Yellow Brick Road, Toto trots "soberly" behind her, just as the Prohibitionists soberly followed the Populists.

The Baum Witch Project
When Dorothy's twister-tossed house comes to rest in Oz, it lands squarely on the wicked Witch of the East, killing her instantly. The startled girl emerges from the abode to find herself in a strange land of remarkable beauty, whose inhabitants, the diminutive Munchkins, rejoice at the death of the Witch. The Witch represents eastern financial-industrial interests and their gold-standard political allies, the main targets of Populist venom. Midwestern farmers often blamed their woes on the nefarious practices of Wall Street bankers and the captains of industry, whom they believed were engaged in a conspiracy to "enslave" the "little people," just as the Witch of the East had enslaved the Munchkins. Populists viewed establishment politicians, including presidents, as helpless pawns or willing accomplices. Had not President Cleveland bowed to eastern bankers by repealing the Silver Purchase Act in 1893, thus further restricting much-needed credit? Had not McKinley (prompted by the wealthy industrialist Mark Hanna) made the gold standard the centerpiece of his campaign against Bryan and free silver?

It is apt, then, that Dorothy acquires the Witch of the East's silver shoes at the behest of the good Witch of the North, who stands for the electorate of the upper Midwest, where Populism gained considerable support. (Later in the story, good witches are identified with the color white; silver is known as "the white metal.") Still, for all her goodness, the Witch of the North, like the voters of the upper Midwest, is no match for the malign forces of the East, her tender "kiss" on Dorothy's forehead (electoral support) notwithstanding. The death of the wicked Witch, however, is cause for rejoicing-the "little people" (owing to the destruction of eastern power) are now free. All along, the Munchkins were vaguely aware that their bondage was somehow linked to the silver shoes, but the shoes' precise power was never known. Similarly, although Wall Street and the eastern establishment understood silver's power, common farmers knew little of monetary matters, and bimetalism failed to resonate with eastern workers, who voted against Bryan in droves.

After Dorothy and her companions reach Emerald City, the Wizard sends them to kill the wicked Witch of the West. This Witch is also a cruel enslaver, and she appears to represent a composite of the malign forces of nature that plagued farmers in the Midwest and the power brokers of that region. The former menace is mirrored in the Witch's dominion, which recalls the parched plains of western Kansas, and by the ferocious wolves, ravenous crows, and venomous bees that she sends to destroy Dorothy and her friends. Each predator is summoned by blowing on a silver whistle, another example of a malicious use of the white metal. When the Witch's minions are themselves destroyed, she calls on the Winged Monkeys through the magic of a golden cap. The cap had already been used twice, once to enslave the Winkies and again to drive the Wizard out of the West, patent injustices committed through the power of gold. Yet in summoning the Monkeys, the Witch exhausts the cap's charm, and the flying simians (who had been forced to assist in her evil deeds) are liberated. The power of gold proves finite and illusory, and it requires the coexistence of silver (bimetalism) to sustain its power. No wonder the wicked Witch is so keen to possess Dorothy's silver shoes.

The malign manipulation of gold and silver by the wicked Witch represents the other half of the western menace: the self-interested juggling of metal currency by the western nabobs. McKinley of Ohio, for example, supported the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, voted for its repeal in 1893, and made the gold standard the cornerstone of his 1896 presidential bid. Mark Hanna, also of Ohio, served as McKinley's campaign manager and close advisor, and he was widely viewed as the Richelieu behind the throne. (Vilified by the Populists, Hanna had William Allen White's scathing attack on the Populists-"What's the Matter with Kansas?"-circulated throughout the country during the campaign.) Not surprisingly, the Wizard requires the death of the wicked Witch of the West before he will grant Dorothy's "party" its wishes. The Witch's demise by water ends her evil reign, liberates her slaves, and restores the silver shoe she had stolen from Dorothy. In one fell swoop, the parched lands are watered, the farmers are freed, and silver is returned to its rightful owner, the people.

The fourth witch, Glinda of the South, is a good witch who, unlike her northern counterpart, understands the power of Dorothy's silver shoes. In 1896, Bryan's Democratic-Populist ticket carried the South, and some of the strongest silverites in Congress were from the South, whereas northern support for Bryan and free silver was more moderate. In Oz, the denizens of the South, the Quadlings, are described as an odd race who never travel to Emerald City and dislike strangers traveling across their land. Not since the 1860s had a southerner served as president, and immigrants and northerners were generally unwelcome in the South. Moreover, the road to the land of the Quadlings is perilous and rife with dangers. For those who were "different" (including resident blacks), the South could be a dangerous place indeed.

The Three Amigos

In the hope that the Wizard will help her return to Kansas, Dorothy embarks on the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City. After traveling several miles, she encounters the Scarecrow, who does not "know anything" because he has "no brains at all." The brainless Scarecrow represents the midwestern farmers, whose years of hardship and subjection to ridicule had created a sense of inferiority and self-doubt. Populist leaders such as William Peffer and "Sockless" Jerry Simpson were often portrayed as deluded simpletons who failed to understand the true causes of their economic plight. The Populists' "stupidity" was also attested to by their apocalyptic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and radical agenda, which included nationalization of the railroads, a graduated income tax, and the unlimited coinage of silver. Critics scoffed at their overblown rants, mocked their paranoid style, and dismissed their simplistic nostrums as the distempered ravings of "socialist hayseeds."

The picture of the Scarecrow is not so one-sided. His conduct on the journey through Oz is marked by common sense, resilience, and rectitude. He is not so dumb after all. As we learn near the end of the story, the Scarecrow-cum-farmer had brains all along-perhaps brains enough to grasp the true causes of his misery and the basics of monetary policy.

On the trek through the forest, where the road is in disrepair, the Scarecrow stumbles and falls on the "hard [yellow] bricks," a reference to the Populist claim that the gold standard had a damaging impact on farmers and the people at large. Still, the Scarecrow is "never hurt" by his falls, which suggests that the yellow metal was not the real culprit of the farmer's woes.

Proceeding down the road, the duo encounter the Tin Woodman. Once healthy and productive, the Woodman was cursed by the wicked Witch of the East, lost his dexterity, and accidentally hacked off his limbs. Each lost appendage was replaced with tin until the Woodman was made entirely of metal. In essence, the Witch of the East (big business) reduced the Woodman to a machine, a dehumanized worker who no longer feels, who has no heart. As such, the Tin Man represents the nation's workers, in particular the industrial workers with whom the Populists hoped to make common cause. His rusted condition parallels the prostrated condition of labor during the depression of 1890s; like many workers of that period, the Tin Man is unemployed. Yet, with a few drops of oil, he is able to resume his customary labors-a remedy akin to the "pump-priming" measures that Populists advocated.

BryanHaving liberated the Tin Man, the trio proceeds through the forest, only to be accosted by a roaring lion. He is none other than William Jennings Bryan, the Nebraska representative in Congress and later the Democratic presidential candidate in 1896 and 1900. Bryan (which rhymes with "lion," a near homonym of "lying") was known for his "roaring" rhetoric and was occasionally portrayed in the press as a lion, as was the Populist Party itself. Bryan adopted the free-silver mantra and won the Populists' support in his first race against McKinley. Like the Lion of Oz, Bryan was the last to "join" the party. His defeat in the general election was largely owing to his failure to win the support of eastern workers, just as the Lion's claws "could make no impression" on the Tin Man.

Although Bryan's supporters considered him courageous, his critics thought him "cowardly" for opposing war with Spain in 1898 and the subsequent annexation of the Philippines. Yet, for anti-imperialists, who counted many Populists among their ranks, Bryan's unpopular stand was courageous indeed. Less courageous, however, were his final decision to vote for annexation (albeit as a tactical move) and his failure to fight vigorously for free silver in the election of 1900, both of which disappointed Populists.

Still, the Lion, without knowing that he possesses courage, really does. Near the end of the story, he slays a spiderlike monster that is terrorizing the animals of the forest. The predatory beast symbolizes the great trusts and corporations that were thought to dominate economic life at the turn of the century. Cast as the chief villains in the Populist drama, the trusts were often portrayed as "monsters" of one kind or another. "Sockless" Jerry Simpson called the railroads a "giant spider that controlled our commerce and transportation" (qtd. in Clanton 1991, 51), and the author of Coin's Financial School, the leading free-silver tract of the 1890s, represented the Rothschild money trust as an octopus. Baum himself used the monopoly-as-octopus metaphor in a number of later works, including a specific reference to the Standard Oil Company. Breaking up the trusts and nationalizing the railroads were key components of the Populist agenda, and Bryan favored trust busting if not outright nationalization. Accordingly, the Lion attacks and kills the great beast by knocking off its head. Freed from the eight-legged monster, the grateful forest dwellers vow fealty to the conquering Lion. Would not the Populists have done likewise if Bryan had defeated McKinley and, presumably, slain the trusts?

Of Mice and Monkeys
Another scrape with a menacing beast recapitulates the metaphor. When a "great yellow Wildcat" lights upon the Queen of the Field Mice, the Tin Man decapitates the feral feline with a single swing of his ax. For delivering the Queen from her "enemy," the mice pledge obedience to the Tin Man. Their first act of service is to rescue the Lion from the "deadly poppy fields," where the powerful scent of the flowers has felled the king of beasts.

The diminutive rodents represent the common people, and the "yellow" cat is yet another reference to the malign power of gold. By killing the Wildcat, the Tin Man symbolically slays a chief "enemy" of the people. The timely support of the mice parallels the importance of the common folk in Bryan's bid for the presidency.

The Winged Monkeys, the unwilling minions of the Witch of the West, add a further dimension to the Oz allegory. These creatures represent the Plains Indians. As the Monkeys' leader relates, "we were a free people, living happily in the great forest flying from tree to tree, eating nuts and fruit, and doing just as we pleased without calling anybody master." The Monkey King admits to having engaged in a degree of "mischief," but nothing to justify the harsh treatment the Monkeys received when "Oz came out of the clouds to rule over this land." The Monkeys were initially sequestered, a reference to the government's reservation policy. Later, they are forced to do the bidding of the Western Witch, who commands them with the golden cap. Yet the Monkeys are not inherently bad; they have become so only through an unnatural and evil force. This scenario parallels the view of reformers who blamed the Indians' condition on the whites' inhumane practices. Under Dorothy's benevolent influence, the Monkeys are kind and helpful-that is to say, "assimulated."

Chinatown and the Yellow Winkies
On the journey to find Glinda, the good Witch of the South, Dorothy and company pass through Dainty China Country, which they enter by climbing over a high white wall. China and its Great Wall are the obvious references. But what does China have to do with Gilded Age politics? First, China was in the process of being divided by the great powers (including the United States) into "spheres of influence" for the purpose of commercial exploitation. In 1899 and 1900, Secretary of State John Hay issued the famous "Open Door" notes in an effort to prevent rival nations from gaining "unfair" economic advantages in China. Second, the Celestial Kingdom was the only major nation still on the silver standard. It is apt, then, that Dainty China Country's wall and floor are white, the color of silver bullion. Third, the Lion's careless destruction of the china church echoes the territorial "breakup" of China by foreign intruders and the active proselytizing by Christian missionaries. Finally, the china Princess, who rejects Dorothy's invitation to visit Kansas, resembles the dowager empress, who strongly opposed the foreign presence in China. The last two parallels recall the antiimperialism that Bryan and others championed.

Another anti-imperialist theme appears in the form of the Winkies, called "yellow" because they reside in the Land of the West. The Winkies, who are forced to work for the Witch of the West, represent the "yellow man" of Asia, especially the Chinese immigrants and the native Filipinos. For decades, the Chinese had immigrated to the Far West to labor in various capacities. Given their "exotic" appearance, clannish habits, and willingness to work for low wages, they were often the targets of abuse, discrimination, and even murder. Under pressure from the authorities in California, Congress passed the Exclusion Act (1882), which banned Chinese immigration for twenty years.

The Winkies also resemble the Filipinos, who, after their country's annexation by the United States, found themselves (once more) subjected to a Western power. Demands for independence were denied on the grounds that the Filipino people were "unfit" for self-government. The assumption that the United States knew what was best for the natives was satirized in Baum's original script of the stage version of Oz, where the Scarecrow remarks, "It isn't the people who live in a country who know the most about it. . . . Look at the Filipinos. Everybody knows more about their country than they do" (qtd. in Dighe 2002, 93).

Oz, Emerald City, and the Wacky Wizard
The Land of Oz, with its varied landscape and diverse inhabitants, is a microcosm of America, and Emerald City, its center and seat of government, represents Washington, D.C. In an effort to be made whole, Dorothy and her band travel to the capital to see the Wizard, who presumably has the power to grant them their wishes. The journey to Emerald City corresponds to the Populist effort to acquire power in Washington, and the travelers recall the "industrial armies" who marched on the capital during the depression of 1893-97. The most famous of these, "Coxey's Army," was led by a successful businessman who urged the government to fund public-works programs (most notably a "good roads bill") to alleviate unemployment. Coxey, who hoped to meet with President Cleveland, was arrested for trespassing, and his proposals were ignored. Dorothy and company also face hazards on the road to Emerald City and are turned away by the Wizard, who shows little sympathy for their plight.



PhotobucketThe Wizard, who "can take on any form he wishes," represents the protean politicians of the era, especially the presidents of the Gilded Age. Given the even division of Democrats and Republicans, and the razor-thin majorities of most presidential elections, candidates rarely took clear stands on the issues. As a result, voters often had difficulty in determining what the candidates stood for. The Wizard fits this description, for "who the real Oz is," Dorothy is informed, "no living person can tell." Indeed, when the foursome enter the throne room, the Wizard appears to each in a different form. Like many politicians, he is unwillingly to help them without a quid pro quo: "I never grant favors without some return."

Politicians are also infamous for failing to keep promises, and the great Oz is no different. When Dorothy's party returns after killing the Witch of the West, the Wizard keeps them waiting, then puts them off. By accident, the all-powerful Wizard is exposed and his true identify revealed. Far from a mighty magician, "Oz, the Terrible" is merely a "humbug," a wizened old man whose "power" is achieved through elaborate acts of deception. The Wizard is simply a manipulative politician who appears to the people in one form, but works behind the scenes to achieve his true ends. Such figures are terrified at being exposed; the Wizard cautions Dorothy to lower her voice lest he be discovered and "ruined."

As it turns out, the Wizard hails from Omaha, where he became a talented ventriloquist and later a circus balloonist. Bryan was from Nebraska, was famous for his "hot-air" oratory, and in the minds of his critics was something like a circus ringmaster. Nebraska was also a bastion of Populism, and Omaha the site of the 1892 Populist National Convention, where the party adopted the "Omaha platform," the movement's leading manifesto. Following the party's convention of the previous year, Judge, a popular magazine, parodied the Populists on its cover, which depicted a hotair balloon made of patches that bear the names of the groups and parties that had rallied to the Populist standard: Knights of Labor, Prohibition Party, Socialists, Farmers Alliance, and so forth. In the balloon's basket are caricatures of Populist leaders, preaching the "Platform of Lunacy."

Identification of the Wizard with Bryan would seem to raise an obvious problem. Is he represented by the Lion and the Wizard? Bryan was never president, but he was a masterful politician and an aspirant to the White House. In conjunction with references to Omaha, ventriloquism, and the balloon, the link between Bryan and the Wizard is a reasonable inference. Just as some of Baum's metaphors serve as a composite, the Lion and the Wizard represent different aspects of Bryan.

The Colors of Money
golden road

The Land of Oz is colorful, to say the least, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is replete with references to gold, silver, and green. A number of these references have been noted already, but the story makes several others. The references to gold and silver echo the prominence of monetary politics in the 1890s, especially the bimetallic crusade led by Bryan and the Populists. Moreover, gold and silver are often portrayed as working in combination. The Witch of the West conjures her minions with a silver whistle and a golden cap, and the Tin Man receives a new ax made of gold and silver, as well as a new oil can that contains both metals. Of course, there is Dorothy on her sojourn through Oz, "her silver shoes tinkling merrily on the hard, yellow, roadbed." The word oz itself is the abbreviation for an ounce of gold or silver. There are additional references to gold and silver, but the ones given here amply illustrate Baum's use of the monetary metaphor.

Green, often in combination with gold, is also a recurrent image. Then as now, green was the color of paper money. The Greenback Party, a precursor of the Populists, advocated the expansion of the money supply via the increased circulation of "greenbacks." Jacob Coxey was a greenbacker, as was James B. Weaver, the Populist presidential nominee in 1892. Most of the green imagery in Oz is general in nature and does not appear to indicate specific parallels. Toto wears a green collar that fades to white (silver), and later he receives a gold collar, as does the Lion. In Emerald City, everyone is required to wear green glasses with golden bands, so that nearly everything appears in a resplendent green. The Lion's liquid "courage" is poured from a green bottle into a gold-green dish, and the Wizard's balloon is patched with green silk of various shades. As the spectacles create an illusion, the liquid courage is only a placebo, and the balloon is a mere patchwork, so the demand for paper money is exposed as a panacea for the farmers' woes.

At the end of the story, the Scarecrow supplants the Wizard as the ruler of Emerald City, the Tin Woodman is made master of the West, and the Lion is placed over the animals of the forest. Dorothy transports herself back to Kansas by clicking her silver shoes together three times. All this is achieved with the help of Glinda, the good Witch of the South. The message? Populism is triumphant, the goal of gaining political power is achieved. Or is it? Neither the Scarecrow nor the Tin Man nor the Lion truly lacked what each believed he was missing; the great Wizard's powers proved illusory; and Dorothy had the power to transform her condition all along. These features of the story point to a more ambivalent result. Indeed, Populism's outright failure is suggested when Dorothy's silver shoes fall off in the desert and are "lost forever." After Bryan's defeat in 1896, the free-silver movement went into rapid decline. McKinley's reelection and the statutory adoption of the gold standard in 1900 spelled political oblivion for the Populists.

2 comments:

  1. I was going to leave some links I forgot about now. I like the wizard theme and Chucky, stay with it. The people are damn near euthanized at this point with poison and propaganda so you need some humor to get their attention.

    Is the man behind the curtain public domain. I would like to stick it in my photo shop? Feel free to use any of my photoshops. I make sure the patterns are public domain at the start so there can never be problems.

    Here are a couple of new additions.

    http://dublinmick.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=4805

    http://dublinmick.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/photobucket-2/revenge-of-the-mummy/

    http://dublinmick.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/photobucket-2/obamasamacide/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Spaced out zio-moonies, it's the effect of drinking the koolaid! Take anything you want, Mick and thank you for the links!

    ReplyDelete

If you sit by a river long enough, you'll see the body of your enemy float by.
Old Japanese proverb