Is There a Solution Money Lesson Hidden In “The Wizard of Oz?”
Lions and tigers and allegories for the bimetallist fiscal policy and flip of the century agrarian political movements, oh my!
Tomorrow, August 25th, marks the 79th anniversary of the working day The Wizard of Oz, just one of the most preferred and enduring movies of all time opened in theatres throughout the place. And although Dorothy’s adventures down the Yellow Brick Highway with The Scarecrow, The Tin Guy, and The Cowardly Lion remain a critical component of the pop society canon pretty much eighty years later on, there are also a lot of conspiracy theories and alternate readings similar to equally the motion picture and the classic L. Frank Baum novel on which it’s dependent.
And no, we’re not just speaking about what occurs when you listen to Pink Floyd’s Dim Side of the Moon and sync it up with the Wizard of Oz motion picture—though that is by significantly the most popular of the Oz-similar theories. There is a different different interpretation that started out in the 1960’s and that persists to this day—and it has to do with flip of the century economics! Is it doable that this beloved children’s novel is also a parable of U.S. financial policy? Browse on and come across out.
This concept hinges on Dorothy’s magical slippers.
If you have only ever noticed the Wizard of Oz motion picture and have not browse the first book, you may well not know this, but Dorothy’s magical slippers weren’t always ruby. In L. Frank Baum’s novel, they are silver! The motion picture improved them to ruby in get to acquire benefit of the new Technicolor approach that the movie used for the scenes established in Oz.
(Sidebar: A odd side outcome of this change is that the copyright for the ruby slippers however belongs to the movie, although the rights for the novel sit firmly in the public domain. This is why, in preferred Oz-dependent works like the strike musical Wicked, the slippers remain their first silver, which can be really baffling for persons only common with the movie.)
The funny point about this seemingly minimal change is that the slippers remaining silver is a vital component of this concept …
In 1963, high college teacher Henry Littlefield (who was also a Columbia College-skilled historian) released an essay in American Quarterly titled The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism. In the piece, he argued that beneath the charming kid’s tale lay a parable of the Populist Movement—a important political drive of the nineties.
According to Littlefield, The Wizard of Oz argued for the worth of abandoning a single gold normal and adopting a “bimetallist” normal for American currency that included silver in addition to gold.
What? You should describe the historical past right here.
Alright, in the 1890’s, The usa was heading by some stuff. A depression from 1893-96 strike a whole lot of bad people challenging, drought strike farmers even more durable, and “Gilded Age” financial policies frequently favored bankers in excess of the operating courses. One particular of the issues that came out of this was the Populist Movement, which temporarily took the form of the third-get together People’s (Populist) Social gathering.
The Populist Movement was an agrarian movement—meaning it was generally produced up of farmers and other persons from rural areas—based principally in the Midwest. The Populists argued that bankers experienced too considerably power at the cost of farmers and manufacturing unit employees.
Although the Populists did all the things they could to contain manufacturing unit employees in their bring about, it remained generally a rural and regional phenomenon. Sooner or later, it’s goals, policies, and candidates ended up swept up into the Democratic Social gathering.
One particular of the most important issues that the Populist Movement argued for was “bimetallism” which meant including silver to suppliers of gold that, at the time, backed U.S. currency. The function of the “gold standard” was to website link the cost of the dollar to the cost of gold, thereby preventing inflation (amid other issues).
The level of this “free silver” policy, on the other hand, was to pump dollars into the overall economy and to generate inflation—something that would have been poor for loan companies (i.e. bankers) but excellent for borrowers (i.e. farmers) who struggled to obtain credit history underneath the present-day technique.
In 1896, leading Populist politician William Jennings Bryan gave his popular “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic Nationwide Conference arguing for “bimetallism” and “free silver.” With Populist help, he received the Democratic nomination for President … and went onto get rid of to William McKinley.
Alright. Which is adequate historical past. So what’s the allegory?
So, remember how, at the conclude of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy learns that she really experienced the power to return dwelling to Kansas the full time? All she desired to do was click on the heels of her footwear with each other three occasions and presto! She would get what she was wanting for.
Basically, the silver footwear from the book characterize the “free silver” policy. The Yellow Brick Highway, meanwhile, signifies the gold normal: Dorothy thinks it will lead her to the answer to her difficulties, but it in the long run does not. As a substitute, it only leads her to the Emerald City, which signifies Washington D.C., a seemingly extraordinary spot that simply cannot really assist her.
The figures all have stand-ins too: Dorothy signifies “Miss Everyman” as Littlefield puts it, although The Scarecrow signifies farmers, The Tin Guy (“Tin Woodman” in the book) signifies manufacturing unit employees, and The Cowardly Lion signifies William Jennings Bryan himself. The Wicked Witch of the West—defeated by water—is drought, and … we’ll permit Littlefield explain the Wizard himself:
“The Wizard, a tiny bumbling outdated person, hiding powering a facade of papier mache an sounds, may well be any President from Grant to McKinley. He arrives straight from the reasonable grounds in Omaha, Nebraska, and he symbolizes the American criterion for leadership—he is able to be all the things to everybody.”
Savage melt away, Henry.
Is The Wizard of Oz Really about the gold normal?
Almost certainly not. As we outlined up best, The Wizard of Oz is like catnip for outrageous theories. A whole lot of that likely has to do with Baum’s tone as an creator. He carefully satirizes a variety of unique subjects and ideas, leaving persons to browse into the precise nature of his target with enthusiastic abandon.
So was Littlefield just trolling? Or was he just a tiny off his rocker, truly feel that Baum was seeking to Hypnotoad the nation’s small children into supporting inflationary financial policy? Yet again, likely not. In an post on Littlefield’s concept for the Smithsonian, curator Peter Liebhold features an intriguing concept of his possess into Littlefield’s motives:
Although the literary deconstruction of The Wizard of Oz by Littlefield and subsequent scholars may well appear overly strained, their do the job has been important in developing common curiosity in the historical past of the nineties Populist motion, as perfectly as in populism extra broadly. Littlefield was encouraged to generate the post mainly because of his experiences as a high college teacher, and his analysis of The Wizard of Oz has all the markings of a pedagogical technique: he produced a amazing quest that needed members to fully grasp the historical past of the Populist motion in get to come across the clues in Baum’s book. (In get to come across Waldo, you want to know what he seems like.)
And even if Littlefield really did feel in Baum’s parable, he was underneath no delusions as to the author’s genuine motives. As he puts it, “The allegory always stays in a minimal critical, subordinated to the major concept and commonly abandoned each time it threatens to distort the attraction of the fantasy.”
The explanation The Wizard of Oz has endured so extended has very little to do with its dollars smarts. It is mainly because it’s a excellent story. If something, relocating away from the allegory—by producing the footwear ruby as an alternative of silver—has only added to its everlasting attraction.
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