The Wizard of Oz as an Allegory for the Presidential Election of 1896

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2022

I’ve never heard this theory before: L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz as an allegory for the 1896 Presidential election, the central issue of which was the monetary concept of bimetallism. Quickly, from Wikipedia, a definition of bimetallism:

Bimetallism is a monetary standard in which the value of the monetary unit is defined as equivalent to certain quantities of two metals, typically gold and silver, creating a fixed rate of exchange between them.

There was much debate in the run-up to the election over how to define the rate between gold and silver in the US. Here’s where The Wizard of Oz comes in:

Dorothy is whipped out of Kansas by a tornado with her little dog “Toto” (short for teetotalers, who made a loud noise yip-yapping but were otherwise ineffective political companions). On her way to the Land of Oz, Dorothy picks up her electoral coalition. First, the Scarecrow, representing western farmers. “He thinks that he has no brains because his head is stuffed with straw. But we soon learn that he is shrewd and capable. He brings to life a major theme of the free silver movement: that the people, the farmer in particular, were capable of understanding the complex theories that underlay the choice of a standard.”

Next, the Tin Man (or Tin Woodman). The working class man, once a true human, is now just a cog in the industrial machine. Piece by piece his human body was replaced by metallic parts. He is now little more than a machine, a heartless (literally) machine. The Populist hope of the era was a grand farmer-labor coalition that never quite solidified — and we still see residual evidence of this hope in the official name of Minnesota’s Democratic Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

The Cowardly Lion, then, was William Jennings Bryan himself. Capable of a great roar — his speeches were legendary — alas, to mix metaphors, he was all bark and no bite.

(via kyle westaway)