Years ago my college history professor told me the Wizard of Oz was an allegory for the politics of the era in which it was written. The movement was the populist movement that advocated bimetallism (the usage of silver in addition to gold as a monetary standard). The following is a list of perceived metaphors in the original story:
Yellow Brick Road = Gold
Dorothy’s silver (in the book) slippers = Silver
Dorothy = the naive American people
Scarecrow = Farmers
Tin Man = American steel industry
Cowardly Lion = Failed populist presidential candidate
The Emerald City = the greenback/paper money
Wicked Witch of the East = Big business
Wicked Witches of the East & West = Big banks of the east and railroad & oil barons of the west
Whether or not the story was truly an allegory is very much debatable. I am of the opinion that there is enough evidence to presume it is an allegory, but not enough evidence to completely decipher Baum, the author’s, message or conclude whether he advocated one political viewpoint over another.
From my one viewing Oz the Great and Powerful, I am not convinced that it is a political allegory. Although, the potential is far too appealing to just leave it at that. There appears to be at least one overt nod to the political interpretation of the original when Oz’s flying monkey assistant, Finley, suggest they pay their way out of their mess by offering money for infrastructure because after all, ‘the yellow brick road is rife with potholes.’
One of the primary difficulties in ascribing the most recent Oz the title political allegory in conjunction with the original is that monetary policy and the populist movement is hardly the major political issue today like it was then. Whether it should be is another question. On the other hand, libertarianism, which fervently supports monetary reforms such as returning to the gold standard, is probably the fastest growing political philosophy today. This could potentially justify its supplanting populism in the new Oz as a political allegory framework.
*Spoiler Alert* The following is my attempt to interpret the possible, if any, allegorical representations in Oz the Great and Powerful. Feel free to add your own interpretations or correct me if you think I’m wrong:
Oscar Diggs (aka Oz) is a magician, con man, liar, womanizer, and cheat. He would most likely be a metaphor for how politicians are viewed today. Even when he does good he has to use his old tricks, which could be a metaphor for how politicians have to play the political game to succeed, even if they mean well.
The wicked witches of the east and west could continue to be metaphors for big business. The fact that they control Emerald City and its riches only strengthens this interpretation, as many people today believe that big business and big banking controls our government.
Frank/Finley the monkey is Oz’s loyal servant. In the real world he works for practically nothing and in Oz he actually does work for nothing because he owes a life debt to Oz. This could be a metaphor for the stagnant wages of Americans and also the growing idea that debt is today’s form of involuntary servitude.
China Girl is literally a girl made of China. Oz helps put her back together while on his journey. After he fixes her he tries to get rid of her and send her on her way, but she refuses to leave Oz and cries until he relents and allows her to join. This could be a metaphor about how America’s and China’s fates are inextricably linked do to financial obligations, trade, and the global economy in general.
The Tinkers are an elderly group of men who can build just about anything you ask them to. There are no young tinkers. They could represent America’s declining industrial and manufacturing industry.
The munchkins sing and are really good at making clothes. I’m not certain what this could be a metaphor for, but I’m sure there is a good one somewhere.
The witches have a large army of giant men and flying monkeys, while the inhabitants of the kingdom whom the good witch Glinda presides over do not believe in killing. The witches army could be representative of the military industrial complex, while those in Glinda’s kingdom represent the anti-interventionist inclinations of today’s libertarians.
Also, interestingly there is a giant room full of gold at the palace in Emerald City. If the movie does follow the political allegory theme then this would have to play some role in relation to the gold standard and even some type of Fort Knox reference possibly.
Again, I am not totally convinced that the original Wizard of Oz or Oz the Great and Powerful are political allegories. Although, after making this list I am slightly more convinced of the possibility. Further, even if the original was not a political allegory, the creators of the latest story would only benefit by subtly acknowledging the historical debate that surrounds the original. What do you think?