The Mystical Lands of the Wizard: Confrontation

Kid Mystic
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For centuries, Americans, to say nothing of Europeans, had looked upon the New World as a garden of plenty, a veritable heaven on earth, where all human needs would be fulfilled and all human desires satisfied.

Walter Padick

It still affirmed the idea that American life could be perennially renewed and thereby invigorated. But America was no longer the land in which men and women from the Old World might find political and spiritual freedom to accompany social and economic opportunity. This new culture of abundance and consumption enabled, even encouraged, men and women to alter their identities as often as they pleased, and to do so without anxiety, fear, shame, or remorse.

There was little about modern America that was fixed and stable.

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The inflation of desire, the longing for a greater number and variety of commodities in an expanding world of plenty, further diluted older values and customs. Americans found in the diffusion of money and possessions, the real, and enduring, promise of American life. Published in , at this crucial moment of transition, L. Liberal and radical historians have tended to exaggerate the passivity of men and women who sought, and who sometimes found, independence and meaning through consumption. Regarding them as wholly subject to the manipulation of political and economic elites, historians cannot explain the fidelity to consumer capitalism that many ordinary, intelligent, and resourceful Americans displayed at the turn of the twentieth century.

Baum understood, or at least intuited, that the culture of consumption offered both new opportunities and excited new possibilities for richer and fuller lives.

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In his novel, he emphasizes the transformative and liberating potential of consumption. Such an acknowledgment, of course, does not imply that consumer capitalism ever realized its early promise. It did not. Inequitable and unfair wages, the abuse of the working class, the exclusion and misery of the poor, and grotesque material indulgence were among the most visible consequences to accompany the rise of a market society and a consumer economy. Baum also recognized the importance of service to the new culture of consumption.

When, for example, Dorothy and her companions enter the Emerald City, attendants pamper them and address their every need, overlooking no comfort. It hinted instead at a resurgence of the luxury, privilege, and decadence characteristic of aristocracy. But Baum appreciated that consumption and service had coalesced to present Americans with a new definition of independence and individualism, which had bestowed on them a more diverse range of personal expression and experience and awakened an imaginative reconstruction of self and world. Service encouraged the notion that all men, women, and children ought to be treated as individuals with their own interests, needs, and desires.

Everyone merited satisfaction and contentment.

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In this respect, consumption and service endorsed the democratic and utopian possibilities inherent in the American way of life, suggesting that the happiness, the welfare, and even the dreams of all persons, including little orphan girls from Kansas, were within easy reach. Literary scholars and critics, of course, have long interpreted The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a fable of populism, arguing that Baum disparaged the social, political, economic, and moral order of the Gilded Age.

His fictional universe appears to be composed of immutable laws and absolute truths. He apparently found his inspiration in the revolt of urban workers and small farmers against the evil triumvirate of heartless bankers, profiteering railroad entrepreneurs, and powerful industrialists represented in the novel by the wicked Witch of the East , which had come to dominate the society and government of the United States at the expense of the common man. Yet, in addition to venerating field and farm, and to sanctioning popular resistance to corporate ascendancy, Baum marveled at the grand hotels, theaters, dance halls, restaurants, amusement parks, and department stores that were then coming to tower above the landscape of major American cities.

The house has fallen on the wicked Witch of the East, killing her. By pure accident, an impersonal Nature, which, in one instance, has revealed its indifference to human well-being, has, in the next, brought about unexpected benefits. On her journey to the Emerald City, where she hopes to meet the Wizard of Oz who will help her return to Kansas, Dorothy encounters others who have either fallen victim to the dreadful wrath of Witch of the East or who suffer as a result of her power.

Embodying the small farmer, the Scarecrow displays a tenacious sense of self-doubt and inferiority. In realty, the Scarecrow is intelligent, perceptive, and even wise. Yet, he labors under the illusion that he is ignorant, foolish, and stupid, and thus powerless to improve his condition. Each time he swings his axe, he severs another part of his body until tin has gradually replaced flesh and bone. The harder he has worked, the more damage he has done to himself. By the time Dorothy and the Scarecrow happen upon him, nothing of his former humanity remains.

Thinking himself now more machine than man, and impervious even to the most basic emotions, the Tin Woodman has rusted in the rain. Paralyzed, standing in the same place for a year, going nowhere, he, like the Scarecrow, thinks he can do nothing to better his lot.

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It seems that the arcane, and often dishonest, financial arrangements and banking practices, which for Baum constituted the eastern witchcraft, to say nothing of mechanization itself, have dehumanized and, in the end, destroyed, the once self-reliant American working man. But this lion regards himself as a cowardly failure. Watson of Georgia as their vice-presidential candidate.

The scarcity of silver relative to gold had raised the price.

Mine owners earned far greater profits by selling silver on the open market, to be used, for example, in the manufacture of jewelry and tableware, than they did by selling it to the government to be minted into coins. By the s, the re-monetization of silver had assumed political significance; silver became a panacea guaranteed to lift farmers and workers out of destitution by expanding the money supply.

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Opposition to the coinage of silver, by contrast, revealed evidence of a vast conspiracy among the wealthy further to impoverish the poor and the downtrodden. Throughout the novel, Dorothy wears the silver shoes that she has removed from the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East. It is, of course, also no accident that Dorothy travels along the Yellow Brick Road.

In the Land of Oz, as in heaven, the streets are literally paved with gold.

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Innocent and guileless, she does not realize the marvelous power that the silver shoes have granted to her. Of their magical properties, Dorothy remains unaware. If you had known their power you could have gone back home to your Aunt Em the very first day you came to this country. Now go, and do not ask to see me again until you have done your task.

It is the price she must pay to get home. If the Wicked Witch of the East symbolized the malevolent forces of the economy, her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, personifies the hostile forces of nature. The Wicked Witch of the West uses all of the powers at her command to prevent the assembly from fulfilling the mission on which the Wizard has dispatched them.

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She first sends forty wolves against Dorothy and her friends, then forty vicious crows, and finally a swarm of black bees. After these efforts fail, the Witch summons the flying monkeys to capture Dorothy, and to dispose of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. Although the Witch enslaves Dorothy and compels her to work, in the end Dorothy kills her by dousing her with water, demonstrating the subjugation of nature to human control.

Dorothy has done what the Wizard required, and her triumph over evil portends well for her and her companions. To their dismay, when they return to the Emerald City with news that the Wicked Witch of the West is dead, they discover that the Wizard is a fraud, a confidence man, who cannot fulfill the extravagant promises he has made. Formerly a mimic, a ventriloquist, and a balloonist who performed at circuses and country fairs, the Wizard is a master of illusion and deception.

Only once Dorothy learns the inadequacies of the Wizard, does she fully grasp that she has had the power all along to help her friends and herself.

The Scarecrow at last recognizes his intelligence and rises to govern the Emerald City. The Tin Woodman finds that he has a heart after all, and comes to power in the West. Cowardly no more, the Lion assumes the responsibility of safeguarding the creatures of the forest. And Dorothy returns to her home in Kansas. As the prevailing interpretation of the novel suggests, the moral of the story seems to be that the characters, like all Americans, carry within themselves the solutions to their own problems, if only they had the knowledge, fortitude, and confidence to implement them.

At the same time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz operates on a deeper cultural, ideological, and psychological level, enabling Baum to introduce into his apparently populist fairy tale an optimistic vision of modern America that affirmed the priorities and values of an emerging urban social order and a burgeoning consumer economy. His sympathy for farmers and workers notwithstanding, Baum applauded the enthusiasm that many Americans felt for city life and material pleasures.

The Emerald City is not only the geographical but also the moral center of the novel. The very name conjures a sense of glamour and excitement. Everyone seemed happy and contended and prosperous. Louis of , implanted in the minds of many Americans a glittering but sanitized vision of urban harmony, abundance, and gratification.