Those of us of certain age may recall the suggestion that L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz allegorically represented the Populist movement. There even was an article “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism” published in American Quarterly, Fall 1968, asserting the theory. According to Henry Littlefield’s analysis in this article, Dorothy represents us and her silver shoes (for they were silver in the book although ruby in the movie) will carry us through wherever we want to go in a supposed allusion to William Jennings Bryan’s ideas about the silver standard. The path she travels is a dangerous one. Thus the gold standard represented by the yellow brick road is fraught with unforeseen perils. Carrying the “Parable of Populism” further, the lion represents Bryan himself, Oz is Washington, D.C., and the Wizard is the President–any president from Grant to McKinley–whomever happens to be in the seat of power. The Wicked Witch of the West is both the Bank and the harsher side of mother nature who imposes natural disasters on the people of the Midwest. When the Wizard ultimately leaves Oz and the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman take his place, Littlefield claims this is the farmers taking the seat of power they deserve in the Populists’ point of view. The Lion (Bryan) is King of the Forest or the “forest full of lesser politicians” according to Littlefield’s analysis. The parallels in this theory are intriguing yet, in many cases, obviously flawed.
Fast forward thirty years to the truth. Who dispels the myth that the underlying story of Oz is that of Populism? Henry Littlefield himself admits that he only came up with the idea as a device for teaching his Mount Vernon [N.Y.] High School history students about the Populist movement and never intended his theory be taken so seriously. Littlefield explained all of this in an article “The Wizard of Allegory” in the Baum Bugle 36 (Spring 1992):24-25. Despite the flaws and tenuous connections in the Littlefield’s theory and the fact that he, the person who presented the idea, sets the record straight retracting the validity of the parallels he attempted to draw, there are still those that cling to the theory to this day. It may be that many of us missed the sequel to the intriguing story that Oz was not as innocent as it seemed. Or it may be that we choose to believe these ideas because political conspiracy theories are more interesting than innocent American fairy tales.