An Allegory of Money, Politics and Believing in Yourself
The story begins on a barren Kansas farm, where Dorothy lives with a very sober aunt and uncle who “never laughed” (the 1890s depression that hit the farmers particularly hard). A cyclone comes up, carrying Dorothy and the farmhouse into the magical world of Oz (the American dream that might have been). The house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East (the Wall Street bankers and their man Grover Cleveland), who has kept the Munchkins (the farmers and factory workers) in bondage for many years.
For killing the Wicked Witch, Dorothy is awarded magic silver slippers (the Populist silver solution to the money crisis) by the Good Witch of the North (the North was then a Populist stronghold). In the 1939 film, the silver slippers would be transformed into ruby slippers to show off the cinema’s new technicolor abilities; but the monetary imagery Baum suggested was lost. The silver shoes had the magic power to solve Dorothy’s dilemma, just as the Silverites thought that expanding the money supply with silver coins would solve the problems facing the farmers.
Dorothy wanted to get back to Kansas but was unaware of the power of the slippers on her feet, so she set out to the Emerald City to seek help from the Wizard of Oz (the apparently all-powerful President, whose strings were actually pulled by financiers concealed behind a curtain).
“The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick,” she was told, “so you cannot miss it.” Baum’s contemporary audience,wrote Professor Ziaukas, could not miss it either, as an allusion to the gold standard that was then a hot topic of debate. 14 Like the Emerald City and the Great and Powerful Oz himself, the yellow brick road would turn out to be an illusion. In the end, what would carry Dorothy home were silver slippers.
On her journey down the yellow brick road, Dorothy was first joined by the Scarecrow in search of a brain (the naive but intelligent farmer kept in the dark about the government’s financial policies), then by the Tin Woodman in search of a heart (the factory worker frozen by unemployment and dehumanized by mechanization). Littlefield commented: "The Tin Woodman . . . had been put under a spell by the Witch of the East. Once an independent and hard working human being, the Woodman found that each time he swung his axe it chopped off a different part of his body. Knowing no other trade he “worked harder than ever,” for luckily in Oz tinsmiths can repair such things. Soon the Woodman was all tin. In this way Eastern witchcraft dehumanized a simple laborer so that the faster and better he worked the more quickly he became a kind of machine. Here is a Populist view of evil Eastern influences on honest labor which could hardly be more pointed."
The Eastern witchcraft that had caused the Woodman to chop off parts of his own body reflected the dark magic of the Wall Street bankers, whose “gold standard” allowed less money into the system than was collectively owed to the banks, causing the assets of the laboring classes to be systematically devoured by debt.
The fourth petitioner to join the march on Oz was the Lion in search of courage. According to Littlefield, he represented the orator Bryan himself, whose roar was mighty like the king of the forest but who lacked political power. Bryan was branded a coward by his opponents, because he was a pacifist and anti-imperialist at a time of American expansion in Asia. The Lion became entranced and fell asleep in the Witch’s poppy field, suggesting Bryan’s tendency to get side-tracked with issues of American imperialism stemming from the Opium Wars. Since Bryan led the “Populist” or “People’s” Party, the Lion also represented the people, collectively powerful but entranced and unaware of their strength.