Tag: Allegory

Annotating Over The Rainbow

Dorothy sings “Over the Rainbow” immediately after trying to get Aunty Em’s attention, but being rebuffed and told (approximately) “I am too busy. Go find a place where you can’t get into trouble and stay there.” It is explicit that Dorothy is responding to Aunty Em’s instructions, both literally and emotionally.

I need to organize my thoughts about how this iconic song fits into the overall movie. Unsurprisingly, it is integral both in establishing themes and in foreshadowing events. “Over the Rainbow” is the outline of the movie.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high  In the novel, the description of Kansas and the farm explicitly focuses on how little color is there, insisting that the only color to be seen, even on Aunty Em and Uncle Henry, is gray. The Kansas sections of the film are shot in sepia and white. Although it is tempting to say Kansas is gray to contrast how brightly colored Oz will be, but I believe it is more profitable to say that Oz is brightly colored to highlight how gray Kansas is.

We know there are storms there, though, which means there are rainbows, and Dorothy will have seen them. Probably this is the only source of color in her life.

“Over the rainbow” and “Way up high” inaugurate a bird-related motif that recurs through the song and slyly through the movie.

There’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby For starters, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is totally a lullaby.

We sing a lullaby for a two-part reason:

  1. to help a child fall asleep, and
  2. to encourage pleasant dreams by providing pleasant thoughts while they fall asleep

The lullaby reference here gets the audience thinking about sleeping, about dreaming pleasant dreams, about Dorothy sleeping and dreaming pleasant dreams, and it tells us what images Dorothy has on her mind if she later should fall asleep and dream. Which she does.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue.  Blue skies are not gray. This is obvious, but important – she is dreaming of NOT-Kansas. Furthermore, blue skies function as metonymy indicating fine weather, so NOT a tornado. Fine weather functions metaphorically to indicate No Trouble. “It’s all blue skies from here” as the saying goes.
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.  Here Dorothy reinforces the idea of dreaming, and makes sure you know – no matter what they say about dreams being trivial and false – that dreams can be true.

Dreams her are also of course being used both as the sleeping phenomenon and as the aspiration. The future probably looks pretty limited to Dorothy on the farm – and in a movie made during the Great Depression, it’s likely that a child (if not Dorothy then a child in the movie’s original audience) would have been used to the idea of dreams not coming true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me.  There’s a hint of ritual here. To get your wishes (to make your dreams come true) you must follow the correct procedure by wishing on a star.

She will wake up – another reference to sleep and dreaming.

Clouds mean trouble, just as blue skies mean ease.

Clouds are also necessary if you want to see a rainbow. This line makes the rainbow a road to be followed – you follow the rainbow all the way through the clouds/trouble, and you get somewhere wonderful.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops…  Dorothy’s trouble’s will literally melt when she hits the witch with that bucket of water.

Lemon drops are brightly colored, by way of contrast to Kansas. The flowers in Munchkinland look like they are made of candy.

“Above the chimney tops” is where birds go. This continues the motif of birds, which indicates flight, and freedom/possibility.

That’s where you’ll find me.  This somewhat ominously hints that Dorothy will be missing. I believe the very next scene has her running away and meeting Professor Marvel.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Not just any birds. Bluebirds. They are blue. They are not gray. Also, they’re flying.

Dorothy’s dress is blue, too. In the novel, blue is the favorite color in Munchkinland.

If birds fly over the rainbow, why, then, oh, why can’t I? Here Dorothy connects the birds and their flight directly to herself. By way of “flee” fly can mean “run away”.
If happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow in the sky,  The important new element this line adds is “happy,” which suggests that in her current circumstances Dorothy is not happy, so her dream to be a bird and fly over the rainbow to a place without trouble becomes more meaningful.
Why, oh, why can’t I? This time it’s rhetorical. She is about to do exactly that.

Lyrics from MetroLyrics.

Bang on my chest if you think I’m perfect

It’s funny watching The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and realizing I have never really paid close attention to it at all, at least not with an eye toward its details.

I watched it tonight, specifically intending to pay attention for details and take notes about them, and I didn’t notice the Giant Emu in the background near the cottage when Dorothy and the Scarecrow are oiling the Tin Man for the first time. There is a great big long-necked bird hanging out by the cottage. You can see him between Dorothy and the Tin Man in this image:

Thanks to my friend Jim for pointing it out!

What I did notice was a series of subtle references to the importance of doing things according to a certain protocol or ritual, and a notion that even when you follow ritual correctly, you still have to help yourself to really get what you want.

It starts in Kansas, where Aunty Em apologetically pronounces that “We can’t go against the law. Toto will have to go,” and where the farmhands give Dorothy advice about how to be self-sufficient. I need to go back and get their exact advice before Kalamazoo, but there is a strong sense of “do it yourself – you’re good enough.”

In Munchkinland, Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald city. The yellow brick road starts in the middle of the set, spiraling around another brick road, this one red, which goes in another direction. There are two roads. One leads to salvation. One is left to speculate where the other one leads. Enough to say “somewhere else.” Dorothy’s only hope of safety from the Wicked Witch is to find the Wizard in the Emerald City.

The roads start in a very clear, tight spiral, and it would be easier and faster to start where they diverge, or even further away, where the yellow brick road leaves the town square. But Dorothy and Toto begin at the center of the spiral and walk (ok, they dance) tight circles until the road leaves town. They follow the exact process, the ritual, but it is clear they must undertake this journey themselves – Glinda can’t just solve the problem for Dorothy, even though she will later reveal that she has known all along how Dorothy could get home – Dorothy has to do it. Glinda’s only instruction: “Follow the yellow brick road.” One recalls another powerful individual saying “I am the way and the road.”

In the poppy fields, when Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion fall asleep, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow try to pick them up and carry them out. Only after they fail, do they cry out for help, and only at that point does Glinda intervene. Here, I think of the man with a broken cart, kicking his horse to make it move, and Jesus (or one of the Greek gods, in another version of the story) intervenes to help. When his student asks why reward the cruel man, he says “God helps those who help themselves.”

At the gates to Emerald City, the gatekeeper’s behavior once again emphasizes the importance of following rituals. He refuses to let them in when they ring the bell, because the proper procedure is to knock. When they tell him their mission the dialog runs along these lines:

Gatekeeper: “Nobody can see the great oz! nobody has ever seen the great oz! why, even I have never seen him”

Dorothy: “Well how do you know there is one?”

Gatekeeper: Sputters. “You are wasting my time”

Interestingly, he then requires proof that they were sent by Glinda. Faith is extended to Glinda, not to mortal strangers.

When the humbug Wizard’s balloon takes off without Dorothy, it is because she deliberately leaves its basket. Toto is a higher priority. Dorothy has a responsibility to uphold to her pet. She is certain she will never get home, and her cohort reassure her that they love her and will be thrilled to have her stay with them. Glinda then appears and reveals that Dorothy had the ability to go home all along – on her own power. She couldn’t reveal it earlier, because Dorothy had to BELIEVE IT HERSELF.

Notice that ultimately it isn’t the Wizard who helps any of them. He guides them, in the case of the cohort, toward self-realization, toward understanding that they had the missing whatever all along. He doesn’t help Dorothy much at all, sadly, although he does try. But, see, she has to help herself.

There’s lots going on in this movie, but one of its motifs is definitely the interplay between faith and self-reliance.

What Lewis Said

In the middle of the 1930s, the same year, I think, that Tolkien taught us to read Beowulf, CS Lewis published The Allegory of Love, in which he established what would later come to be called “The heresy of courtly love” and in which he more lastingly explained how to read allegory, and in particular how to read the Roman de la Rose, among other things a dream vision.

His argument is that when we see allegory in a medieval text, it indicates that the text is psychological, looking inward. As this applies to the Roman, each allegorical figure is either an aspect of the narrator’s personality, or an aspect of the narrator’s goal, in this case to win the love of his beloved, and consequently an aspect of his beloved’s situation, mood, or willingness to be won. By implementing allegorical methods, the author effectively shines his subject matter through a prism, separating lover and beloved into their component parts.

If my goal were to interpret the medieval Roman, it would be fruitful to look to Macrobeus’ commentary on Scipio’s dream or to other philosophers and theologians of the period to assess the significance of dreams in the 12th century. If you’re interested in that analysis, I’ve actually laid it out already, in my dissertation, and I’d be tickled if you read it.

It’s probably worth looking to Freud and his followers to get a sense of the significance of dreams for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so let’s consider the idea that the novel hints at a dream frame in an effort to shine Dorothy’s wish fulfilment fantasy through a prism, separating out her desire for or anxiety about finding her proper place into its components: the companions, and even Toto, function as aspects of Dorothy herself. The various antagonists and obstacles and locations function similarly as aspects of that knowledge. As outward as traveling to a new world may appear, Dorothy’s adventure, interpreted this way, is internally focused, a psychological exploration of the landscape of childhood as it emerges into independent adulthood.

In previous entries, or possibly in a Facebook status, I’ve speculated about the main companions as indicating Dorothy’s own anxieties: am I a coward because I experience fear? am I heartless? am I stupid? It remains to talk about Dorothy herself and about Toto. I am tempted by a Freudian triad, with Dorothy as ego, Toto as id, and the companions as superego.