Tag: Dorothy

Dorothy and the Consequences of Labor

Earlier this week, a friend had me thinking about just how old Dorothy is meant to be in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In the film, Judy Garland was 16, but she was made up and costumed to look much younger, with a compression brace to hide her breasts, and little-girl hair in pigtails, and ankle socks inside her dress shoes. But neither the film (that I noticed) nor the novel (I looked) specify her exact age. The narrator describes her using terms like “little girl” and describes her “chubby hands,” though, and perhaps most significantly she doesn’t have chores on a working farm.

In the novel, the narrator goes to great lengths to point out that she plays all day with Toto, while Aunt Em and Uncle Henry go about the sort of labor that turns a person gray. The decision to live in a place like Kansas represents a real commitment, a willingness to purchase independence at the expense of joy-crushing work. Em and Henry are willing to put in long hours, because they are able to benefit from the returns of their effort, however small, and they can be proud of their independence.

The issue of labor comes up almost immediately in Oz, as well, because the farmhouse lands upon and kills the Wicked Witch of the East, freeing the Munchkins from bondage. Dorothy learns from the Witch of the North that the Witch of the East had forced the Munchkins to work for her for many years, and now they would be free.

The Scarecrow is insecure about his effectiveness at scaring crows, afraid he is a bad scarecrow: He is worried about the quality of his work.

The Tin Man’s story also focuses on the results of labor. He wants to earn enough to marry a pretty Munchkin, so he works hard at woodcutting. The pretty Munchkin’s guardian is lazy and wants to keep the girl working for her, so she pays the Wicked Witch of the East for a curse. The curse manifests through the Tin Man’s labor, and he cuts off one limb after another, and then his head, and finally his torso, having each replaced by a tinsmith so he can carry on working. He sees the potential reward of diligent work; the pretty Munchkin is denied the fruits of hers. In practice, working to pursue his goal of marrying the pretty Munchkin leads him to destroy his own heart (literally, with his axe), and with it his desire to marry her at all. The witch’s curse, the external effort of a more powerful individual, has denied him the reward of his labor and left him with only the labor itself and his own anxiety about lacking a heart/sentimentality.

The Flying Monkeys are in thrall to the Wicked Witch of the West, forced to work for her because she possesses a magic helmet.
There are more and more examples of work in the novel, of people benefiting from their work, or being denied the benefits, and Dorothy witnesses them all.

Throughout, Dorothy herself consistently approaches the challenges of Oz by asking what effort she must put in next to achieve her goals and then taking those actions. The most obvious example is undertaking the lengthy walk to the City of Emeralds, of course, but there are many others.
Dorothy learns the value of effort, both moral and practical; she determines what work is required, then she does that work, confident that she deserves the benefits that accrue as a result.

When she returns to Kansas, Uncle Henry has already rebuilt the farm. He and Aunt Em have never stopped working. No doubt this is a part of what Dorothy comes to appreciate about the nature of home. Home is why you work; home is the reward and the outcome of labor.

In such a paradigm, enforced labor, enthrallment, slavery is an abomination against the notion of home. Viewed this way, the choice to set the novel in Kansas takes on additional significance, because the work of creating Kansas, of making Kansas a place to call home, was ongoing.

Baum was the son in law of a prominent Suffragist and sympathized with Suffrage himself; seeing women denied a voice in the culture they helped to create would have offended him.

He was furthermore born in 1856, so he was a child during the Civil War, and must remember the war and its aftermath, the consequences of slavery, especially on the slaves themselves, who were ripped unwilling from their homes and denied the profits of their own labor.


Oz and Mind Cure and Capitalism

Oh my!

Today, I have been reading in Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, in which William Leach lays out the rise of a consumerist mindset in America, which he argues is influenced by Mind Cure, the philosophical and ethical underpinning of theosophy and several other popular spiritual movements of the day whose main tenet is positive thinking.

He points out Baum’s prominence as a pioneer in techniques of window display, and his general unconcern with suffering, and sets these ideas parallel to major features of Oz: the very landscape is rich with food, so that even though Dorothy runs out of provisions a couple of times, somehow food always comes to her, either from kindly people in cottages or from the foraging of her companions. The Wizard himself is a complete fraud, who uses techniques of display to manipulate his subjects (he “made” the people of the Emerald City build his palace by convincing them he was a powerful wizard, etc) and continues that practice with Dorothy and her companions when he says he can help them but will only do it if they wipe out the wicked witch.

He is a showman, and a brilliant marketer of his own brand, and everyone loves him anyway. Even Dorothy forgives him. Baum identified with him. Leach argues that Baum is participating in the process of divorcing consumption from production – that you can have whatever you want, if only you believe in yourself and go about taking it, and that doing so is not only ethical, but desirable.

The idea that we each contain the potential to achieve our desires is clear in the companions, of course. I’ve already written (and so has, like, EVERYONE ELSE) about how each one of them believes he lacks some critical characteristic, but how each one of them is WRONG.

It’s interesting. I’m not sure how much of the issue of consumerism will matter for my larger project, but I think the influence of Baum’s theosophy, in particular his focus on the power of positive thinking, will be very useful.

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.

Everything in its place

I read through the end of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz today, and the final chapters all share in common the idea that each person belongs in a particular place, and that it’s bad to be out of that place. The latter point is a fundamental theme of the Gothic, in which intrusions from one locus into another can turn otherwise benevolent things into horrors: it is good to have a revered, deceased grandfather, but when he emerges from the past and memory (where he belongs) into the present, into the world of the living, what you have is a haunting.

In the chapter “The Dainty China Country,” which depicts a country where the setting and people are all made of porcelain, Dorothy and the companions embody this theme by accidentally damaging a china milkmaid and her cow. Once they realize they are a threat to the citizens of the china country, they are very very careful, and even then, they shatter a church in the process of leaving. Their observation: “…really I think we were lucky in not doing these people more harm than breaking a cow’s leg and a church. They are all so brittle!” (70)

On the way to the see Glinda in the south, the Cowardly Lion (acting more or less as he has all along, but now convinced of his own bravery rather than just acting bravely without realizing it) defeats a monstrous spider, with legs as long as he is. By eliminating this intruder from the forest, where it does not belong, he wins the loyalty of the beasts of the forest, earning his own place by eliminating a monster. One imagines in its own proper habitat, the giant spider might be less destructive.

Although I am still worrying about the magic cap that controls the flying monkeys, I suspect their subjugation wasn’t a high priority in Baum’s mind. But the cap itself provides the strongest evidence that “a place for everything” is prominent in this thoughts: Glinda (who is separate from the good witch in the North – I must look up her name) uses the cap and the flying monkeys to resolve the troubles of all three of Dorothy’s companions: Scarecrow will rule in the Emerald City; the Tin Man will rule the Winkies in the west; the Cowardly Lion will rule the beasts of the southern forest. The flying monkeys fly all three of them to where they belong. The power of the flying monkeys is to put things in or out of their proper places.

Dorothy finds that she has had, through the enchantment of the silver shoes, the ability to resume her proper place all along. The power of the shoes is also related to placement, and indeed, the entire plot of the Oz portion of the novel is built on travel, on getting and seeking places.

Next, I need to re-read CS Lewis The Allegory of Love, to remind myself his exact argument about the Roman de la Rose and think about how his system for parsing that allegory applies to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Thoughts after several chapters

Today, I read through chapters with the following titles

  • The Queen of the Field Mice
  • The Guardian of the Gate
  • The Wonderful City of Oz
  • The Search for the Wicked Witch

“The Queen of the Field Mice” picks up immediately after the Cowardly Lion, having given his all to rush the sleeping Dorothy out of the poppy field, has finally succumbed himself and fallen asleep near the edge of the field, and the companions have had to leave him behind: they are not strong enough. Only the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and Toto remain alert.

The Lion has been here made parallel to the Scarecrow, when he got stuck on a pole in the river and the companions had to leave him behind, until they convinced a stork to rescue him. The Lion gets rescued by field mice, by way of gratitude for the Tin Man saving their queen.

Of course, this scene provides another chance for the Tin Man to demonstrate his empathy (he kills the wildcat out of fellow-feeling for the threatened Queen of the Field Mice), I am left thinking about the allegorical significance of Toto, who nearly sours the whole rescue by chasing the mice around and scaring them. Toto is clearly an extension of Dorothy, and probably a more literal and direct one than the other companions. I think of Blake’s emanations, and of the spirit animals in The Golden Compass, and I wonder whether Toto isn’t somehow functioning as Dorothy’s fierceness of spirit, her untutored youth.

“The Guardian of the Gate” and “The Wonderful City of Oz” depict the companions’ time in the Emerald City. The main thing I have in mind here is the issue of perception. The wizard has made it law that everyone in the Emerald City must wear green glasses that can only be removed by the gatekeeper. This colors everything green, inaugurating the perception motif. When they take off the glasses and leave, the green things they were wearing turn out to be white.

Furthermore, the wizard appears in different forms to the different companions. The forms may be chosen specifically to undermine each companion most effectively. I need to think more on this. Regardless, he is in control of how people perceive him, and how they perceive the city. The wonderful rooms they all stay in only really work for Dorothy. The Lion doesn’t like to be indoors; the Tin Man doesn’t sleep anyway; the Scarecrow stands by his door vigilant all night. The rooms all appear wonderful, but they are all the same, without real regard for the occupant. When the wizard demands they kill the wicked witch in exchange for his favors, he very casually observes “she is very wicked, you know, and deserves it” (paraphrased), but offers no details of what she has done or why she deserves it. Maybe she does, but all that matters for the wizard is that Dorothy, who is young and not so sophisticated, believes that she does. Perception versus reality.

“The Search for the Wicked Witch” tells how Dorothy and the companions find and defeat the witch. It comes about halfway through the novel, even though it’s the climax and very near the end in the movie. In response to the wizard’s demand that they kill the wicked witch, basically because the alternative is to give up and that is the one thing they will not do, the companions seek the land of the Winkies. They are told that the witch will find them when they start trespassing in her land, so they don’t have to seek her out.

The companions kill her wolves, crows, and bees, and scare off her Winkie troops. Finally the flying monkeys, whom she controls via a magic headgear that she can only use three times, and this was the third, dispatch the Tin Man and the Scarecrow (neither is likely to be dead, but neither can move or act), and subdues the Lion and Dorothy. They cannot hurt Dorothy, because she bears two powerful talismen: the silver shoes (whose power she does not comprehend) and Glinda’s kiss.

Dorothy undermine’s the witch’s attempts to starve the Lion into servitude, and accidentally kills her with washing-water. In the film, this is the climax of the story. In the novel, it is so fast as to be almost an afterthought. From a past quick reading, I suspect the more important events will relate to how Dorothy negotiates the ethical dilemma of the headgear that controls the flying monkeys.

Not too much concrete to say today, but lots of disjoint thoughts. More coherent ideas, perhaps, another day.

No Place Like Home

Each of Dorothy’s companions incorrectly believes he lacks something: brain, heart, courage, and each talks about his absent feature. Punctuating the early part of the novel, the companions list what they intend to ask the Wizard to give them, or what they fear he will not give them if they fail their quest. Dorothy participates in these lists consistently, and can be said to have started the convention by herself upon taking to the yellow brick road. She refers to getting back to Kansas in exact parallel to the companions saying they lack brains, heart, or courage.

The companions are all mistaken about their failings, of course. And so is Dorothy, although she is less obvious about framing her goal as a failing. She needs to get back to Kansas, meaning, to a certain degree, “If I only had a home.” The significance of the motif of the home is evident in the frame story, as well, with the focus on the farmhouse, which in the opening Kansas episode flies into the cyclone carrying Dorothy with it, and which despite having been destroyed in her absence has been rebuilt in the closing Kansas episode. Because like the companions, Dorothy is also mistaken – she does have a home.

What she actually lacks is experience. During the episode in the poppy field, this becomes evident. As the party approaches the field, for example, “they walked along as fast as they could, Dorothy only stopping once to pick a beautiful flower” (27). The suggestion is that Dorothy cannot help herself, and has to stop to pick flowers, even when she is in a hurry, and it is presented so matter-of-factly, implying that this is perfectly natural behavior and to be expected. Dorothy is a little girl after all, not a grown person who might really understand priorities.

When they are actually in the poppy field, the narrator observes that

it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odor is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on forever. But Dorothy did not know this…

Again a subtle contrast between the experience of an adult and the naivete of a child.

In a Facebook status, I speculated that Dorothy intellectually knows the benefits of home, but that she must come to appreciate them in a more instinctual way. But I think it is more likely she needs to develop an experienced understanding that home is the place that waits for you, no matter how long you wander.

In the closing Kansas episode, Dorothy has been gone long enough to rebuild the farm, and Aunty Em greets her with a hug.

Virtue is Manifest

In a Facebook update, I speculated about the different senses of the word “good” being used in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz*, in particular in the early chapters. The Scarecrow, for example, has the following to say to Dorothy:

“It must be inconvenient to be made of flesh,” said the Scarecrow thoughtfully, “for you must sleep, and eat and drink. However, you have brains, and it is worth a lot of bother to be able to think properly” (16)

He spends time thinking about ways he is better than humans are, and ways humans are better than he is. He requires less maintenance and is less prone to injury. Dorothy has brains, and can therefore “think properly.”

In college, as a creative writing major, I was taught to be very suspicious of -ly adverbs in my writing, but in this passage we have two crucial ones: ‘thoughtfully’, and ‘properly’. The Scarecrow’s modifiers tell us that (1) he believes he does not, himself, think properly, but (2) the narrator is less interested in ‘proper’ thinking – the important thing is that the Scarecrow is thoughtful.

Consistently in these early chapters, it is the Scarecrow who thinks up a plan to deal with each problem. When the Tin Man’s mouth rusts shut (because he has been weeping about every bug he steps on), only the Scarecrow realizes what has happened and oils his jaw. the Scarecrow devises the safest plan for leaping across a chasm on the Lion’s back. When the next chasm is too wide, the Scarecrow devises the plan to chop down a tree and use it as a bridge, and when the Kalidahs chase them across the bridge, the Scarecrow knows to chop off one end of the bridge so the monsters fall into the chasm.

Similarly, the other companions believe themselves weak, but manifest the very virtue they claim to lack: The Tin Woodsman believes his lack of heart makes him unemotional, yet weeps for the tiniest creatures. The lion believes himself a coward because he experiences fear, but he is immediately willing to leap across the first chasm, even though he is not certain he can make the leap, and he is immediately willing to stand and face the Kalidahs as his companions flee.

Dorothy and the lion have the following exchange:

“Then, if you don’t mind, I’ll go with you,” said the Lion, “for my life is simply unbearable without a bit of courage.”

“You will be very welcome,” answered Dorothy, “for you will help to keep away the other wild beasts. It seems to me they must be more cowardly than you are if they allow you to scare them so easily.”

“They really are,” said the Lion, “but that doesn’t make me any braver, and as long as I know myself to be a coward, I shall be unhappy.” (21)

None of the companions at this point in the novel really understand the nature of virtue – it is neither cowardice to feel fear and face it nor stupidity to lack a brain but be the greatest planner in your cohort, and feeling strong sympathy for others is a virtue, even if you lack a physical heart.

But in his ignorance, the Lion gets to the heart of the matter. “As long as I know myself to be a coward, I shall be unhappy.” Each of Dorothy’s companions knows some false thing about himself, and that error is the source of each companion’s sorrow. In all of these cases, the character’s virtue is manifest in his behavior, not his self-image.

Unformed follow-up thoughts:

  • Debate between Scarecrow and Tin Man as debaat
  • Same debate as reference to Plato (heart vs. mind)
  • Allegory of the Cave :: each character’s mistaken view of his how failings is a shadow of the truth?

* I’m going to try to refer to the novel using “Wonderful” and the film without it, but who knows how long I’ll remember to do it. :/