Tag: Kalamazoo

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.

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.

You are not dreaming, but Dorothy is

In an effort to create accountability, I will share my thoughts and progress on my current book project here.

My manuscript is due for peer review at the publisher by the end of summer in 2017.

I am scheduled to give a presentation at the Annual Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo in May 2017, about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Because I am presenting on a panel called “Tales After Tolkien,” I will be discussing both the novel and the movie, assessing the impact of the implied dream frame on interpreting both.

I need to convert the presentations from previous years into book chapters. These earlier presentations include discussions of Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, and Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.”

I need to adapt material from my dissertation for use in my introduction, and a previously published article discussing primarily Oscar Wilde’s story “The Young King” and by comparison William Morris’ News from Nowhere for use as a chapter on Victorian political uses of the dream frame.

Additional texts to be discussed include A Christmas Carol, the dream stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and probably The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and “Rip Van Winkle.”