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.