Tag: Oz

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.


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.

You were there, and you were there…

I’ve been claiming for years that the film The Wizard of Oz is much quicker to acknowledge its dream frame than the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The end of the novel just depicts Dorothy waking up in the fields and rushing home to discover Uncle Henry rebuilding the farmhouse, while the end of the film features her explicitly stating that she has had a dream, and listing who was – and more importantly who was not present in it.
I think Aunty Em’s absence from Oz is the key to understanding the dream frame, probably in both texts, but certainly in the film.

In both texts, the flying farmhouse contains a bed. In the novel, Dorothy takes a nap on the way to Oz, and in the film, a window hits her on the head and she falls into the bed, enabling the window frame as a screen to show lots of transitional images that set up motifs and themes that will be prominent in Oz. So both texts do set us up for the idea of dreams.

The window as meta-film with its transitional imagery, though, which features images from Kansas morphing into images from Oz – Miss Gulch on her bicycle becoming the Wicked Witch of the West on her broomstick is the most vivid one in my mind – the window inaugurates dream logic in the film in a way that the novel does not.

It recalls the images on the exterior garden wall in the Roman de la Rose and the stained glass images in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess, though. In Duchess, a series of images of tragic lovers, lovers who died messy, sets up the issue of grieving lost loves, even when the dreamer insists his real problem is insomnia.

For Dorothy, the images outside the window serve as the first flickerings of her dream. She starts out seeing images of wind on the farm, the fence and the chicken coop. She sees Aunty Em in her rocking chair, waving affectionately. Aunty Em is the key to this film. Dorothy sees the workmen rowing a rowboat, also waving. These are visions of home, waving, but it is unclear at this point whether they wave a greeting or a farewell. Dorothy thinks she is worried about Toto and Miss Gulch, but she is really worried about the nature of home.

The rowboat also suggests flooding on the farm, an extreme possible consequence of severe weather, and a sign of Dorothy’s anxiety about the tornado. But the tornado is Dorothy’s version of Chaucer’s insomnia; it’s a distraction from the real theme, and a vehicle (in her case quite literally) that transports us to the real theme.

The image of Miss Gulch riding her bike turning into a witch on her broom marks the transition into Oz. It teaches us as viewers to look for parallels between Kansas characters and the Oz characters played by the same actors. Before the storm, Dorothy’s immediate concern is that Miss Gulch, who becomes the witch, is a menace to Toto. The workman played by the actor who will be the Scarecrow lectures Dorothy about using her brains to deal with Gulch. The workman played by the actor who will be the Cowardly Lion encourages her to be brave. Setting Kansas parallel to Oz makes the dream frame structurally useful.

After Aunty Em, who is busy preparing for the storm, tells Dorothy to find someplace where she can’t get into trouble, Dorothy sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which reinforces the distinction between Kansas, which is black and white, and Oz, which is Technicolor, and which identifies Oz as a place where dreams are real:

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

The rainbow itself indicates color that isn’t present in the black-and-white world of Kansas, where skies are gray, not just because of the impending storm, but also because of the filming style. In the novel, Oz is not just in color, it is actually color coded. Each region of Oz has its own main color, and the denizens wear that color. For example, Munchkins wear blue in the novel. In the film, a small group of Munchkins may wear the same color, perhaps to indicate membership, but there is no regional uniform. Munchkinland is a floral blast of color, probably to maximize contrast with Kansas.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sets up a number of features for the movie: Aunty Em’s initial instruction to find a place where Dorothy can’t get into trouble is its impetus; however Dorothy’s interpretation is for a place “Where troubles melt like lemon drops,” a wish fulfillment fantasy. Another day, I will analyze the lyrics in full. For now, understand that this song integrates the dream frame into the conflict of the story, and that conflict is between Em’s interpretation and Dorothy’s interpretation of what it means to find a place where you won’t get in trouble.

It also highlights the conflict between their understandings of Em’s instruction. Aunty Em wants Dorothy to be safe, and she wants to be able to prepare the farm for the storm to enable that safety. “Don’t get into trouble” means “be safe.” The same instruction leaves Dorothy feeling dismissed, and worrying that she is a hindrance, and longing for something constructive to do, ideally about the threat to Toto.

When she runs away with Toto, she hopes her absence will lighten the burden she places on Aunty Em, and she hopes to find a place where she can be safe without sacrificing agency, and where the consequences of her efforts “melt away like lemon drops.”

When she meets Professor Marvel (whose benevolent frauds are parallel to those of the Wizard, played by the same actor), he pretends to see Aunty Em in his crystal ball, in order to refocus Dorothy’s mind on how Em will worry about her, how Dorothy’s absence will place a greater burden on Em than her presence. This will become Dorothy’s mantra in Oz. “Em will be worried about me.” or “Aunty Em must have stopped looking for me by now!” etc.

Aunty Em is absent from the dream precisely for this reason. In order to learn that “there’s no place like home,” Dorothy must first learn what “home” is, and Aunty Em – with her gruff need to protect and care for Dorothy, and her multilayered desire that Dorothy avoid trouble – represents home.

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.