Political Allegory of the Emerald City

Each December, the Harrison Center hosts a huge, color-themed holiday show. For this year's theme, we chose the title "Emerald City," thinking that 1) emerald is a lovely color; and 2) the title could generate some entertaining Wizard of Oz-themed work. Just a little light-hearted fun for the holidays. But, as we heard "around the water cooler," our bookkeeper, Patrick Neil Bowers, was thinking a little deeper. He offered his thoughts (along with some input from intern and Harrison Center blogger, Chloe Coy) to add some gravitas to our lighter take on Oz.

It wasn’t until over 60 years after the publishing of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum that Henry Littlefield published his article in the American Quarterly entitled “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism.” The article has been debated widely in the past, though it has largely been forgotten in the past several decades.

Naturalist/Cryptozoologist study of a Flying Monkey, Ken Scott

Throughout the extended writing, Littlefield expresses his discovery of “unsuspected depth” (52) in the widely popular children’s book. He is convinced that Baum was writing about the distance of those in powers in Washington D.C. (The Emerald City) and those across the land (Oz). For example, Littlefield believes that “Coxey’s Army of tramps and indigents, marching to ask President Cleveland for work in 1894, appears no more naively innocent than this group of four characters going to see a humbug Wizard, to request favors that only the little girl among them deserves” (54). This metaphor would make the not-so-wonderful-wizard the president of the United States and us - the common people - Dorothy. Another example of such implications to Baum’s real world in his classic fairytale is the seemingly evil monkeys. Littlefield explains that “Baum’s monkeys are not inherently bad; their actions wholly depend upon the bidding of others” (55) and relates them back to Baum’s contradiction of the then-stereotypes of Native Americans.

Tin Man, Mary Lessing

Thus, was Baum trying to use allegory to express the America he saw around him?  Did Baum see the politicians like a funny, old man behind a curtain? It is difficult to conclude how much of it was intentional and how much was subconscious. Artists always possess a way to express what they see around them in the media they choose. If Littlefield was correct, then what is our modern take on the Emerald City of Oz?