We’re Not in Kansas Anymore


Original Wizard of Oz book.

Actually, I am in Kansas right now, but I couldn’t resist that statement, and I’m not alone.  It’s a very popular phrase to explain wonderment when entering a fantastic new environment.  Recently I saw a version of the phrase in the New York Times Coming-of-Age Filmgoers: You’re Not in Kansas Anymore, which had nothing to do with the movie or the book.

(Judy Garland’s line as Dorothy Gale in the film The Wizard of Oz was “Toto, I have the feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”)

Growing up in Kansas, I was always fascinated by The Wizard of Oz movie, even though it didn’t show our state in a very favorable light.  However, as black and white, dusty and tornado-prone as Kansas was shown in the movie,  Dorothy couldn’t wait to get home!  L. Frank Baum, the author, never visited Kansas but fashioned the Kansas in his book, published in 1900, after the drought years  he experienced when he lived in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

I didn’t interpret the movie (I hadn’t read the book) as anything more than a fantasy, until I got to college.  There, I learned that like most fairy tales, there is a deeper interpretation, usually something sinister or despotic.

L. Frank Baum, 1901.

In these times of great economic uncertainty, I thought it might be helpful to take you back to the good old days of the 1890s, depicted as allegory in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”   The “Gay Nineties” period was really a time of widespread economic depression in the United States, set off by the Panic of 1893.  The depression lasted until 1896, when the Republican Party took control of the White House. Full prosperity didn’t return until 1899, which didn’t last, of course.  Boom and bust times continue, most notably The Great Depression.

Henry M. Littlefield wrote an essay in 1964 called “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism,” which showed that the people and events in the book were metaphors for actual people and events in the 1890s. 

Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion in an illustration from the first edition.

Dorothy represents Everyman.  How wonderful that Everyman is a woman!  Here’s  an excerpt from the wikipedia version:

 “Many of the events and characters of the book resemble the actual political personalities, events and ideas of the 1890s.  The 1902 stage adaptation mentioned, by name, President Theodore Roosevelt, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and other political celebrities. (No real people are mentioned by name in the book.) Even the title has been interpreted as alluding to a political reality: “oz.” is an abbreviation for ounce, a unit familiar to those who fought for a 16 to 1 ounce ratio of silver to gold in the name of bimetallism In the play and in later books Baum mentions contemporary figures by name and takes blatantly political stances without the benefit of allegory including a condemnation in no uncertain terms of Standard Oil. The book opens not in an imaginary place but in real life Kansas, which, in the 1890s as well as today, was well known for the hardships of rural life, and for destructive tornadoes.  

The Panic of 1893 caused widespread distress in the rural United States. Dorothy is swept away to a colorful land of unlimited resources that nevertheless has serious political problems. This utopia is ruled in part by wicked witches. Dorothy and her house are swept up by the tornado and upon landing in Oz, thehouse falls on the Wicked Witch of the East, destroying the tyrant and freeing the ordinary people—little people or Munchkins. The Witch had previously controlled the all-powerful silver slippers (which were changed to ruby in the 1939 film to take advantage of the new technicolor film). The slippers will in the end liberate Dorothy but first she must walk in them down the golden yellow brick road, i.e. she must take silver down the path of gold, the path of free coinage (free silver). Following the road of gold leads eventually only to the Emerald City, which may symbolize the fraudulent world of greenback paper money that only pretends to have value, or may symbolize the greenback value that is placed on gold (and for silver, possibly).  Henry Littleton’s Essay about “The Wizard of Oz.”

Political Interpretations of “The Wizard of Oz.”   About L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”    About the “Gay Nineties.”

About “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” 





1903 poster of Dave Montgomery as the Tin Man in Hamlin's musical stage version.


Filed under Authors, Entertainment, History, Kansas, Life, Movies, Novels, Politics, Writing

11 responses to “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

  1. Very interesting stuff. That 50’s era trailer is a trip.

    Who knew that a story like the Wizard of Oz could possible be based on some other meaning? I guess it is not too surprising to imagine that an author could have been inspired by the current events of his day. It makes you wonder how many other fictional literary devices have been conjured to represent plights from the real world.

    I read somewhere that the Scarecrow represents farmers and even though he doesn’t have a brain ends up solving most of the problems they encounter during their journey. 🙂

    Star Wars might have been a metaphor for the founding fathers and the American revolution. I wonder if Avatar might have had one, too?
    If you click on the links at the bottom, particularly Frank Littleton or the political interpretation of the book, the articles will sort out who’s who for you. The Scarecrow does represent farmers. Cathy


  2. How interesting! I’m dying to ask if poppy’s mean anything? The musical “Wicked” with its backwards story about Oz was something a Kansas girl like myself enjoyed.


  3. Wow, I had no idea there was a deeper meaning behind that story. Well, except for the blatant ones – like the man behind the curtain and things like that. Well, and the Wicked story about the origins of the witches. And finding happiness in your own backyard. I love learning new things and finding something previously unknown about a song or story. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Two thoughts: 1)”The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists” is a great title for a book (creating illusions and such), and 2) What I remember most was that the Wizard landed in Kansas in a hot air balloon with Omaha written on it. Or did I just dream that while napping in a field full of poppies?


  5. I had no idea! In fact I hadn’t even thought about it if I’m honest.
    The Wizard of Oz was the first film I was ever taken to…by my father who loved it. I was terrified and enchanted in equal measures; it is a strong memory of my childhood…


  6. I read “Wicked” last year and thought way more about the symbolism of the Wizard of Oz than I ever thought possible. It was probably the scariest movie I watched as a child, and I really enjoyed reading your explanation of what the symbols of the book actually meant during that time period. Maybe I can stop dreaming about that woman on the bike.


  7. patricia

    good morning…..saw the first hummingbird, of the season, yesterday… here in valparaiso florida, with temps in the high 60’s…have a happy holy easter week!!!!


  8. What a great post. I’m so glad I ran across your blog Catherine. As a life long born and raised Kansan The Wizard of Oz is one of my all time favorite movies. I will be watching it this spring as I have since I was a kid running around the streets of Onaga back in the 60’s.

    Very interesting info you bring up on the roots of the oz concept. One thing for sure, it has garnered attention over the years and I’m sure will always be one of those phrases mentioned from now until evermore, “Toto, I have the feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

    Good stuff…


  9. Don’t go all conspiratorialationist on us here. Yeah, there are some interesting characters in Baum’s story that might be likened to some of the big players in U.S. politics.

    But it’s more likely Baum was telling a children’s story. Here’s a photo of Baum, probably at work on that series (he doesn’t look like a political polemicist).

    And here’s a copy of the analysis of the story that Baum was writing about economics, by Kennesaw State U historian David Parker. Worth the read.

    I know a lot of AP history and econ teachers use the Baum story for the allegorical content. Even if he didn’t intend it, it can help kids understand it.

    Have you read the book, or seen the musical, “Wicked?”

    Thanks, Ed, for the interesting links. Even if Baum didn’t intend the allegorical content, the figures he used, such as the Scarecrow and Tin Man, were well-known political types at the time Baum wrote “The Wizard of Oz.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_interpretations_of_The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz
    I haven’t seen the musical “Wicked,” but everyone tells me it’s wonderful, so I’ll go the next time it passes through town.


  10. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I hadn’t heard of this interpretation. Fascinating stuff here and I really appreciate the depth with which you approach it. Thanks for sharing this.


  11. Pingback: How to Properly Quit a Job | Jess Explains It All

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