Wizard of OZ: mythological and psychological implications

Any film in its making derives its contents from socio-economic, political and psychological conditions of the society. In the process it enjoys the luxury of grinding the contents and presenting it with a new essence. Likewise, the outcome too has its multi-dimensional effects. Here I am focusing particularly on the psychological and mythological implications of the 1939 film The Wizard of OZ. In his 1971 book The Winning of the Midwest, Richard Jensen points out that “oz.” is the abbreviation of ounce, which is the standard unit of measure of silver and gold. At the time The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, the United States was on the gold standard. The Populists argued for “bi-metallism,” a monetary standard using both gold and silver.

L. Frank Baum used color in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, particularly the colors of money.The Emerald City was green (or was made to appear green, anyway), the yellow brick road was gold and in his original story Dorothy’s shoes were silver rather than ruby. Perhaps the choice of the name “OZ” reinforces the notion that Baum intentionally wrote a political/monetary allegory.

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In The Wizard of Oz Revealed, Samuel Bousky offers another possibility for the origin of the name “Oz”. He refers to the biblical image of the “Tree of Life,” mentioned in Genesis and Revelation, the first and last books of the Bible. According to Bousky, “the phonetic name of the symbol in ancient Biblical language is Otz Chiim. The first word Otz does mean Tree, but it also means Plan. Final word rather than LIFE means Living, thus spiritual Plan For Living.

Talking about the mythological contents and implications of the film, we will have to consider what our myths are in the twentieth century.If we are going to examine a movie for mythological content and value we should probably have an operative understanding of the mythological paradigm.  Joseph Campbell, one of the century’s foremost experts on mythology and author of many books on the topic, outlined a basic mythological paradigm: A hero goes out from the everyday world  into a world of the supernatural.  Formidable forces are encountered, victory is won and the hero returns with something to benefit mankind (Hudlin 1989).  Also, Campbell has pointed out that a hero departs from a rather banal place to a higher plane with the guidance of a mentor, who furnishes the hero with amulets.

  The hero confronts evil and returns back to where he came from transformed and or initiated and having accomplished something beneficial  for mankind (Campbell 1988).  Others have pointed out that the settings for myths are stellar,  meteorological and astral planes (Nathanson 1991).Likely because of the use of symbolism, metaphor and classical archetypes; Freud, Jung, as well as Joseph Campbell have all said in one way or another that myths are dreams shared by a society and that dreams are personal myths. Myth is something shared by a society so it is probably safe to say that a myth  in the expedient form of a movie would be very popular in general and appreciated among people of all ages.  There have been dozens of blockbuster  movies this century, but taking into consideration Campbell’s mythological paradigm and other imperative content described above the list begins to narrow considerably.  Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz, produced in 1939 appear to conform to the aforementioned mythological paradigm and characteristics. According to the mythological paradigm the hero departs on his or her journey from a banal place.

  When we meet our protagonist we can see that she is a farmer  living with adoptive aunt and uncle.  The place she  live is agricultural yet dry and barren, obvious symbols of hopelessness.  Naturally she yearns to leave this place: Dorothy sings Over The Rainbow.

  Freudian dream theory states that most of the visual material for dreams is obtained from recent occurrences in one’s waking life,  typically from the day before the dream, the “dream day” (Freud 1965).Applying this idea relatively to the autonomous functioning of the collective psyche we see consequently that the dusty environs of  Dorothy’s farm is a symbol of the dustbowl so familiar to  farmers in the 30’s and more broadly representative of  the total American economic situation in the 30’s. Freud and Jung both agreed that a dream may foretell and often warns the dreamer of what will or may come about (i.e.: in the Bible the Pharaoh’s dream of the lean cattle devouring the fat cattle, this example is used in texts on dreams by both Freud and Jung)  (Freud 1965, Jung 1956).               In the mythological Paradigm the powers which the hero receives via the help of his mentor was once in the hands of evil.  Glenda magically transfers the slippers from the dead Wicked Witch Of The East to the innocent feet of Dorothy.  In WW2 we used several German scientists who had been previously helping Germany develop an A- Bomb, to successfully develop our own atomic weapons which helped us to win the war.

When Glenda introduces herself as a “good witch” Dorothy is shocked and states that she’s never heard of a “good witch” before.  A good witch is likely to be a surprise to anyone who is raised in traditional Western consciousness.  After all, the general consensus regarding control over our destiny is pessimistic at best.  The idea of mind over matter is decidedly a more Eastern concept.  We live in a predominantly Christian culture, yet ironically we stand more in awe over the power of evil than the power in goodness.  When Jesus’ apostles were marveling at his miracles he stated; “greater things can you all do”.  So where did we drop the ball?  Dorothy believed that she had to get home via the power of some other greater entity, but despite the powers of the Witches and the Wizard, she was to learn that her own power was great as any she had seen manifested in Oz.

Next in the mythological paradigm the hero is on his journey but invariably must confront evil.  Along the way to the Wizard Dorothy must deal with the Wicked Witch constantly.  Dorothy must deal with the flying monkeys in the land of the Wicked Witch. There are references to Germany and Nazism in the film. What could these German references mean?  Early in America’s history Congress voted on whether they wanted to have German or English as their national language.  They could, I’m sure, dig up many other Germanic aspects of America’s cultural history.  These references to America’s culture’s Germaneness could be, or point to rarely acknowledged shadow aspects of our culture. Wartime Germany stands as a colossal example of how a society’s shadow can overpower it.

  This phenomenon is well elaborated in C.G. Jung’s book “Civilization in Transition”. Who nowadays is often compared with Hitler (and isn’t it funny how ready we are to start comparing other people to Hitler)?-Saddam Hussein.

Saddam didn’t destroy a planet at once, but very quickly destroyed the landscape of a considerable weaker Kuwait. The fallout of his acts has promised to permanently affect weather on this planet. The Wicked Witch did not commit any sort of equivalent holocaust in Oz, but when The Wizard of Oz was created we had not yet encountered murder on such a scale.Some have interpreted the Wicked Witches to be symbolic of Dorothy’s missing mother and the hostility between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West to be Oedipal tension associated with a wish to kill the same-sex parent (Hudlin 1991).  Also it is suggested that the tornado is a symbol of the vagina, Dorothy’s being passed through it as a symbol of rebirth and the killing of the Wicked Witch Of The East as a reference to Dorothy’s mother, who is missing in the story, having died in childbirth (Hudlin 1991).

The house is a classic symbol of the womb in psychoanalysis (Freud 1965).A hero’s confrontation with evil is never a simple matter of evasion or escape as the hero is required to face off with the forces of evil and often must return with something that will benefit mankind (i.e. stealing fire from the gods) (Jung 1953, Hudlin 1984, Time 1980).  Dorothy, once in Oz believes that she’s safe from the Wicked Witch.  But before she is allowed to return home the Wizard requires that she go to the Witch’s castle and return with the Witch’s broomstick.

  Freudian dream theory holds that unfulfilled wishes, desires and anxieties are played out in dreams.  Some have interpreted Dorothy’s slaying of the witch by water as a wish fulfillment to drench to dusty environs of Kansas (Nathanson 1991).  If the viewer of the 30’s was identifying with Dorothy then the viewer may unconsciously water the dustbowl or heal the depressed economy vicariously through Dorothy.Regarding the destruction of evil forces: this is a prelude to transformation of the hero (Miller and Spricht 1981).  These acts of destruction by the hero, especially Dorothy’s slaying of the witches, are symbolic of seasonal rebirth: the vanquishing of winter to usher in spring (Hudlin 1989).   Dorothy began on barren, dusty fields of monogamous agriculture and is transported to a garden- like world (Oz).

At the end of the journey Dorothy and her entourages receives small but highly significant medals.  Dorothy is informed by Glenda how to use the ruby slippers to get home but first informs her that she always had the power to go home.  Dorothy demands to know why Glenda did not bother to tell her that at their first meeting.

  Glenda assures Dorothy she would’ve never believed her if she told Dorothy this at first.   Obviously transformations have occurred in Dorothy which could not have happened without painful trials.The film depicts a journey of transformations, a journey of acceptance and above all a journey of achievements that is achievement of knowledge.


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