Baum’s characters are simple, but also sympathetic. Dorothy, the heroine, is a straightforward little girl who shows courage and perseverance. Dorothy is a poor orphan, a type of character recurring in children’s literature. In the drawings by the original illustrator of the book, W. W. Denslow, Dorothy seems to be very young, perhaps only five or six years of age, although she frequently seems to behave as a much older child would. Baum also gives little hint to her appearance. Letting readers construct their own images of the child heroine may have been intentional, because it made Dorothy an “Everychild,” a representative of children in general.
Baum’s great success with his other characters was the creation of individuals who are at once impossible and entirely believable. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion have won the sympathy of generations of readers. Part of this success may be the result of the depths of personality that the author was able to convey by giving these fantastic creatures human qualities of self-contradiction. The Scarecrow complains that he has no brains, but he shows himself to be the most thoughtful of Dorothy’s companions, and his quest for intelligence demonstrates that this is what he values. Similarly, the Tin Woodman places the highest importance on feeling, and shows a continual concern with emotion as he seeks a heart. The Cowardly Lion is a coward in his own eyes, but he accompanies the others through dangerous adventures and sometimes protects the group with his fierce roar. These three characters embody the classical human virtues of intelligence, caring, and courage, but their self-doubts keep them from being reduced to mere symbols of these qualities.
At the end of the story, all the characters achieve self-realization by accomplishing their goals. Dorothy does eventually manage to return home, having found that she had actually had the power to do so all along. The Scarecrow also apparently had his goal, his intelligence, within his grasp all along, since all the Wizard needs to do is to mix bran and pins and needles in the straw man’s head to convince the Scarecrow of his intellectual powers. The Woodman and the Lion, respectively, require only a silk heart and a drink to arouse confidence in their capacities for love and bravery.