Conflict is an essential element of any story, adding drama, developing characters and creating connections between the reader and the story. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy must face internal conflicts as she recognizes that "there's no place like home" and she must battle the witch and various external forces beyond her scope. When evil is confronted with good, the outcome can only be good as Dorothy is "protected by the Power of Good," which even the evil winged monkeys recognize. The irony of the deception of the wizard, a truly "bad" wizard but not a wholly "bad" person ensures that Dorothy can forgive his shortcomings. These conflicts ensure that the story and the characters can develop and especially Dorothy. She and the other main characters, the Tinman, the Scarecrow and the Lion all discover that they have strengths they never realized and "powers" to change from within. Emotional connections are brought about by the external conflicts which must be faced.
The Wizard of Oz therefore has numerous conflicts, both internal and, seemingly external. It is the fact that Dorothy killed the Wicked Witch of the North, even accidentally, that allows her to improve the lives of others - the Munchkins- but it is her shoes that provide the key. Dorothy just needs to recognize it. Primarily then, it is Dorothy's internal struggles that create the main conflict and ultimately Dorothy will be able to find her way home by her own means, clicking her heels together, revealing the conflict between man and self.
The basic conflict in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is just a survival story. The movie version with Judy Garland might be called a "survival flick." A little girl is lost and wants to find her way home. The fact that she is lost in a sort of enchanted world does not keep the story from being a survival flick. The motivation throughout both The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is consistently the same: just getting back home to comfort and safety. Probably almost all survival stories owe their appeal to the fact that the protagonist finds himself, or herself, in an unusual setting. The reader identifies with the character who is trying to survive, and thus the reader is able to escape vicariously from his or her customary humdrum world into a more interesting one--a forest, a deserted tropical island, or whatever. The protagonist may be in danger, but the reader is not.There is a certain "aesthetic distance" between the reader and the story hero or heroine. The author L. Frank Baum obviously copied Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The conflict in both Baum's and Carroll's stories is one of man against nature. In both cases the "man" is just a little girl and the nature is a crazy sort of nature. As the eNotes study guide for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz notes, the most important theme is self-sufficiency.
The predominant theme of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is self-sufficiency. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion all seek external magic to give them qualities they already possess but fail to recognize. When the travelers come to a wide ditch (chapter seven), the Cowardly Lion volunteers to try jumping over it. If he can make it, he reasons, he can carry each of his friends across safely. Discussing the possibility of falling into the ditch, the Cowardly Lion responds, “‘I am terribly afraid of falling, myself. . . but I suppose there is nothing to do but try it.’” The Lion does not realize that courage is acting despite fear, not acting in the absence of fear.
It is especially noteworthy that both little girls, Dorothy and Alice, although they may be as young as six, show truly admirable courage, resourcefulness, and determination. They also are models of sanity in an insane world. Dorothy is in a great deal more danger than her English Victorian predecessor Alice. Dorothy has a wicked witch to contend with, along with other threats. Both stories are a little bit scarey--but not too scarey. They were written for children, and the zaniness of the plot, characters and settings helps to assure the young readers that nothing too terribly serious is going to happen. Dorothy survives to reappear in many other tales about the Land of Oz. Those of us who encountered the books--at the right age--will always remember them with fondness.