The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Analysis

  • Frank L. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been captivating readers since its original publication in 1900. In 1939, the beloved children's story was adapted into the feature film The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. The film is largely faithful to the novel, with some notable exception, including the color of the ruby slippers, which are silver in the book.
  • Many contemporary readers have interpreted The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a political allegory, particularly with regard to American economic policy. For example, the yellow brick road represents gold and wealth, and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman represent farmers and industrial workers who have been shut out of the Emerald City and high society because of their class.
  • Frank L. Baum contrasts the bleak landscape of rural Kansas with the lush greenery of Oz. In comparison to the Emerald City, Kansas seems barren, miserable, and impoverished. The film adaptation visually represents the differences between the two by depicting the scenes in Kansas in black and white instead of color. 

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is known to countless millions worldwide because of the motion picture version of the story, The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland. Although Garland was considerably older than the Dorothy in the book and her adventures are dismissed as a dream, the film is otherwise reasonably faithful to L. Frank Baum’s novel.

A cyclone carries Dorothy and her dog Toto from bleak Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz, then drops their house on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. The Munchkins, who regard Dorothy as a witch herself, are so grateful to her for killing the witch who tormented and enslaved them that they offer Dorothy all the help they can. They advise her to put on the dead witch’s silver slippers, which have magical properties. Dorothy’s chief motivation throughout the story is to get back to her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in Kansas. She is told to follow a road of yellow brick that will take her to the Emerald City, home of the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard, Dorothy is told, should know how to get her home.

Along the road of yellow brick, Dorothy encounters the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. Each asks to accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City. The Scarecrow wants to ask the Wizard for a brain, the Tin Woodman wants to ask for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants to ask for courage. After some misadventures, they reach the Emerald City. The Wizard tells Dorothy that he will use his magic powers to send her back to Kansas only if she kills the Wicked Witch of the West, and he informs her three companions that he will grant their requests only if they help Dorothy fulfill her mission.

The Wicked Witch of the West sends wolves, wild crows, and finally winged monkeys to attack the adventurers. Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion are captured, and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman are left for dead. At the Wicked Witch’s castle, Dorothy is made a household slave. The witch steals one of Dorothy’s silver slippers, but when she tries to pull the other slipper off the little girl’s foot, Dorothy throws a bucket of water at her. The Wicked Witch of the West is vulnerable only to water. She melts, and Dorothy retrieves her silver slipper, still unaware of how to use the magic powers of the slippers.

When the adventurers return to the Emerald City, they discover that the Wizard is a fraud, possessing no magic powers at all. The fake Wizard manages to satisfy the requests of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion by assuring them that they already possess and have actually displayed the attributes they believed they were lacking. The Wizard, however, is unable to satisfy Dorothy’s wish to return to Kansas, although he himself is wafted away in a hot-air balloon.

Dorothy is advised to visit Glinda, the Witch of the South, who is good and kind. Accompanied by her three friends, Dorothy makes her way through new perils to the Country of the Quadlings and the Castle of Glinda. The beautiful Glinda tells her that the silver slippers have the power to transport their wearer to anyplace in the world. Dorothy kisses her three friends good-bye and asks the slippers to carry her back to Kansas. She is carried off in a whirlwind and finds herself in front of the new home that Uncle Henry built to replace the old one. Dorothy has lost the silver slippers in her flight, but she is overjoyed to be home again.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Gold Standard Debate
The gold standard is a monetary system in which the value of gold determines the value of...

(The entire section is 617 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz transports readers from the bleak, gray Kansas prairie to the dynamic, colorful Land of Oz. Dorothy leaves...

(The entire section is 1868 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Baum interjects highly descriptive passages into his text, which bring the fictitious world of Oz alive in...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has appealed to readers for more than a century. Although the novel has often been criticized as mediocre...

(The entire section is 742 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although Baum did not intend to moralize or preach to his readers, many social messages are presented in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz....

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1900s: Children’s books are predominantly morality tales that teach heavy-handed lessons. Many of these stories are...

(The entire section is 172 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. How do major characters change within this novel? Within the fourteen-book Oz series written by Baum?

2. How do talking...

(The entire section is 231 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Which characters do you identify with and why?

2. Consider the animal characters' points of view and write a narrative about...

(The entire section is 326 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Consider why Baum chose a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, and a Cowardly Lion as characters desiring a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively....

(The entire section is 302 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Baum wrote thirteen Oz novels after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. After his death, other authors produced Oz books with the permission...

(The entire section is 1006 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Film Version Published by Gale Cengage

The earliest adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a 1902 stage musical on which Baum collaborated. It ran very successfully on...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Baum, Frank Joslyn, and Russell P. MacFall. To Please a Child: A Biography of L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz. Chicago: Reilly...

(The entire section is 323 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Farmer, Philip Jose, “Baum, L(yman) Frank,” in Reference Guide to American Literature, 3d ed.,...

(The entire section is 342 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Carpenter, Angelica Shirley, and Jean Shirley. L. Frank Baum: Royal Historian of Oz. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992. A detailed account of Baum’s career and writings. Includes numerous maps and illustrations. Also contains plot summaries of most of Baum’s books.

Hearn, Michael Patrick. Introduction to The Annotated Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1973. This sets Baum’s best-known work in the context of his life and work.

Riley, Michael O. Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1997. A comprehensive analysis of Baum’s development as a fantasy writer. It considers the influence of Baum’s childhood and adult experiences on his writing and looks at how his works reflect his philosophical and social views.

Rogers, Katherine M. L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. A good companion to the Oz series that demonstrates how Baum animated his progressive ideals in the persons of Dorothy and company.