The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Themes
by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book cover
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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Themes

The main themes in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are good versus evil, home, and friendship.

  • Good versus evil: Though most characters in Oz are defined as either "good" or "wicked," the Wizard, who is a bad wizard but not a bad man, represents the real world: while fantasy can deal in absolutes, the real world is  more complex.
  • Home: For Dorothy, home represents safety, comfort, and familiarity. Though she finds friends in Oz, she continuously seeks home.
  • Friendship: Over the course of their journey, Dorothy and her friends draw strength from each other and help one another become better people.

Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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Although Baum intended his story as an entertainment for children, it also contains a good deal of social satire offered with a gently mocking sense of humor. The gap between appearance and reality is a persistent theme in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and in many of Baum’s other books. The centerpiece of the book is the journey to the Emerald City, home of the great Wizard who can grant all wishes. Once the main characters reach the city, though, they find that it is all an illusion and that the Wizard himself is a fraud. They themselves are capable of all the real magic.

The strange landscape and the absurd events and creatures are primarily intended for entertainment, but they also convey a sense of the wondrous and magical parts of life. Readers can see the book, then, as a good-natured rebellion of imagination against the tyranny of calculating rationality. The similarities that some may see between this book and intellectual movements such as surrealism owe much to this rebellion.

Themes

(Novels for Students)

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. In a scene at the end of chapter six, the reader sees both the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow demonstrating the very qualities they feel they are lacking. The Tin Woodman accidentally steps on a beetle and begins to weep. When his tears rust his jaw shut, no one is able to figure out what his gestures for the oil can mean except for the Scarecrow, who immediately loosens the Tin Woodman’s jaws with the oil. This scene shows how emotional the Tin Woodman is and how quick thinking the Scarecrow is. A more mature reader can then recognize that with the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman, Baum is using irony to portray the theme of selfsufficiency.

Dorothy’s situation is somewhat different because she needs a magical object (the silver shoes) to help her get back home to Kansas. Still, she fails to understand that she has had what she needs all along while continuing to seek it from others. Another important point about the silver shoes is that Dorothy earned them by killing the Wicked Witch of the East. While she did so unintentionally, her actions resulted in the freedom of the Munchkins, which in turn resulted in her being given the magical shoes that will allow her to get home. She was not given a way home simply because she asked for...

(The entire section is 856 words.)