William Jenning Bryan, the Wizard of Oz, and Coral Gables

Polymath Robert Waldman, who lives in Italy, educates me about Coral Gables, the town I live and work in. In Presidential Candidates in Coral Gables, he outlines Coral Gables's connection with William Jenning Bryan, and simultaneously transforms my understanding of The Wizard of Oz:

William Jenning Bryan was the model for the cowardly lion, who was not a caricature of draft dodging hawks. This is demonstrated by Hugh Rockoff in an article belaboring the obvious point that the Wizard of Oz is an allegory on monetary policy (Journal of Political Economy Vol 98 pp 739-760.

It will never be the same…

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5 Responses to William Jenning Bryan, the Wizard of Oz, and Coral Gables

  1. Susan says:

    I just finished reading the annotated Wizard of Oz, and, according to that, the top Oz scholars have come to an agreement that the whole “Wizard of Oz as political allegory” theory doesn’t hold up. Some characters have similarities to politcal figures of the time, but no currently proposed allegory holds up over the entire text.

    Taking the rest of Baum’s work into account, the allegory argument becomes weaker: when I reread all the Baum works I could get my hands on, the message seems to be a simpler social commentary. War is bad, leaders that propose it are silly. Talking will resolve any difference if the parties take the time to talk it over. Technology is great, but must be used with common sense. The best society provides all basic needs for its inhabitants, provides equal rights for women (Baum’s mother in law was a famous feminist/sufragette), and governs with logic and care, rather than harsh punishments. Baum, by the third or fourth Oz book, was creating a utopia, with unenlightened communities isolated within (as well as surrounding Oz) to serve as foils to the rest of the country, and each isolated community generally reflected one specific negative attribute — laziness, oversensitivity, violent conflict resolution.

    So don’t worry too much about the allegory…but give Baum credit for, with his simply but vividly written novels, planting seeds of peace, logic, and common sense in generations of children. Rereading it this year, I said to myself, “Aha! Here is one of the things that profoundly shaped my reaction to what’s going on in the US since 2000.”

    And of course, anybody who is sufficiently motivated, and takes a shallow enough view of the allegorized(is that a word?) events or people can make any work fit to their narrative.

    And yes, I know it was a tongue-in-cheek post — but I hardly *ever* get to put on my literary criticism hat anymore, so I have to take any chance I get! (Don’t get me started on Yoda’s hubris and the classic Greek Tragedy elements of Star Wars Episodes 1 & 2. 😉


  2. Actually, I’ve always gotten a kick out of this one, too…W.J.B. wasn’t just hawking real estate in Coral Gables, and national magazine ads for the first time in history, he was also getting paid with it as a fee. Nothing like South Florida real estate. Cash, too, of course…he went so far into his paid shilling that I’ve read of his attempts to sell Coral Gables property in breaks at the scopes trial…

    But it did result in one of the better quotes on my old hometown ever uttered: “You can wake up in the morning and tell the biggest lie you can think of about the future of Coral Gables, and before you go to bed at night you will be ashamed of your modesty.” He also, of course, suggested the founding of the PanAmerican University, which George Merrick and an abandoned hotel turned into the University of Miami 9 years later…

    As for the Wizard of Oz as a populist allegory, I’ve gotta say that I never bought it…why write an allegory about the election of 1896 criticizing Bryan for his fear of silver coinage 4 years after the election?

  3. Yoda’s hubris? Ok, I was gonna leave this be, but Yoda’s the prophet in Campbell terms in this saga…its Obi Wan that suffers hubris and goes the way of Oedipus Rex as a consequence…Tiresius warned Oedipus, Yoda warned Obi Wan, but the two O’s just knew better…and came to find out the whole magilla was their fault to begin with…

    And Obi Wan finds it out. (even long before we realize its his fault the universe is plunged into twenty years of fascism) “I thought I could train him as well as Master Yoda,” says Obi posthumously in the third installment…”My pride had terrible consequences for the galaxy.”

    Even after the guy died, he still thought every fated consequence of the universe was his own personal fault…Sophocles would’ve ignored Yoda and headed straight for Kenobi.

  4. Earl Killian says:

    “It will never be the same…”: You might also read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire. Then it really never will be the same.

    “Wicked” is part of a line of tangential fiction that also includes Grendel by John Gardener (the Beowulf legend told from the Monster’s point of view), and Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund (obviously related to the Herman Melville classic). I suppose you could even count Virgil’s Aeneid in this line, although there is only a connection at the beginning.

    And if you like such novels, you might watch the movie Rashomon.

  5. Thomas says:

    I suppose the Yellow Brick Road is the Gold Standard? And they’re screwed once they leave it?

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