American History, Literary Analysis, and Rhetoric
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is almost an all-ages book. It was written at about 6th grade level, though younger students have embraced it as their own. The book even provides opportunities for high school students to sharpen their skills. It can enliven a study of the U.S. circa 1900. It can also be an interesting exploration in critical analysis. At this level, the focus is not just on the text, but on the many interpretations that have been written over the years. They can be used for literary analysis -- and possibly for rhetorical analysis as well.
Probably the best known adult interpretation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is that it's a metaphor for the populism movement at the turn of the twentieth century. This is not the only interpretation, however. On this page, I have collected interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and ideas for using them in secondary school classrooms. I have also collected some Wizard of Oz high school lesson plan ideas from around the web.
The Gold and Silver Standards - The Wizard of Oz in History Class
Did Dorothy's slippers (which were silver in the original story) symbolize the silver standard? Did the yellow brick road have anything to do with gold? And what about William Jennings Bryan as the Cowardly Lion?
The Wizard of Oz as populist allegory:It's been a popular theory since the 1960s, but it's not without controversy.
When Baum first dramatized the story (not so long after the book's publication) he put in some obvious political humor. And yet some suggest it was just that: humor.
Whether you want to analyze and critique the theory or just dress up U.S. history class, here are some resources.
- Social Studies Help
This resource was designed specifically for American history. The author notes that he has corresponded with a descendant of Frank Baum, who denies that the book was anything more than a children's story -- yet he feels there are obvious parallels.
- Beacon Learning Center
Here are step by step lesson plan for using the wizard in a study of populism. This lesson also uses a text called The Americans.
Using The Wizard of Oz in High School Social Studies
In the video below, a high school U.S. history teacher explains how he uses The Wizard of Oz. He talks about the people in this era of history and provides a handout.
Students later construct their own knowledge, watching sections of the DVD movie and taking notes about the similarities between the fictional and the real.
Modern Takes on the Historical Significance - Paired Readings for Reading Comprehension or Critical Analysis
Modern critics have called into question whether Baum was indeed showing support for populism. Another popular theory is that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was about the glories of the new Industrial Age. Some note that even if the book intentionally referenced populism, it may have been more satire than allegory.
The critical essays below can be paired together as part of a reading comprehension lesson for the college bound. (Can readers identify the similarities and differences in the arguments?)
The articles can also serve as models of literary criticism. Composition students can note how the authors referenced other thinkers as they constructed their own literary criticism.
- Money and Politics in the Land of Oz
This essay concludes that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, while primarily a children's story, was also a satire of populism. The author was not trying to persuade the reader politically, but the story can still be read on two levels.
- The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a "Parable on Populism"
This article discusses two theories: the populism theory and the newer theory that The Wizard of Oz extolled the (then) new industrialism and urban/ consumerist lifestyle. It also extolled positive thinking in general.
Representing the Symbolism
The Wizard of Oz enlivens social studies. So does drama -- and technology. Students have sometimes been challenged to create their own representations of the symbolism.
The students featured below are talented. One interesting touch: They sing "If I only had a say..." to the tune of the scarecrow's song.
Is The Wizard of Oz Just a Children's Story?
Or are there additional layers of meaning?
How do you see The Wizard of Oz?
Historical Context: Feminism and the Suffrage Movement
Populism is not the only theory rooted in (Baum's time in) American history. What of feminism? What of the women's suffrage movement?
- The Man who Made Oz
Here is a reflection of Baum's feminist message and the women that helped shape it his mother, his wife) The author also suggests some ways Baum's fairy tale might indeed be quintessentially American. Baum has introduced at least one new archetype.
- A Look at Gender in Oz
Here is a look at the strong women in Baum's work. Additional female leaders were introduced in later books of the series.
Ozma: Another of Baum's Strong Female Characters
- Ozma of Oz
cdrummbks, Flickr Creative Commons.
Literary Analysis: Backing up One's Argument
Dorothy as effective business leader? Well... a case can be made! And here we have an organization that has put forth that argument.
At the high school level, I think I'd be more likely to use these resources to teach literary analysis than business. This could be a playful look at literary analysis and how it's distinct from mere summary. (You can have an original thesis if you can back it up. So... what interpretations can students come up with? Dorothy as ________?)
Of course some critical interpretation will enjoy more acceptance out there in academia. Sometimes a writer or teacher incorporates allusion to make their lessons more colorful, not to convince readers that this was the author's intent or that it's the best read in the actual historical context.
It can still be a good exercise for students who are just learning the importance of supporting an argument. Just what can we make these characters represent?
- Movies for Business
This will take you to Movies for Business, where you can download a guide for your students.
Rhetorical Analysis: Literary Allusion as Frame
This writer draws an unexpected lesson from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. At least she uses it as the frame for an editorial on an unexpected subject: natural energy vs. conventional energy. There's no doubt about it: Literary allusion can make a good frame to pull the reader into an article or debate.
What lessons can students pull from scenes in the Wonderful Wizard of Oz? What editorial-style essays can they construct?
- What the Wonderful of Oz can Teach about Solar Energy
The purpose of this is not to put forth a new literary interpretation -- but it's artfully done.
College English Departments Tackle the Wizard of Oz - What can the Wonderful Wizard Teach about Composition/
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is so well-known and so loved that even universities have referenced it to teach lessons about writing.
- Dutchess Community College: Writing: Critical Essays about Literature
Visit the Dutchess Community College Writing Center in real life or online to see an example of how to write a critical analysis essay. The writers use the ever popular Wizard of Oz to illustrate the skill. I like the subtitle, "Your professor told y
- More than just a Children's Story: Writing a Research Essay
"More than Just a Children's Story" is an award-winning research essay. It looks at multiple interpretations: Jungian as well as political. Here we have a look at its evolution across multiple drafts.
More Material for Discussion
(And Possible Essay Topics)
Is the author's note to be taken seriously? Not only does Baum claim that he has written a simple story for children, he also claims there are no fairies? Ah, but there are good witches!
Is he suggesting there's no typical fairy tale magic? If so, do you agree with him? Is The Wonderful Wizard significantly different than the typical fairy tale? Is it, as many have claimed quintessentially American? If so, what makes it so? Just the setting? Or the themes and characterization, too?
It is possible to come up with many different thesis statements answering these questions.
Vocabulary Development for the College Bound
Here's another new take on an old story... with 1,850 SAT words.