Skip to main content

The Wizard of Oz - Interpretation of the film

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

What is the meaning of Wizard of Oz

Entertainment films, such as the Wizard of Oz typically are not to have meaning. For many viewers they are not an art form but are made for entertainment. But in reality every film has some type of meaning. There are four levels of meaning that we can refer to – to help us understand meaning in a film.

  1. Referential meaning. This is basically a very concrete plot summary. How the tangible meaning is understood by the viewer is on their ability to identify specific items within the film. My understanding of the subject matter: In 1930’s Kansas, a young girl is knocked out by a tornado and wakes in a magical land called Oz. She befriends several characters along the way to see the Wizard who will show her the way back home.
  2. Explicit meaning. What message does the film have? Explicit meaning is defined by its context. In the film, a girl dreams to escape her drab life on the farm, her troubles with her aunt and uncle. Only after she is ‘gone’ does she realize how much her family means to her- hence the line “There’s no place like home.”
  3. Implicit meaning. Interpretation of the film. Here we are looking for something that goes beyond what is explicitly stated. Interpretation can vary by individual. I think the film give us a relevant lesson in life. The typical problems of adolescence as shown by Dorothy’s rebellion to her aunt and uncle rule and discipline is to run away from home. (I know I’ve ‘ran away’, whether it was just around the side of the house for awhile!) The story has Dorothy following the yellow brick road finding maturity by learning lessons along the way and thus finding her inner self and strength.
  4. Symptomatic meaning. This explains the ideology and cultural meaning of the film. In the film we are exposed to the social ideology that relates to the values of the 1930’s era and of small town rural America. Family, home and hard work are promoted. This was the depression and the ‘yellow brick’ road symbolized gold and we all know what is found at the end of the rainbow – the pot of gold. The cultural theme is that we must work hard, keep the family together and in the end we will have prosperity. If we hold firmly onto our values, the family will remain strong. This was very important during that period of economic struggle.


Isaac on June 10, 2012:

I think your analysis rings of post-modern literary criticism that is so invested with unchecked assumptions its hard to even have a conversation.

To begin with, I want to make it clear that I think that there is some truth in everything you said. But like a mentor taught me over and over again, the strongest false premises are those that are mixed with some truth.

First off, I have no idea where you are coming to the conclusion that Dorothy finds her "inner self and strength." This is simply a modern day emphasis being read back into an era that didn't so much believe in inner self and strength as much as dependance on and role within one's family. If anything, at the end of the movie Dorothy has learned how much she needs her family. She actually learned about her weakness. She had been foolish to think she could just travel away from home on her own and enjoy her life away from her family. What she obviously learned was that she had a set role and a set place and that true contentment and meaning came from living joyfully within those perimeters.

I know this is an abhorrent concept to a modern mind but this is what the movie teaches. There is nothing even close to the 21st century notion of self independence, inner strength, and inner self. Actually the exact opposite. How you could read this into the film is simply astounding; and it is telling of how much you are so influenced by your own setting that you cannot properly and logically evaluate past cultural creations.

And lastly, your last point about the movie being made to compliment the setting in the 1930's has some truth, but only from a very narrow perspective. I think that before the modern era, particularly during the Christian era of the dozens of centuries prior to our century, the concepts of family, hard work, and values were always in the forefront of people's idea of what made up a full and content life.

Scroll to Continue

To only mention that it reflects the 1930's setting is simply atomistic nonsense that ignores the historical, religious connection and the larger human narrative. These values are not something in any way new to the 1930's, but actually could and should still speak to us today. These values were not discovered and relevant for that era, but were passed down for generations and still attempt to morally preach to us today and all who would listen.

The film is going far beyond trying to help a contemporary audience out with their contemporary problems, but it is attempting to prescribe a pattern and way of life that is meant for all ages. It is something for all who watch to listen, consider, examine their own lives and hearts in light of, and finally to reject or embrace the ethic. To miss this grand narrative and relegate this intent to some contextual happening is to trivialize values that were and are still held dearly by many people, and to miss the point altogether.

I didn't mean to be so rough on you, but if you are going to claim to speak with knowledge then you must be challenged in your lack of insight.

Mike on December 08, 2010:

I read with interest your analysis of 'Wizard of Oz' and for the most part, it's a fairly good start to understanding the major concepts of the film beyond being just entertainment.

The only quibble I have is in your symptomatic meaning. At the end, Dorothy is back with her family, Miss Gulch still has the sheriff's order in hand, the farm is no doubt damaged requiring monies probably difficult to obtain for repair. There is no economic prosperity in any future, no 'pot of gold'. The family is still in an economic depression. Yet, she has her 'family' which now includes the Professor. And that is the real story ending. Dorothy can face those problems because she realizes that running away is not a solution and she now understands what is truly important in life.

ecrea on July 15, 2010:

the posting was very helpful in understanding the four levels of meaning- thank you so much!!!!!!! :)

shelly on October 31, 2009:

wat does all the characters maen

Related Articles