Good Country People Literary Analysis Essay - Paper …
Taken together, these facts suggest that if anyone was likely to create a political satire out of an innocent children's story, it was L. Frank Baum (Koupal 2001). But Baum was a sophisticated satirist, who most likely understood that the most effective satire is guileless and keeps the reader guessing as to the author's true intent (Koupal 1989). This sophistication explains the disclaimer in the introduction to : the claim that the book was "written solely to pleasure children of today." Dighe suggests that this "odd disclaimer" may have been a "hint" that Baum intended to conceal a message in the text (2002, 42). Indeed, to do so was fully consistent with Baum's personality and later writings. Why else claim that a children's book's was "written solely" for children unless the author wished to imply just the opposite? In light of the obvious parallels and correspondences in , the disclaimer stands revealed for what it truly is: the preliminary staging of an elaborate jest. That most readers did not "get it" only added to its success, for Baum, a connoisseur of the preposterous, nourished the pleasures of the private joke (see William Leach's introduction to Baum  1991).
With these considerations in mind, the alleged "triumph" of the revisionist view is not merely a qualified and tentative victory, but no victory at all. First, Littlefield and his supporters never claimed to have proved that Baum wrote a deliberate, conscious parable. True, Littlefield did propose to "demonstrate" the presence of "a symbolic allegory" in , but he conceded that his specific findings were "theoretical" (50, 58). Second, he can hardly be blamed for the erroneous details regarding Baum's political proclivities. More important, Baum's politics, which were highly eclectic, have little bearing on the question of whether or not contains a symbolic allegory. Littlefield's critics often present Baum's quasi-Republican and anti-Populist credentials as "proof" that he could not have intended to write a Populist parable. The assumption rests on the claim that he interpreted in a -Populist vein, yet Littlefield read Baum's allegory as a "critique of the Populist rationale," not as a defense. Finally, Littlefield recognized that the principal value of the allegorical interpretation was pedagogical; the author's intent was only a secondary consideration.
The revisionists clearly have overstated their case, and observers such as Parker and Dighe have conceded too much. Even Michael Gessel, the skeptical editor of the Baum newsletter, admits that " can be viewed as a political tale" (1992). Gessel's admission underscores the difficulty of simply dismissing the allegorical interpretation or ascribing it to Baum's "subconscious." Despite Dighe's own skepticism, his recent edition, which lists virtually every alleged political-cum-monetary analogy in , only adds further weight to the contention that Littlefield was essentially right. Although some of the parallels are more tenuous than others, many are so obvious and palpable as to defy coincidence. Their cumulative effect-not only in number, but in coherence-warrants a strong presumption that Baum's fairy tale contains a conscious political subtext. In conjunction with what is known about Baum and his oeuvre, it is reasonable to conclude that was in large part intended along the lines Littlefield laid down forty years ago. The "riddle" of is not such a riddle after all; it is "solved" in much the manner one identifies a duck, on the basis of its attributes.
The question of Baum's intention in writing , though of interest to the literary sleuth, is clearly secondary to the allegory itself. Now that the numerous elements of Baum's parable have been gathered and set down, it may appear that little remains to be said. Perhaps nothing original or groundbreaking remains undiscovered, yet because Dighe presents these elements as annotations to Baum's text, we still lack an integrated, expository account that incorporates all the relevant metaphors and analogies. Acknowledging in advance my debt to Littlefield, Rockoff, and Dighe, I attempt to give such an account here. For purposes of coherence and clarity, I take the allegorical reading for granted and generally avoid qualifying language. A number of analogies are admittedly subject to more than one interpretation, and I make no claim that Baum himself intended each one. Rather, I have adopted (and occasionally embellished) those that fit the Populist parable best.
Dorothy (and Toto) of Kansas
Dorothy, the protagonist of the story, represents an individualized ideal of the American people. She is each of us at our best-kind but self-respecting, guileless but levelheaded, wholesome but plucky. She is akin to Everyman, or, in modern parlance, "the girl next door." Dorothy lives in Kansas, where virtually everything-the treeless prairie, the sun-beaten grass, the paint-stripped house -- even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry -- is a dull, drab, lifeless gray. This grim depiction reflects the forlorn condition of Kansas in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when a combination of scorching droughts, severe winters, and an invasion of grasshoppers reduced the prairie to an uninhabitable wasteland. The result for farmers and all who depended on agriculture for their livelihood was devastating. Many ascribed their misfortune to the natural elements, called it quits, and moved on. Others blamed the hard times on bankers, the railroads, and various middlemen who seemed to profit at the farmers' expense. Angry victims of the Kansas calamity also took aim at the politicians, who often appeared indifferent to their plight. Around these economic and political grievances, the Populist movement coalesced.
In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Populism spread rapidly throughout the Midwest and into the South, but Kansas was always the site of its most popular and radical elements. In 1890, Populist candidates began winning seats in state legislatures and Congress, and two years later Populists in Kansas gained control of the lower house of the state assembly, elected a Populist governor, and sent a Populist to the U.S. Senate. The twister that carries Dorothy to symbolizes the Populist cyclone that swept across Kansas in the early 1890s. Baum was not the first to use the metaphor. Mary E. Lease, a fire-breathing Populist orator, was often referred to as the "Kansas Cyclone," and the free-silver movement was often likened to a political whirlwind that had taken the nation by storm. Although Dorothy does not stand for Lease, Baum did give her (in the stage version) the last name "Gale"-a further pun on the cyclone metaphor.
The name of Dorothy's canine companion, Toto, is also a pun, a play on . Prohibitionists were among the Populists' most faithful allies, and the Populist hope William Jennings Bryan was himself a "dry." As Dorothy embarks on the Yellow Brick Road, Toto trots "soberly" behind her, just as the Prohibitionists soberly followed the Populists.
The Baum Witch Project
When Dorothy's twister-tossed house comes to rest in Oz, it lands squarely on the wicked Witch of the East, killing her instantly. The startled girl emerges from the abode to find herself in a strange land of remarkable beauty, whose inhabitants, the diminutive Munchkins, rejoice at the death of the Witch. The Witch represents eastern financial-industrial interests and their gold-standard political allies, the main targets of Populist venom. Midwestern farmers often blamed their woes on the nefarious practices of Wall Street bankers and the captains of industry, whom they believed were engaged in a conspiracy to "enslave" the "little people," just as the Witch of the East had enslaved the Munchkins. Populists viewed establishment politicians, including presidents, as helpless pawns or willing accomplices. Had not President Cleveland bowed to eastern bankers by repealing the Silver Purchase Act in 1893, thus further restricting much-needed credit? Had not McKinley (prompted by the wealthy industrialist Mark Hanna) made the gold standard the centerpiece of his campaign against Bryan and free silver?
It is apt, then, that Dorothy acquires the Witch of the East's silver shoes at the behest of the good Witch of the North, who stands for the electorate of the upper Midwest, where Populism gained considerable support. (Later in the story, good witches are identified with the color white; silver is known as "the white metal.") Still, for all her goodness, the Witch of the North, like the voters of the upper Midwest, is no match for the malign forces of the East, her tender "kiss" on Dorothy's forehead (electoral support) notwithstanding. The death of the wicked Witch, however, is cause for rejoicing-the "little people" (owing to the destruction of eastern power) are now free. All along, the Munchkins were vaguely aware that their bondage was somehow linked to the silver shoes, but the shoes' precise power was never known. Similarly, although Wall Street and the eastern establishment understood silver's power, common farmers knew little of monetary matters, and bimetalism failed to resonate with eastern workers, who voted against Bryan in droves.
After Dorothy and her companions reach Emerald City, the Wizard sends them to kill the wicked Witch of the West. This Witch is also a cruel enslaver, and she appears to represent a composite of the malign forces of nature that plagued farmers in the Midwest and the power brokers of that region. The former menace is mirrored in the Witch's dominion, which recalls the parched plains of western Kansas, and by the ferocious wolves, ravenous crows, and venomous bees that she sends to destroy Dorothy and her friends. Each predator is summoned by blowing on a silver whistle, another example of a malicious use of the white metal. When the Witch's minions are themselves destroyed, she calls on the Winged Monkeys through the magic of a golden cap. The cap had already been used twice, once to enslave the Winkies and again to drive the Wizard out of the West, patent injustices committed through the power of gold. Yet in summoning the Monkeys, the Witch exhausts the cap's charm, and the flying simians (who had been forced to assist in her evil deeds) are liberated. The power of gold proves finite and illusory, and it requires the coexistence of silver (bimetalism) to sustain its power. No wonder the wicked Witch is so keen to possess Dorothy's silver shoes.
The malign manipulation of gold and silver by the wicked Witch represents the other half of the western menace: the self-interested juggling of metal currency by the western nabobs. McKinley of Ohio, for example, supported the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, voted for its repeal in 1893, and made the gold standard the cornerstone of his 1896 presidential bid. Mark Hanna, also of Ohio, served as McKinley's campaign manager and close advisor, and he was widely viewed as the Richelieu behind the throne. (Vilified by the Populists, Hanna had William Allen White's scathing attack on the Populists-"What's the Matter with Kansas?"-circulated throughout the country during the campaign.) Not surprisingly, the Wizard requires the death of the wicked Witch of the West before he will grant Dorothy's "party" its wishes. The Witch's demise by water ends her evil reign, liberates her slaves, and restores the silver shoe she had stolen from Dorothy. In one fell swoop, the parched lands are watered, the farmers are freed, and silver is returned to its rightful owner, the people.
The fourth witch, Glinda of the South, is a good witch who, unlike her northern counterpart, understands the power of Dorothy's silver shoes. In 1896, Bryan's Democratic-Populist ticket carried the South, and some of the strongest silverites in Congress were from the South, whereas northern support for Bryan and free silver was more moderate. In , the denizens of the South, the Quadlings, are described as an odd race who never travel to Emerald City and dislike strangers traveling across their land. Not since the 1860s had a southerner served as president, and immigrants and northerners were generally unwelcome in the South. Moreover, the road to the land of the Quadlings is perilous and rife with dangers. For those who were "different" (including resident blacks), the South could be a dangerous place indeed.
The Three Amigos