The story of Dorothy Gale’s quest to return to Kansas is the mirror of our desire to find a safe place in the arduous journey of life. The yellow brick road is analogous of the torturous path we all tread during that quest. The various imitations of men who accompany her on this journey are representations of the disenfranchised puppets we frequently become. There is no Emerald city in reality. If the fictitious Emerald City represents anything, for the sake of this pastiche it will be the idea of spirituality, the God myth and the representation of heaven. Emerald City is where you go to get fixed and you only get to be there if you have walked the correct path, ergo this kitsch lump of green is the embodiment of heaven. However, what was Baum telling us when he allowed Toto to reveal the great maker to be nothing more than a trickster behind an arras? In the world of the stage, all the great deceits are conducted behind an arras. Dorothy and Toto fight through hell and high water to reach this land of promise, only to discover that their redeemer is as feeble as her three stooges. The Wizard then lays a trump card of deceit on these hapless fools when he produces certificates to demonstrate that their weakness was as much of a sham as the substance of his folly – the city itself. Instantly they become as one with their maker by virtue of their ability to morph from gutless to courageous (The Lion), heartless to ticking (Tin Man) and thick to intelligent (Scarecrow).
The Scarecrow is Dorothy’s favourite as she meets him first, which suggests he represents every woman’s childhood sweetheart. Also the fact he is brainless makes him less threatening and easier to like in spite of his stupidity and the fact that he is a hindrance to Dorothy’s progress by being physically pathetic: his stuffing is frequently scattered about the sets as he is torn apart by the winged monkeys. Scarecrow throws Dorothy’s world in to confusion from the moment she meets him, and she meets him at a crossroads, which is again reminiscent of a girl’s first love. When a girl falls in love for the first time she is at a crossroads in her development of the ability to love and be loved. Scarecrow is most sympathetic to Dorothy’s plight and the only real criticism one could have of him is that he, if anyone, holds the key to Dorothy’s happiness but is too dense to see this. It is an unfortunate fact that people who are deprived of an education are frequently prone to bouts of self-destructiveness. In spite of being brainless, Scarecrow is ambitious, as he is desperate to resolve Dorothy’s dilemma, whilst being utterly sold on the promise of a brain in Emerald City. Dorothy in an evangelical capacity, recruits scarecrow to accompany her on this journey, in spite of the fact she can see he has little sense of direction. She imparts ambition to Scarecrow who is grateful to her for unhooking him from his post with the promise. In reality, the combination of stupidity and ambition is deadly and will often result in total self-destruction. For a modern day rendering I see Scarecrow as being addicted to drugs, getting in to all sorts of trouble, but a kind and loving fellow.
Tin Man is found with an axe in his hands, which tells us that as well as being heartless he is responsible for the destruction of nature. He is a wood cutter but with a horrible tendency to rust and seize up, so here Baum is telling us that man number two in Dorothy’s life, the heartless Tin Man, is high maintenance. This could be because the guilt that is associated with being heartless requires a great deal of sympathy. Tin Man is a lost soul, hence the fact he cries a lot which again leads to the need for oil, or rather the oil of human kindness: sympathy and coaxing. It is no mistake that tin man is made of such a hard substance, this is telling us that he is not only heartless but hard-headed; so Tin Man is a man whose life consists of making hard headed heartless decisions that lead him to cry and rust and seize up. This puts him at the top of the pile, as the cruellest among us are so often top dog. This is why Dorothy does not spurn Tin Man and why he figures in her life. She is drawn to him because he is an alpha male and is a good successor to Scarecrow who is anything but the alpha male.
Aside from his obvious pussy-like qualities, Lion is arguably the individual Dorothy relates to and relies on least of all, hence his late arrival in the plot. A satirical motivation drove Baum to include this character, as well as an adherence to the writer’s rule of three. Whereas in comic terms, the third element usually relates to a pay off, Lion represents nothing of the sort. His presence barely enriches Dorothy’s journey suggesting that a lack of courage is a deadly trait, or that stamina and fortitude alone can take you to your destination. In fact, it is not so much the Lion’s actual cowardliness as his perceived cowardliness and the desire to overcome it that brokers the bond between Lion and the others. A fear of success is as much of a fail maker as a fear of failure, and the Lion struggles with both yet as with all characters, demonstrates a desire to change and a desire to please. His inclusion demonstrates that on our quest, success is part ability, part valour, and all about belief. His final poetic prose on courage in the movie sums it up beautifully, with such lines as “What makes the Hottentots so hot? What puts the ape in apricot? What have they got that I ain’t got? Courage!”
The three men in Dorothy’s life journey are all on a quest to better themselves, but are ultimately powerless to do so without Dorothy’s explicit reasoning and support. Outside of Dorothy’s journey back to the comfort of mediocrity they have no mechanism for self-improvement. In other words, their journey in life is entirely reliant on Dorothy’s for its end.
It has been said that The Wizard of Oz is the ultimate road movie. With this reading it is apparent that it is also one of few movies of its time to represent the feminine in an empowered and empowering light.