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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Chapter 1 : The Cyclone | Summary

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Summary

An orphaned girl named Dorothy lives in a small, drab house with her uncle and aunt. The Kansas prairie landscape is barren and gray, and so are Dorothy's uncle and aunt. Dorothy's dog, Toto, is her only source of fun.

One day a cyclone hits the house before Dorothy and Toto can reach the storm cellar. The house whirls into the air and is carried away. After many lonely, frightened hours in the air, Dorothy and Toto crawl over to her bed and fall asleep.

Analysis

Baum opens his book with such flat, dull descriptions for several reasons:

  • He wants to set up a strong contrast between bleak Kansas and vibrant Oz.
  • He wants to establish that Dorothy finds her own home—her real life—dull and gray. Compared to the fantasy land that is Oz, the Kansas prairie is completely unappealing. But it's Dorothy's home, and an important part of her journey is acknowledging and coming to terms with her own reality.
  • He is processing dramatic news events from his own life. In 1890 when Baum and his family were living in South Dakota, a cyclone hit their town. In 1893 a cyclone swept through two Kansas towns, destroying buildings and killing 31 people. And in 1896 another cyclone came close to hitting Chicago, where the Baums then lived.
  • He is taking part in a new literary movement of his era that attempted to portray a grittier, more realistic image of the American frontier.

Baum was not actually familiar with Kansas. His descriptions here are drawn from the three years he and his family lived in the stark South Dakota prairie.

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