The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Study Guide

L. Frank Baum

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Chapter 16 : The Magic Art of the Great Humbug | Summary



Although Oz makes it quite clear that he's not a real wizard, Dorothy and her friends make it equally clear that they're still holding him to his pledge. He succeeds quite ingeniously. First he fills the Scarecrow's head with bran mixed with pins and needles. He cuts open the Woodman's chest and in it places a silk heart stuffed with sawdust. For the Lion he pours out a dish of medicine, saying that since "courage is always inside one" the substance in the dish "cannot be called courage until you have swallowed it." The Lion drinks the mixture and immediately feels "full of courage."

Alone Oz reflects that it's hard not to be a humbug "when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can't be done." But he has no idea how to get Dorothy back to Kansas.


There's some ingenious wordplay in this chapter. First consider the bran with which the Wizard packs the Scarecrow's head. Not only does "brain" sound like "bran," the Wizard adds that he has given the Scarecrow "a lot of bran-new brains." The sharp pins and needles mixed in with the bran symbolize mental acuity or "sharpness."

The Woodman's heart is made of silk, so it's legitimately tender, or soft. Readers already know that the Woodman is tenderhearted, but he himself has never believed it. In the next chapter he will tell Dorothy that his new heart is "even kinder and more tender" than his old one was.

The Lion drinks the contents of a square green bottle—the traditional shape and color of a bottle of gin. In Baum's day there was actually a brand of beer called Courage, and drinking alcohol to fortify one's courage is a familiar image in many cultures. So it's likely that Oz simply pours out a saucer of gin for the Lion. Not that the actual substance matters! Once he's swallowed his medicine, the Lion's confidence in his own powers will give him the courage he needs.

On the one hand the reader is supposed to laugh at the notion that Dorothy's friends start to believe in themselves only when Oz provides them with representations of the qualities they've sought for so long. On the other hand no one should be surprised by the strong effect that symbolic items can have, especially when bestowed by an authority figure—ask any priest, general, or coach.

Oz realizes that Dorothy's problem can't be addressed by his symbolic gifts. He can't give her "home" because home is elsewhere. This recognition makes Oz himself seem more human: he has to face the fact that he promised Dorothy something he doesn't know how to deliver. Acknowledging one's own weaknesses is an important part of character development, and Oz becomes more likeable once he confesses his failure.

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