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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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How is the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz similar to and different from Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?

The film departs from the novel in several important ways: Dorothy is a teenaged girl in the film. Her journey to Oz takes place in a dream. There is no Witch of the North; Glinda is the only good witch. Several Ozian characters in the movie (the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, and the Wicked Witch of the West) have counterparts in Kansas. The Wicked Witch of the West does not employ wolves, crows, or bees to terrorize Dorothy and company. Dorothy does not need to travel to Glinda's country to find her way home; Glinda comes to her. Ruby slippers replace the silver shoes. In spite of the differences the key themes of the novel—the journey of discovery, the revelation of hidden strengths, and the importance of home—express themselves in the film.

In the Author's Note to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what does L. Frank Baum mean when he describes the book as "a modernized fairy tale"?

Although Baum cannot help being influenced by European fairy tales, he feels a certain disdain for that genre. In speaking of the fairy tales he read as a child, Baum says, "I didn't like the little dwarfs in the woods bobbing up with their horrors. That's why you'll never find anything in my fairy tales which frightens a child ... I would never be responsible for a child's nightmare." Baum keeps the scary scenes in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz short and resolves them quickly. He gives the book a strong-minded and independent protagonist—Dorothy is no Sleeping Beauty!—and hints that authority figures like Oz are not as impressive as they may seem at first. A writer of his time, Baum is strongly influenced by the late 19th-century notion that American children's books should be uniquely American: free of fusty European elements and traditions. This idea was particularly strong in Chicago, where Baum lived when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum believed that Chicago was destined to become a major literary center where even the literary traditions of New England would be swept away.

In Chapter 13 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what is the significance of the gifts the Winkies give to Dorothy and Toto?

At first glance the gifts don't seem significant at all: Baum seems to forget about them the minute they've been bestowed! Toto's golden collar, Dorothy's diamond-studded bracelet, the Scarecrow's gold-headed walking stick, and the Tin Woodman's gold-encrusted and bejeweled silver oil can are never mentioned again. (The Winkies also replace the Woodman's axe handle with a solid gold one and polish his axe blade until it "glistened like burnished silver.") This omission seems to be more proof that Baum is not a detail-oriented author: he apparently doesn't notice that these glittering objects disappear from the story immediately after being introduced. He seems to ignore the famous warning by playwright Anton Chekov about extraneous details: "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." Of course Baum is fond of describing jewels and features them on several costumes worn by characters in Oz. This may be due partly to his theater background—throughout his life Baum maintained a strong interest in costumes. But the gifts of the Winkies also serve to illustrate their joyously generous and creative nature, which had been strangled while they were enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the West. The beautiful gifts that the Winkies bestow reflects Baum's theme about how, under the right conditions, hidden strengths can flourish.

In Chapter 24 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz why did Dorothy speak "gravely" when she tells Aunt Em she's come from the Land of Oz?

Readers might expect Dorothy to speak excitedly at this point since she's so happy to be home. By using the adverb gravely L. Frank Baum hints that Dorothy knows how much her trip to Oz has affected her. For Dorothy Oz is not a fairyland but a proving ground where she has been repeatedly tested. Baum makes it clear that Dorothy's trip to Oz was no dream from which she's now waking up; her adventures in Oz were real. Aunt Em's reaction to seeing Dorothy makes it clear that the little girl has been away for some time. Dorothy is glad to be home again, but what a gulf now separates her from her guardians! It's hard to imagine how Dorothy will explain her journey to her aunt and uncle. If she tries to describe the dangers she's faced, will Aunt Em and Uncle Henry even believe her? And how will the self-reliance and courage Dorothy gained in Oz help her now that she's back home and no longer faces Oz's unique challenges? She's done great things in Oz, but to Dorothy's uncle and aunt she's still the same little girl as when she left. Perhaps she speaks gravely because she's beginning to realize how hard it will be to reconcile the land of Oz with the Kansas plains.

In Chapter 24 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what is the significance of Aunt Em's "covering Dorothy's face with kisses"?

Recall that in the book's first chapter Aunt Em seems to view Dorothy almost as an alien. When Dorothy arrives Aunt Em is so unused to childish merriment that she screams and presses her hand on her heart whenever Dorothy laughs. The only maternal feeling she seems to have for Dorothy is worry. But here she is now, folding Dorothy in her arms and kissing her over and over. Dorothy has missed her home, despite its gray ordinariness, because she loves Aunt Em. (Uncle Henry doesn't get much attention in the book.) And Aunt Em has come to realize how much she loves Dorothy: so much that she breaks character completely when Dorothy returns. Throughout the book readers may occasionally have wondered why Dorothy wants to return to a place like Kansas for any reason except force of habit. But Dorothy is not the only one who has grown and changed during her journey. Aunt Em reveals a hidden depth of feeling, sparked by Dorothy's absence. Now it's clear that Dorothy's home is a loving one and that she'll be happy there.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what is the significance of the Golden Cap?

In devising the Golden Cap, Baum nods to a long tradition of magic hats, from Perseus's invisible helmet to the cap of knowledge in the British folktale "Jack the Giant Killer." In Baum's novel each owner of the Golden Cap may use it to summon the Flying Monkeys only three times. The three-wish limit is another common feature of fairy tales. In fact things happening in threes is a structural element employed throughout mythology and folklore. Baum uses the structure repeatedly in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Dorothy has three friends; the Wizard grants them three wishes; by tapping her heels three times Dorothy returns to Kansas. The three-step structure allows suspense to build while simultaneously reducing tension through its very familiarity. This pattern is both engaging and soothing to a young audience. With the Golden Cap Dorothy quickly uses up her first two wishes—the second one fruitlessly since the monkeys can't get her back to Kansas. How will she use the third? The third wish, as it turns out, is instrumental in getting her to Glinda, who will reveal the secret to returning home.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when does L. Frank Baum first violate the rules that the Author's Note establishes for newer "wonder tales"?

In the Author's Note preceding The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum states that traditional fairy tales should be put aside for "newer 'wonder tales' in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors." Baum adds, "The modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident." Yet Dorothy's house crushes the Wicked Witch of the East before Chapter 2 is over! On some level Baum knows that "modern children" have a healthy tolerance for a certain level of violence, and that even modernized fairy tales need some suspense. Though the witch's death is utterly bloodless—all readers can see is her feet, which dry up in the sun—she has been utterly destroyed. And in a sense it's Dorothy who has killed her. This scene qualifies as the kind of "disagreeable incident" Baum's introduction says he will avoid.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz how do the Kalidahs (Chapter 7) and the tremendous spider (Chapter 21) fail to meet Baum's criteria for the "modernized fairy tale" he promised?

The Author's Note in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz makes it clear that Baum disapproves of traditional fairy tales because they contain so many frightening details. "The modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident ... Heartaches and nightmares are left out." Most readers would agree that being attacked by monsters sounds like a nightmare. The Kalidahs are superpredators with their bears' bodies and tigers' heads. They want to to kill Dorothy and her friends, and their death is dreadful: the "ugly, snarling brutes" fall into a gulf and are "dashed to pieces." The "tremendous monster, like a great spider," is definitely nightmarish. It eats the animals of the forest "as a spider does a fly" and is so ugly that the Lion "turns up his nose in disgust" at the sight. The spider is not hard for the Lion to kill, but its death is as repulsive as the demise of any folktale monster. Readers are lucky that the drama-loving Baum breaks his own rules! The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would be long forgotten if Baum had actually succeeded in "dispensing with all disagreeable incident." How else could the characters find and test their hidden strengths?

How does Dorothy's killing of the Wicked Witch of the West in Chapter 12 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz demonstrate her evolving character?

Dorothy bursts into tears when Oz demands that she kill the Wicked Witch of the West. "I never killed anything, willingly," she sobs. Later she cries herself to sleep at the thought of her terrible mission. This is not typical of Dorothy, who cries surprisingly rarely for someone her age in her circumstances. It is also rare for Dorothy to feel or show anger in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Mostly she's stoic about her adventures. Once she's been captured she puts up with a lot from the Wicked Witch of the West without a trace of rebellion. She makes up her mind to "work as hard as she could; for she was glad the Wicked Witch had decided not to kill her." Yet when the witch trips Dorothy with an invisible "bar of iron" (a somewhat unimaginative choice on Baum's part), Dorothy becomes angry at last. "You are a wicked creature!" she shouts. The witch just jeers. This makes Dorothy "so very angry" that she throws a bucket of water over the witch—which, of course, makes the witch dissolve. Pent-up fury seems to burst out of Dorothy in this scene. She's already angry about being tripped and having her shoe stolen, but the witch's taunts are more than she can bear. On a symbolic level Dorothy is asserting her real power for the first time. Giving vent to her anger is what makes her strong.

In Chapter 6 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz how does Dorothy's slap of the Lion foreshadow her killing of the Wicked Witch of the West?

Dorothy doesn't hesitate when she sees that the Lion is about to bite Toto. She rushes forward and slaps the Lion's nose as hard as she can. "Don't you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" she scolds. "You are nothing but a big coward." The Lion's cowardice, expressed as bullying, seems to make Dorothy as angry as the fact that he wants to kill her dog. How dare the Lion pick on those smaller and weaker, like Toto and the Scarecrow? Expressing her rage by slapping and scolding the Lion is a first for Dorothy. The act foreshadows the much-later scene in which she kills the Wicked Witch of the West—again without thinking about her own danger. In each case Dorothy is taking a principled stand against a bully. The reader sees that expressing rather than repressing her anger and standing up for her principles make Dorothy a braver and more effective character. (She's also a thoroughly American character. British characters, particularly little girls, would rarely express their anger—or, if they did, they would be shamed or punished for it.)

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