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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapter 18 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what is the importance of the Monkey King's statement, "We belong to this country alone, and cannot leave it"?

At the Scarecrow's suggestion Dorothy asks the Monkey King to fly her home to Kansas. To her disappointment he refuses. "There has never been a Winged Monkey in Kansas yet, and I suppose there never will be, for they don't belong there," he explains. The Monkey King's explanation reinforces the notion that Oz exists on a different plane from our own. Baum does not want young readers to think that the cyclone dropped Dorothy into some remote corner of Earth; he wants to stress the fact that Oz exists in its own world. By creating a clear barrier between the two worlds, Baum reassures his readers that Flying Monkeys and wicked witches pose no threat to them. The barrier between the two worlds also deepens the story's drama. To return to her own country Dorothy must undertake yet another journey, this one to the home of Glinda, the Witch of the South. However, even though Glinda's powers are greater than those of the Winged Monkeys, even she cannot get Dorothy home. Dorothy has to do that for herself.

What are some of the dualities, or contrasts, L. Frank Baum presents in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?

The Land of Oz is a well-balanced country! It is ruled by two good witches and two wicked ones. The Wicked Witch of the East dries up into dust when she dies; the Wicked Witch of the West melts into a puddle of water. The Witch of the North is old; Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, is young. The book's plotting is also carefully balanced. True to the "home/away/home" pattern of much children's literature, the story begins and ends in Kansas. In the second chapter Dorothy "inherits" the silver shoes; in the second-to-last chapter she learns of their secret power. Dorothy meets Oz in the middle of the book and is twice made unhappy by him. When she first sees him he's in the form of a huge head, and when she last sees him he's in a huge balloon. Good balances evil in this book, and appearances are matched with similar disappearances. As in many fairy tales the dualities readers find in Oz provide a comforting contrast with the real world, where good and evil tend to get mixed up. But another type of duality mirrors a real-world philosophical question: the mind-body problem. French philosopher Rene Descartes framed the mind-body problem when he observed that the mind can doubt the body's existence but not its own; therefore he believed the mind can exist separately from the body. The Scarecrow represents the opposite position; although he clearly has a body and can think quite well, he believes he can't be whole without a brain. Satisfied in the end with a symbolic brain, he finds his own resolution to this old philosophical problem.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz how might Dorothy's journey be interpreted as a symbol of American westward expansion?

Inspired by the notion of manifest destiny—the idea that Americans had a "God-given" mission to settle and "civilize" the United States from coast to coast—millions of pioneers traveled westward throughout the 19th century. By 1890 the frontier was deemed "closed"—that is, fully settled—and at that point the myth making began. Stories about the hardships of Western pioneering were common in 19th-century American culture, as were depictions of the Old West as an idyllic place untainted by civilization. Less talked about were the devastating effect westward expansion had on the native population. Dorothy's journey through Oz reflects many of the features of the pioneers' journey. Her house lands in Eastern Oz. She must travel west to find the Wizard of Oz and the Country of the Winkies. The Land of Oz is surrounded by wasteland and a vast, impassable desert. She carries almost no supplies and often wonders when she will next eat. Although within Oz's boundaries she faces natural dangers, the land is by and large portrayed as a magical, "uncivilized" place where wholesome adventure promises reward and renewal. This portrayal conforms to the popular medical theory that the American West had the power to bestow health and wholeness. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, the mountain air out West helped people achieve "greater perfection intellectually as well as physically." Dorothy's comrades all gain wholeness at the end of their journey; Dorothy herself reveals hidden strengths and gains confidence. Looking at Oz through the lens of manifest destiny also reveals the less savory aspects of white settlers' dominance over the West. The tyranny of the witches in the East and West could be seen as symbolic of the white settlers' oppression of the Native Americans. The perils Dorothy faces evoke the children of the Orphan Trains—children who were sent by the New York Children's Aid Society out West, where they were often exploited by people looking for free (or cheap) labor. Readers can't know whether Baum intended for Dorothy's journey to represent westward expansion, but viewing the novel through its lens provides useful insights.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what is the structural function of Chapters 19, 20, and 21?

In Chapter 16 the Wizard of Oz grants the wishes of Dorothy's three companions. Some critics explain that each of the three is now given a chapter in which to demonstrate his newly acquired gift. But does that actually happen? Putting his courage to good use, the Lion kills a monstrous spider and becomes the King of Beasts in a new forest. But the Scarecrow mostly gets bounced around; he doesn't say or do anything especially brainy. And the Tin Woodman's good deeds—while certainly appropriate for someone with an axe—are unrelated to his new ability to love. He helps his friends escape from an enchanted forest and builds a ladder so they can scale the wall surrounding the Country of China. Of course he performs these acts because he loves his friends, but readers already know that the Tin Woodman can chop! Baum has missed the opportunity to let the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman show how they've changed. This omission contributes to the sketchy, tacked-on quality of the three chapters.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz how might the Land of Oz be seen as a matriarchal society?

In the Land of Oz females both good and evil are clearly more powerful than males. They are also more competent. Oz, the purported leader of the country, turns out to have no magic powers at all and very few effective day-to-day governing skills; though he was a balloonist in Kansas he doesn't even know how to make a good balloon in Oz. The friends who accompany Dorothy—the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion—all need her help to be made whole. It can be seen as a further weakness that none of her three companions realizes that he already possesses the attribute he wants Oz to give him. The four quadrants of the country are each ruled by a witch, not a wizard, and any evil in the country appears to have been caused by one of the Wicked Witches. The Dainty China Country is headed by a princess; the only male readers meet there is a cracked china clown. Even the Winged Monkeys are turned into slaves by Princess Gayelette. At the end of the book the Scarecrow assumes power of the Emerald City, the Tin Woodman becomes ruler of the Country of the West, and the Lion becomes King of Beasts in a "grand old forest." But it appears that the remaining good witches will still control the Land of Oz. It could even be said that Dorothy's life in Kansas is more matriarchal than patriarchal. Aunt Em has more warmth and personality than grim Uncle Henry, who remains a background figure.

In Chapter 21 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz how does Baum show how the Lion's character has changed?

Although real-world lions actually live in grasslands, Dorothy's Lion takes instant delight in the ancient forest through which the travelers are walking. Recall that when Dorothy first meets the Lion he's also in a forest, but at that point he is fearful and ashamed of his cowardice. In this new forest he is comfortable and at peace. When a tiger tells him that he's just in time to help the animals of the forest, the Lion stays calm. "What is your trouble?" he asks "quietly." The word quietly lets readers know that the Lion's bluster is gone. He listens, thinks for a moment, and asks if there are any other lions in the forest—presumably wondering why, if there are, none of them has killed the giant spider already. Told that the other lions have all been killed, the Cowardly Lion rises to the occasion. "Take good care of these friends of mine," he says, "and I will go at once to fight the monster." He marches proudly away, kills the spider, and marches proudly home. Readers know that the "courage" Oz gave the Lion was bogus. But since the Lion doesn't know that, he behaves in the kingly way his new subjects expect.

What mood pervades Chapter 23 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?

Loving generosity is the hallmark of this penultimate chapter. As soon as Dorothy has told Glinda why she wants to return home, Glinda kisses her and says, "Bless your dear heart, I am sure I can tell you of a way to get back to Kansas." It is a bit startling that Glinda then adds, "But if I do, you must give me the Golden Cap." Then it turns out that she doesn't want the cap for herself; she only uses it to ask the Flying Monkeys to fly the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion to their new homes. When Glinda says that the silver shoes could have taken Dorothy home "the very first day you came to this country," it's a crucial piece of information. Before Dorothy has time to react her three friends point out that if Dorothy had gone right home, they would never have gotten their hearts' desires. Their affirmations remind Dorothy of how much she has helped them—a good message for her to internalize. "I am glad I was of use to these good friends," Dorothy says. But still "I think I should like to go back to Kansas." The love of her friends is important, but the love she will find at home is more important still.

In Chapter 11 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz why does the Wizard tell the Scarecrow to kill the Wicked Witch of the West?

Oz asks the Scarecrow to kill the witch apparently because he's forgotten that he just told Dorothy to! Costumed as a lovely lady Oz promises the Scarecrow, "If you will kill for me the Wicked Witch of the West, I will bestow upon you a great many brains." Confused, the Scarecrow answers, "I thought you asked Dorothy to kill the Witch." Oz snaps back, "So I did. I don't care who kills her." Oz's reply makes it clear that he's breaking character—speaking in his own normal voice, not the assumed voice of the lovely lady. She would not say "So I did" but something more regal, and she wouldn't say "I don't care who kills her"—she would say something like, "It means nothing to me who kills the Witch, but killed she must be." In the next sentence Oz regains his regal tone. This is a funny passage. It is also an example of the way Oz makes it impossible to be really angry with him.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in what ways does Dorothy earn the right to go home?

As is the case with many fairy-tale heroes, Dorothy must perform several courageous acts and good deeds before she achieves her heart's desire. The first good deed—the one that sets the whole story in motion—is Dorothy's killing the Wicked Witch of the East. This is not done intentionally; she didn't plan to have her house land on the witch. But the fact remains that the witch is dead, that she met her end through Dorothy, and that the Munchkins were freed by the Wicked Witch's death. The Witch of the North rewards Dorothy with the silver shoes, and those shoes will ultimately get her home. Dorothy performs three more good deeds when she allows the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion to accompany her to the Emerald City. She is, of course, conscious that they're coming with her. What she doesn't realize is that by bringing them with her she is setting in motion their development into fully functional beings. Only when she is about to leave does Dorothy see that if she hadn't come to Oz, her three friends would have remained stuck emotionally and physically. The most important of these deeds is killing the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard promises that if Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the West, he'll get her back to Kansas. Since Dorothy doesn't realize that the Wizard is a fake, she embarks on her mission in good faith. She's fully aware of what she needs to do, though that awareness is painful to her. Perhaps the fact that Dorothy runs to fetch Toto at the beginning of the book should count as another good deed. If Dorothy hadn't done this, she would have been safe in the storm cellar with her uncle and aunt and all of her good deeds in Oz would have remained undone.

In Chapter 20 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what is noteworthy about the Country of China?

The China Country appears to be a separate entity from the Land of Oz. Protected by a china wall of immense height (possibly a nod to the Great Wall of China), its inhabitants are actual porcelain figurines no higher than Dorothy's knee. Baum's earlier job as a traveling china salesman helps him describe these figurines so clearly that collectors have recognized them as Meissen or Dresden porcelain from Germany. Unlike in the rest of Oz the inhabitants of China Country are threatened by Dorothy and her friends instead of the other way around. After causing a china cow's leg to break off, the travelers must step carefully. Still Dorothy makes an uncharacteristic blunder when she asks the princess to come home with her: "I could carry you in my basket." Naturally the princess, like Dorothy herself, is unwilling to be carried away to another country. However she also presents an interesting contrast with the young protagonist: while Dorothy has grown strong during her journey, the China Princess prefers not to test her mettle abroad. Baum leaves several things unexplained in this chapter. The porcelain people appear to have been created and brought here: How? Do they mend themselves if they break? Who takes them away and puts them on mantels and tables? It would have been nice to know more. As written Chapter 20 seems almost as out of place in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as the travelers who pass through China Country.

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