Psychoanalytic interpretations of Wizard of Oz by random people

by Robert Nagle on 7/12/2009

in Offbeat/Humor,Video/Multimedia

Random People at the Straight Dope psychoanalyze the movie Wizard of Oz. Mainly tongue-in-cheek, but some interesting insights. I’m reprinting several comments (spelling mistakes and all). The first is by Captain Amazing:

As soon as Dorothy gets to Oz, the first thing that happens is that she kills the Wicked Witch of the East. This is clearly a reference to her mother, who died in childbirth bearing Dorothy. For further proof of that, note that she first lands in Munchkintown…the Munchkins, with their diminutive stature, clearly represent infants. Further, after the witch is killed, her slippers wind up on Dorothy’s feet…this is Dorothy’s “inheritance”, so to speak. Her protests to Glinda and the Munchkins that “I didn’t mean to kill her”, shows her residual guilt at her mother’s death.

Glinda, who appears at this point, is Dorothy’s idealized version of her mother, glimmering and beautiful, but ultimately, unable to help her. At the same time Glinda appears, so appears the Wicked Witch of the West, upset that Dorothy “killed my sister”, and demanding the slippers the Wicked Witch of the East had. The Wicked Witch of the West is, of course, no one other than Aunt Em (or at least Dorothy’s image of Aunt Em), whose sternness Dorothy fears (Aunt Em was the disciplinarian, compared to her more laid back Uncle Henry), and who she feels resents her for, as Dorothy sees it, “killing her sister (Dorothy’s mother).

Glinda being dead, is unable to help her “get home” (i.e., reenter into the loving family structure that Dorothy feels she misses out on due to her absent mother), so Dorothy has to go to the Emerald City and see the Wizard (Uncle Henry, as will be explained later).

So, Dorothy sets off, and along the way meets her personal insecurities (the scarecrow, tin man, and lion, representing Dorothy’s own feelings of stupidity, fear of inability to love, and cowardice.) These images are so well known that I don’t really have to go into much detail, I’m sure, although I will point out that feelings of inadequacy, emotional abandonment and timidness aren’t uncommon among orphans).

So, after meeting her companions (although, of course, her neuroses really are with her always), she manages to get to the Emerald City, where she meets the Wizard, who seems at first to be a terrifying figure, but, as we will learn, is really less impressive in fact (much like Uncle Henry, who as the head of a rural Kansas family, should be the paterfamilias, but in fact, has turned over the leadership role to Aunt Em.). The Wizard will help her get home, but only if she kills the Witch and brings back her broomstick. (Dorothy has externalized all her negative feelings at her situation…her orphanhood, the poverty in which she lives, etc., and placed it all on Aunt Em. Aunt Em has become, for Dorothy, the source of all her misery. How much better it would be, she thinks, how possible it would be for me to have a home, a real home, if Aunt Em were out of the picture and it were just Uncle Henry and me. We could have a happy home together. There’s no doubt here’s a strong Electra Complex going on here as well.)

So, after leaving the Emerald City, Dorothy is captured by the Witch, who wants her slippers, and is willing to kill her to get them (We’re seeing here, again, Dorothy’s fear of her aunt, who, as was mentioned, she believes resents Dorothy and wants her dead). She accidentally kills the witch by splashing her with water (This, on the one hand repesents Dorothy’s prayers for water, which was on the minds of every Kansan in the depression, but on the other, more personally to her, it represents Dorothy’s supplanting of Aunt Em’s role…pouring water to “keep down the dust” was a common household chore, and by doing it, Dorothy has become “the lady of the house”.

Her mission successful, Dorothy returns to Oz, only to find out that the wizard is a fraud, that her companions possessed all the traits they were seeking all along, and to be informed by Ginda that she can get home by herself. This is a kind of breakthrough for Dorothy…she’s done what she’s prayed for…Aunt Em is dead, and it’s just her and Uncle Henry, but she’s still not happy, she still can’t feel “at home”. But what she comes to realize, indeed by this very failure, is that her insecurities are baseless….she is smart, she is loved and capable of loving, she is brave, and that the cause of her misery was never Aunt Em at all…it was her…she chose to be unhappy, she chose to be alienated, and she can now choose to reverse that.

So her voyage of self discovery over, she now awakes, a wiser and more psychologically integrated young woman, to the loving embrace of her family….her uncle, and yes, her aunt, who she now knows doesn’t resent her for her mother’s death, and who, in fact, loves her (and who, now healed, Dorothy is capable of loving back).

The second comment is by Elenorrigby:

I do see water as being crucial to Dorothy’s gaining supremacy, but it is not in a domestic context that such occurs.

The Wicked (emphasis mine) Witch of the West clearly represents Dorothy’s fear of her own sexuality, hence the unattractive appearance of said “witch”, the green skin a metaphor for Dorothy being “green” in terms of sexual experience (ie a virgin). The WWW rides a broomstick, an obvious phallic symbol and one that both startles and scares Dorothy; the WWW possesses powers that Dorothy does not understand and that Dorothy fears; and that the WWW covets Dorothy’s “ruby slippers”–a symbol of menstruation. And then the classic confrontation scene between WWW and D wherein Dorothy throws water (very important sexual image) over the WWW and the witch is destroyed. Water represents orgasm here and with the dousing (ie full arousal and release), Dorothy makes the “witch” melt–entering into the post-coital relaxation phase.

Also note that Dorothy can ONLY go home again, once this melting has occurred– that is, once she has conquered her fear of her own sexuality, she is empowered to reenter her world (which, it must be noted, is full of unattached older men–clearly Dorothy has more issues to be resolved and will need recurrent psychotherapy).

One response to Eleanorrigby’s interpretation:

No, clearly what we have here is a breakdown if the virgin/mother/crone mythos brought on by rural isolation. Dorothy is the virgin on the cusp of womanhood, and miss Gulch is the crone. But dorothy’s own mother (deceased) and Aunt Em (childless) leave her with no role model for the mother. The ruby slippers represent not menstruation, but her virginity, she fears to ‘give it up’ because she fears she will transition directly from virgin to withered crone, do not pass go, do not collect 200 orgasms.

Unfortunately, in addition to a lack of a mother figure, she is also isolated from any true masculinity and has only been exposed to weak, ambitionless hirelings and emasculated Uncle Henry.

Driven mercilessly by her bodies demands, but with no direction in sight, she creates a fantasy destination where all will be resolved, however since no warrior/hunter archtype existed in Kansas, she will not find one over the rainbow and her journey will become one not just of self discovery, but self satisfaction as well, ‘you had the power all the time.’

Tapping her heels together (she did it a lot more than 3 times) is her discovery of masturbation which resolves the crisis and allows her to re-enter her normal world. the water and the WWW? Well, let’s just say that Dorothy was the first recorded female ejaculator in american fiction.

Another humorous take on Wizard of Oz and Sex:

Of course it’s *ALL* about sex! Most fever dreams usually are. But I personally think this is most clear in examining the characteristics of Dorothy’s travelling companions:

SCARECROW: Appears at the first crossroads, which represents Dorothy choosing a sexual partner and/or technique. Dorothy becomes confused, and concerned that she may choose the “wrong way”. The Scarecrow, however, interjects that *ALL* methods are good, and she shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting. He even explicitly states that there’s nothing wrong with bisexuality: “This way is a very nice way. It’s pleasant down that way, too. Of course, some people do go both ways.”

TIN MAN: Obviously a manifestation of mechanical “marital aids”. He is immoble and impotent until Dorothy and The Scarecrow arrive, but becomes extremely animated once they oil him up. The Tin Man admits to being without any feelings himself, but sings about seeking passion and fulfillment. Upon seeing how well The Tin Man performs, Dorothy and The Scarecrow both eagerly accept him as a new member of their menage.

THE “COWARDLY” LION: Appears during a discussion of zoophilia/animal contact, which all members of the party (including the Scarecrow) are extremely reluctant to explore. However, despite the obvious references to bestiality, the Cowardly Lion’s true purpose is to introduce the concept of BDSM play to the group. He starts off presenting himself as a Top, but doesn’t have the experience to perform the role properly and can’t maintain the illusion of Dominance for very long. He then switches duties and offers his services as a Bottom to Dorothy & Co. , which they find very appealing.

This interpretation deserves an A for originality:

Dorothy’s experience is best understood as a combination of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder, ultimately originating from her tour of duty as a LuRP in ‘Nam.

The upheaval of the 1960s’ social and political landscape is embodied by the cyclone that carries her to Oz– after all, what is a tornado but an extremely powerful wind– or “draft?” Her arrival in Oz is characterized by a sudden perception of vivid color, a common effect of “tripping” on LSD (“Blue Cheer”). The Yellow Brick Road was of course the A Shau Valley in Thua Thien Province. The Scarecrow likely represents Robert Macnamara, with the Tin Man symbolizing Henry Kissinger and the Cowardly Lion representing James Schlesinger. In order to return home, Dorothy is tasked by the Great and Powerful, yet ultimately deceptive and untrustworthy, Oz (Nixon) to destroy the Wicked Witch of the West (international Communism), whom she melts with a bucket of water (Agent Orange). When Oz fails to fulfill his promise, she is ultimately rescued by Glinda the Good (an underage Saigon prostitute) and returns home with the Ruby Slippers (gonorrhea).

Even though I am extremely familiar with Wizard of Oz and  have written about it and taught it during a class, I don’t have anything interesting to add here.  Only that it is  an interesting collision of American storytelling, Depression era lavish musicals and exploitation and nostalgia for the simplicity of rural life. By the way, I highly recommend Walter Murch’s film sequel to Wizard of Oz (called Return to Oz). Here’s an interview with Walter Murch about it.  The film isn’t a great classic, but an extremely competent  continuation of the Oz story and faithful to L. Frank Baum’s books.  In many ways, the 1939  version was made for adults as well as children, but the Murch version was intended primarily to be viewed by children.

See also: Teachwithmovies’ teacher’s guide to Wizard of Oz.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave H. February 12, 2011 at 11:03 am

People have been analyzing “Wizard of Oz” since it first came out, so here is my take on it…from the engineer’s viewpoint.

The four main characters all wanted something that was more or less intangible. Dorothy wanted to get back to Kansas, that was easy enough. “Kansas” was a physical place, not a state of mind.

The Tin Man wanted “a” heart, not “heart”. The two are the difference between the tangible and the intangible…how many times is it said in sports that so-and-so plays with “a lot of heart”? A person who is truly dedicated to something is said to have put their “heart and “soul” into whatever it is that they’re involved with.

The Cowardly Lion wanted courage…this is truly an intangible, although there are many who believe that courage is found in a bottle.
True courage here is staying away from the bottle!

My favorite, the Scarecrow, wanted a brain. At the end, the Wizard showed him the difference between merely having a brain and having true intelligence.

So…what did Oz do? He gave the Tin Man a heart-shaped clock, the Lion a badge of courage, the Scarecrow a diploma, and tried to do his best to send Dorothy home. All of these are objects, a physical representation of intangible qualities. Finding out that all Dorothy needed to do to go home was to click her heels together three times while saying “there’s no place like home” is what happens when you don’t receive sufficient instruction as to how something is supposed to operate.

Conspiracy theorists postulate that Oz and Glinda set Dorothy up to get rid of the Wicked Witch so that their hands would be “clean”, much as Andrew Carnegie sent Henry Clay Frick to deal with the Homestead steel strikers while Carnegie went to his castle in Scotland. Glinda could have easily told Dorothy of this ability when they first met, so why didn’t she?

Heather B. August 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Totaly agree with Dave.

Shazrah Syed June 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum Psychological Analysis

Psychological Criticism theory could be applied to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum. When doing a psychological analysis, one must evaluate the hidden motives and behavior of each character. The purpose of psychology depends on bringing to consciousness the hidden fears and desires that disturb and control our lives. When doing psychological criticism, the author’s material is like the material of a dream; it is shaped a disguised by the unconscious mind. The novel emphasizes how the power of suggestion could influence ones personality and outlook. It also shows that things are often not what they seem. The main characters in the novel are Dorothy, the tin man, the lion, and the scarecrow.

In the beginning of the novel, the grayness of Kansas is emphasized multiple times, “When Dorothy stood in the doorway she looked around, and she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side.” The grayness represents Dorothy’s view of the world after she became an orphan. She is lonely in this gray emotionless world and only her dog keeps her sane. “It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh and saved her form growing as gray as her surroundings.” When Dorothy laughed, her voice would startle Auntie Em so much that she would “scream and press her hand upon her heart”. The cyclone represents the emotional instability that Dorothy is experiencing. It represents her journey into her own unconscious mind. She sublimates her urges for a world with no grayness into the fantasy about the Land of Oz When she is in the house as the cyclone whirls it around; Dorothy eventually gets used to the instability and falls asleep. This is a metaphor for her life.

When Dorothy arrives in the land of the munchkins, her goal is to somehow get back home to Kansas. This means that she wants Kansas to feel like her home, a place as colorful as the land where she arrived in. When Dorothy arrives in the land, she sees 3 short men and one woman. After her father died, Dorothy is looking for a strong male figure which is why all of the munchkins are male and all of her companions are also male. The ‘Great Oz’ represents the father figure who is the answer to all the problems. However, Dorothy does not receive her rescue from the ‘Great Oz’, but instead she has to go through many obstacles and conflicts to reach her goal herself. The silver shoes that Dorothy takes from the wicked witch of the east end up being her way home and also give her the ability to defeat the wicked witch of the west. The ability to get home is with Dorothy during the course of entire adventure, but first she has to work through her emotional conflicts in order to accept her aunt and uncle as her true parents who care for and support her.

The yellow brick road that Dorothy is told to follow represents the hope the road leads to the solution to all of her problems. Yellow is typically a color that symbolizes hope. When Dorothy meets the scarecrow and sees that the scarecrow has the ability to talk and move, she realizes that anything is possible in a realm that is beyond the grayness and loneliness of Kansas. The point of the journey to this land is so that Dorothy could look beyond the grayness when she is back in Kansas. In the story it says, “While Dorothy was looking earnestly into the queer, painted face of the scarecrow, she was surprised to see one of the eyes slowly wink at her. She thought she must have been mistaken; at first for none of the scarecrows in Kansas ever wink.” The scarecrow was born the day before and he has no brains. He has a head full of straw and feels insufficient as a person because he feels that without a brain he will not be able to think. However, the scarecrow fails to realize that he was just born a day earlier so he obviously has little knowledge. The scarecrow displays the most common sense and knowledge throughout the story because we learn through experiences. Dorothy asks the scarecrow to join her and serves as a motherly figure to the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion.

The tin man used to be a man made of flesh until a witch put a spell on his axe and ordered it to chop of his arms, legs, and split his body in two. The tin man was in love with a munchkin girl, but when he lost his heart he claims that he lost his love. However, throughout the story, the tin man is the most sensitive and sentimental of all the companions. He even starts crying after he steps on a bug. The fact that the tin man has no heart does not mean that he cannot love and this is a fact that he does not realize. After meeting the tin man, Dorothy comes across a lion claims to be a coward. However, the bravest people are those who are able to admit to be a coward, but face their fears nevertheless. The lion is brave but has convinced himself that he is a coward just as the tin man and scarecrow have convinced themselves that they are respectively heartless and a fool.

The tin man, the lion, and the scarecrow are the psychological creations of Dorothy while she is on her unconscious journey. They are meant keep Dorothy safe and keep her company as she attempts to make peace with her inner turmoil. Each companion seems to be missing a part of their personality and represent Dorothy’s inner insecurities. In order to be satisfied and feel whole, each companion must accompany Dorothy on journey to see Oz. They all have the ability that they feel is missing just as Dorothy had the silver shoes that will take her home the whole time.

The scene in the field of poppies shows that beautiful flowers can produce deadly results and life can be deceiving. This is also seen in the character of the great Oz, a person who seems to have all the solutions but in reality is a humbug. The lion falls asleep in the field of poppies and is rescued by a swarm of mice. This foreshadows the fact that Dorothy is able to kill the wicked witch of the west despite being ‘small and helpless’ like the mice.
Emerald City is a place representing hope, but in reality it is a place of deception where the residents must wear spectacles to protect their eyes from “the brightness and glory of Emerald City.” The spectacles make the city appear a bright green when it is in reality just white. This is obvious when Dorothy’s green dress becomes white after she takes of the spectacles. The city shows Dorothy’s hope for a bright home devoid of grayness. She learns that gray may not be so bad because there can be no fakeness or tricks. Every character sees a different Oz and this shows that Dorothy is unsure of who she really is and who she should turn to. She does not know who is a kind women and who is a horrible beast. The fact that Oz is able to deceive them illustrates the ability of an ordinary person to appear great.

Oz orders Dorothy to slay the wicked witch of the west. As a result, Dorothy is unsure if she would ever be able to get back home and gains an appreciation of her uneventful life in Kansas. At this point, the companions become sacrifices who do anything to protect Dorothy. The tin man and the scarecrow are destroyed while the lion is imprisoned. Dorothy becomes enslaved, but is unharmed. She is protected from harm by the kiss of the good witch. The good witch represents a motherly figure that watches over Dorothy and helps her get home.

The wicked witch represents the fear and anxieties of Dorothy of living in a new house with a new family. When Dorothy melts the witch, she overcomes her anxieties and is ready to return home. The fact there is two good witches and two evil witches represents the fact that Dorothy has had two sets of parents and her confusion in whether or not her new parents mean well. The shoes that Dorothy wears are her ticket to get home and originally belonged to the witch of the east. The witch of the east may represent Dorothy’s original mother who abandoned her and the shoes represent the fact that Dorothy’s original mother did love her and wanted what was best for her. It is the confusion between her love for her original parents and her love for her new parents that leads Dorothy to mark the character representing her mother as evil. It shows the feeling of abandonment that Dorothy feels.

The flying monkeys illustrate Dorothy’s feeling of being controlled and having no say in her future. The monkeys are enslaved because of a mistake make by their ancestor. Dorothy may feel that the lack of control in her life is a result of a mistake she made at an earlier point in her life and this may also be the reason that her parents abandoned her at an orphanage. The flying monkeys are eventually freed by the good witch after helping Dorothy’s friends to reach their goals.
After killing the witch, Dorothy and her friends go back to emerald city to have their wishes come true. When they arrive they discover that Oz is a humbug

robert January 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm

The tornado is Hitler and the Nazis and they must go “underground”. It’s an Animal Farm but Dorothjy is “on the fence” then “falls in” with the pigs. She gets knocked “unconscious” but is “healed” at the end. The good witch of the “north” represents reason and conscious awareness, whereas the wicked witch represents organized religion. Kansas is the nation’s breadbasket smack in the center of the country, thus the theme literally is “the heartland”….a journey into the underworld of the unconscious as well as the communist underworld. That’s why Dorothy runs away to the collectivist “Kansas State Fair” because she is interested in issues of “fairness” during the 1930s. The munchkins are ‘the little people” proles, and Dorothy must bring the wizard the “broomstick of the wicked witch of the west”. Collective unconscious is reached with idea of “ruby” and Oz-wald. Toto pulls back the curtain, ie totality, ie totalitarian. “Poppies..poppies” is “religion is the opium of the people”, but the good witch is ‘reason” and wakes them up. Finally the wicked witch withers away because she is “all wet” and the wizard goes off as a blowhard in his hot air balloon because HE is full of hot air. Without a heart, brain, or guts is what Thomas Frank was calling middle America in “What’s wrong with Kansas”…..at least until they voted for Sibelius. Political straw men dominate debate. Psychologically, these might be thought of as Dorothy’s “projections” of self which she takes back when she is healed at the end.

robert January 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm

flying monkeys are a reference to the Scopes monkey trial and ‘demons” of the Jesus freaks of the bible belt…..

Robert Nagle January 19, 2013 at 1:56 am

Robert, a fascinating analysis, and I’ll add that pouring water over the witch is a sort of baptismal cleansing which removes the Original Sin of prejudice, superstition and xenophobia.

At first, I was inclined to reject the connection between organized religion and the Wicked Witch, but they share in common: 1)harsh judgment and Old Testament emphasis on retribution, 2)the ability to fill a power vacuum when various political forces are unable to unify around a common goal, 3)The Wicked Witch’s kingdom of the West reflects the Judeo-Christian monotheism of Western Culture, in contrast to Emerald City, which seems like an ashram or a Quaker colony. Ooh, my head hurts!

Then again, the Wicked Witch seemed to play the anarchist — not the enforcer of rules or the projection of spirituality.

(By the way, one of my profs got to meet Margaret Hamilton, woman who played the Wicked Witch. He described her as one of the sweetest women he had ever met). Here she is being interviewed by Mr. Rogers:

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