On the American Film Institute's Top 100 Films of All Time list (How To Become a Film Connoisseur) the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz comes in at #6. 1939 was a vintage year for film: Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, Gunga Din, Intermezzo, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dodge City, Destry Rides Again, The Women, and many, many more were all released in this one year. Why was there a bunker crop that year? In that year, the world fell to pieces with Germany's invasion of Poland and in two years, America would be at war with the world (the bombing of Pearl Harbor), and the anticipation of whether America would join, or how exactly we would enter the war, what life would become like when we were in and how long it would last, all offered fuel for the film industry to explore on the silver screen and The Wizard of Oz is one of the jewels from that year.
|Note the storm clouds in the background. For "The End" title card, the clouds are still there, prophesying the "clouds of war" which were hanging over the world at the time of the film's release.|
|Dorothy balancing on the fencing of the pig pen. The scene has important symbolic repercussions in the film for two reasons. Dorothy is at risk for "falling" into the "pig" pen: a fall is a fall from grace and the pig pen symbolizes her passions, so she has to be careful and be courageous in standing up to temptations. Politically, the "balancing act" is not only the balancing of President Roosevelt, with Congress, but of the world with Hitler, and the US falling into the pig pen would be seen as a power squabble on the world stage.|
Somewhere Over the Rainbow is simply one of the greatest songs ever written. To understand it, we first need to understand the symbol of the "rainbow": God gave us the rainbow as a promise that he would never again destroy humanity by the Flood or any other means. The rainbow is both a sign of war (God's wrath for mans sins) and a sign of peace (that he has put down his bow and will not raise it again). The other side of the rainbow, then, begins where God as vowed not to destroy mankind again and, in 1939, people were probably thinking of the horrors of world-wide destruction another "Great War" would bring this time around. When Dorothy sings, once I heard in a lullaby, she refers to the Bible story of the great Flood.
|Note, please, that Toto is set in "the driver's seat," and that means that whatever it is Toto symbolizes--Hunk and romantic love or the driving force of the war in Europe--is going to be the determining factor in Dorothy's actions.|
Again, going back to Joseph of the Old Testament, the coat of many colors which his father gave him symbolizes the soul of many virtues which pre-figures Christ and the virtues he would teach us to have. The black and white parts which represent Dorothy's life in Kansas reflects the lack of virtue she has because of the lack of opportunity to gain greater virtue, which she acquires in Oz. As Pope Leo the Great said, "Without great battles, there are no great victories," and Oz is Dorothy's battleground as Europe was the battleground for the U.S.
Her first name, Almira, in Arabic, means "princess," and a "gulch" is a narrow ravine through which a little water can go. Dorothy means "gift of God," and her last name, "Gale," is a gale of wind, such as the tornado which takes her to Oz. The difference between the two characters is, Almira Gulch was called to something great by God but she refused and has become someone small in whom Grace does not dwell (water is a symbol of Baptismal Grace) and that's why, as the Wicked Witch, she will melt: she didn't run the race of Christ she was supposed to, so what should have been a blessing to her (Grace) has now become a curse and destroys her (we'll discuss more on this later). The "gift of God" which Dorothy receives is the tornado, and we'll talk about this more below. "Toto," of course, is Latin for "entirely," "altogether," so, as an extension of Dorothy, Dorothy herself gives her all to whatever it is she's giving herself to; if we take Toto to symbolize Hunk (romantic love in general) and the forces in Europe courting America to join in the upcoming war, it's going to be the country giving everything to the war effort.
Why does she ride a bicycle?
I hate to mention this, however, in an Art Nouveau class I once took, a friend of mine was researching ads and doing a paper on how bicycles were being marketed and sold; he brought to my attention the scandal of women riding bikes because of the potential for sexual stimulation and, for this reason, female cyclists were considered risque. By the 1930s, however, it is probably more a symbol of how miserly Miss Gulch is because she could be driving a car but would rather ride a bike, and personally, I wouldn't want to be in a conversation with her about the difference. Yet we have also discussed, in the past, how any vehicle (artistically) can symbolize the Holy Spirit because He Himself is a Vehicle for our life, so that the bicycle is old fashioned and, to put it bluntly, insufficient for traveling the distances she has to travel, translates that her unity with the Holy Spirit is insufficient.
Those who persecute under the law shall themselves be persecuted, but mercy is greater. When she insists that Toto be put down, she is illustrating why she is an old maid. If Toto symbolizes Hunk and romantic love, she is putting herself above whatever love demands and values herself more than she could value another person; if Toto is symbolizing the European forces courting of America to join the pending war, she's an Isolationist and wants America to become exactly what she is: an old maid. By not "entering into an alliance" America would become an old maid who never "gave herself" to a cause.
The black and white stocking legs of the Wicked Witch of the East symbolizes the first World War which America fought. "I thought you said she was dead," "Oh, no, this is her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, and she's worse than the other one." And the second World War would be worse than the first, because of the advances in weapons and the Holocaust. In this context, you could say that Munchkin City symbolizes the Roaring 20's after that first war was done.
Ruby Slippers which must be saved (video here).
The feet symbolize the will, and red is the color of love. Dorothy was wearing plain black shoes prior to this, symbolizing that her will was dead, nothing was guiding her. Now, she has the Ruby Slippers, and they were taken from the Wicked Witch of the West, the first World War, the great cause which Americans rallied around and united for would be the Ruby Slippers for World War II as well. For Dorothy, she needs that great love to guide her as to the fulfillment of her destiny, and now, we arrive at the yellow brick road.
Only the Wizard knows, but Dorothy will never "get back home to Kansas" in the way that she means, because you can never go back, only forward. It is the same as the journey of the Israelites through the desert, going in search of their new home. But, as we said, the home is a symbol for the soul, and Dorothy is putting on "the new man" (which she does at the "beauty shop" in the Emerald City). Dorothy thinks she's looking for her home, but she really longs for her heavenly home, the place where the soul belongs, and that's what Glinda will teach her when she's ready to learn it. But the Yellow Brick Road is the road of destiny, the path of life and the unique journey we each have to make.
The horse is the Holy Spirit, and the different colors the horse turns symbolizes the different ways he appears to us, in trials, in consolations, in hopes and dreams, even in disappointments, but it is always the Spirit who takes us, carries us and leads us. Similarly, the getting fixed up before going to see the Wizard invokes Joseph of the Old Testament once more when he was taken to be fixed up before appearing before Pharaoh.
That's not how the spiritual life works, and that's not how politics work.
Remember when Jacob had worked for the hand of Rachel and was instead given Leah? This is exactly what that is like. Leah symbolizes works of the flesh, or works of the earth, fruit that is born in this world but isn't worth much in Heaven; Rachel symbolizes the contemplative life, and while much less fruit is born by her, that is the fruit that is most precious and loved the best, but you cannot have Rachel until you have had Leah. Dorothy isn't ready to find her true home, she still has another forest to go through and overcome that part of her that is still potentially susceptible to becoming Miss Gulch. Just as our souls and our hearts are beholden to spiritual laws, so countries are beholden to international laws, but not all countries, like the Nazis, follow it.
The broom symbolizes her power, and power allows Dorothy to fear her. When the Wicked Witch no longer has power, Dorothy won't fear her. Remember, Glinda doesn't fear the Wicked Witch because she knows that the Witch doesn't have power in Munchkin City (because the faith of a child is greater than the evil of the Witch, so she can't control them). Traditionally, the broom would be a symbol of cleanliness--well-swept floors--but when a Witch has it, the broom emphasizes the dirt of sin and what the woman was called to do, "clean living," and has chosen to do instead.
Don't think of it as a bubble, rather as an Mandorla or Aureola, which is a full-body halo designating holiness. In early Christian art, this was particularly common in establishing Jesus, Mary, the Apostles or other holy figures from the Bible. It's a way of illustrating illumination from within, a burst of light that comes from the working of wisdom within us. Note, also, that around Glinda's neck is a butterfly, symbolic of metamorphosis, the way the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, just as Dorothy will be called to turn from a little girl into a witch-slayer.
|The full-body halo, or mandorla/aureola around Christ.|
Again, don't think of it as floating, think of it as levitating. "Levitation" comes from the Latin word for "lightness" and that indicates a release from sin: when something isn't weighted down by sin, its lightness allows it to float. When we are called to "Lift up your heart to the Lord," a heart heavy with sin is harder to lift up, a heart that is free of sin is light and naturally goes up towards God where its greatest good is. Modes of travel are imperative in Oz: you have the Wicked Witch on her broomstick and you have Glinda in... her bubble, both, however, are fliers, and that emphasizes the role that aviation would play in the war, if Britain hadn't the planes that America was producing, there wouldn't have been a war, Britain would have fallen instantly, and if it weren't for the aviation power the United States provided when we finally entered, the war might not have been won.
Elijah heard God upon Mt. Horeb.
"Did you bring a broomstick with you?" "No, I'm, afraid I didn't," her will must be exercised so she can become stronger. Remember, the feet symbolize the will, and when Dorothy first arrives in Oz, her will is dead. It''s not enough to wear the Ruby Slippers, she has to "stay fast inside them" and not be tempted out of them, because the slippers are a sign of Love, she is not allowed to despair or even to reason, as we will see the Witch tempt her with.
St Catherine of Siena, the Lord tells her that when he said, "Wherever two or more are gathered, there I am in their midst," he meant whenever the heart and the mind are united in prayer, or the soul and the heart, or the soul and the mind, he is there with that person as they pray, because in the dark nights of our soul, sometimes that is the best that we can do, bringing two of our parts together in prayer.
The only way that evil does die: the power of Love.
When the witch threatens to destroy the Scarecrow by fire, this is the final battle. When Dorothy and the Scarecrow first meet, what do they say to each other? "Well, maybe you better not come along, I have a witch following me." "Witch? I'm not afraid of a witch. I'm not afraid of anything, except a lighted match." "Well, I don't blame you for that." It's always the Scarecrow that the Witch attacks, even just in thought, with fire, and that's because the greatest enemy of reason is the fire of passion.
The Scarecrow can fall and stumble--reason is imperfect and not strong enough on its own--and love can be "unbalanced" and sway with the wind. It's courage that regulates and makes steady our nerves, and when we have courage, we have the heart of a lion, with cunning, strength and confidence in our will and our goals. It's not just having these virtues that are important, it's also the lack, the absence of vice and fear that makes possible these virtues. Why is Dorothy special? Because, in addition to these virtues, she has Toto, her ability to give herself entirely to what she believes in and loves.
This is true of individuals, and this is true of countries.
When we are young in faith, God seems terrible, and when a war is going on, our enemies seem terrible. When we have grown in faith, God's loving, tender and caring side comes through more than his awesome nature, and when we are in war, the enemy stops seeming like an enemy and you see individuals instead of just a war machine.
What does she say to the Scarecrow when she's saying her good-byes? "I think I'll miss you most of all." He may be made of straw, but he's a "hunk" to Dorothy, and the heart won't let go, that's the reason why Toto chases the cat again, the same situation as in the very beginning of the film is still present although it's now on a deeper level. Very wise priests and directors have told me, however, that sometimes God will allow such things to bring a greater good from it, and this is the case now: Dorothy will learn what the great power of Love really is all about.