Emerald City-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Emerald_city_coverWhen L. Frank Baum wrote his famous novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he was writing a story that he hoped children would enjoy for ages. Unbeknownst to many, however, he was also writing a carefully-coded political allegory, in which nearly every character, event, and object is representative of something from the American political landscape at the time. In fact, Baum gave the Emerald City meaning by having it represent the greenback. These days, “greenback” is common slang for a dollar bill. At the end of the 19th Century, though, the greenback represented something else entirely.

Towards the end of the 1800s, the Populist political movement got very, very interested in the establishment of a new form of currency. The greenback would be a note-based system that didn’t require backing from gold or silver.

Of course, there are multiple Emerald City interpretations that are possible, and this is because Baum intended to give the Emerald City meaning in a very layered way. Not only does it represent the Populist’s idea of the greenback, but it also represents Washington, DC. With Oz representing America itself, it’s easy to see that one of the best Emerald City meanings has it acting as a stand-in for the seat of American power.

As Baum wrote about Dorothy and her friends’ arduous journey to the Emerald City, he was writing a coded metaphor for the the Populist party’s constant efforts to get attention and gain political sway in Washington.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect about the ways in which Baum decided to give the Emerald City meaning is what Dorothy and her friends find once they arrive there. Important to note at this point is the fact that the greenback was a heavily-debated idea. Since it wasn’t going to have any gold backing it, many felt that the greenback was an empty promise. This helps to seriously strengthen the Emerald City’s interpretations when Dorothy and Co. realize that the Emerald City’s inhabitants all have to wear green-tinted glasses to maintain the illusion that everything is a beautiful emerald color. This gave the Emerald City meaning by reflecting the popular idea that the greenback, at the time, was a hollow, empty idea.

This doesn’t mean that any other potential Emerald City meanings are erroneous, of course. Another very likely interpretation for this particular aspect of the city also ties into its representation of Washington, DC. It’s understandable to submit that the green-tinted glasses also represent the opinion that a lot of Americans had about Washington, DC at the time.

Whether representative of the greenback or of Washington DC at the time of its writing, there’s no question that the Emerald City was a carefully-developed metaphor in a book that is absolutely loaded with them. Of course, this Emerald City interpretation isn’t vital to one’s enjoyment of the book, which is exactly what makes it such a masterpiece in the first place.