Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz

Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz 379px-The_Wizard_of_Oz_Ray_Bolger_1939

When L. Frank Baum wrote his famous novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he was expertly accomplishing two things: he was writing a story for children and writing a thoroughly-coded political allegory at the very same time.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how Baum gave the Scarecrow meaning by representing him as a stand-in for the American farmers and agricultural workers at the time. When Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the American political landscape was dominated by the Populist party and the currency reform that they so ardently sought.

When Dorothy and her friends meet the Scarecrow, he claims to be missing a brain. Obviously, he walks and talks…but Baum uses this to help imbue the Scarecrow interpretation with a meaning that harkens closely to the public’s perception of farm workers at the time. They were seen as being simple, and not understanding the currency reform war that waged at the time. This is actually evidenced by all the times that the Scarecrow trips and falls on the Yellow Brick Road. This part of the novel was used to give the Scarecrow meaning by way of its representation of the gold standard.

As it turns out, though, the Scarecrow isn’t as dumb as even he thinks. When Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, something known as the Long Depression was winding down. In particular, this period of time saw farmers getting raw treatment from both nature and the country’s political interests. After years of serious mistreatment, it’s fair to say that Baum intended to include in the Scarecrow’s meaning the idea that the nation’s agricultural workers had developed something of an inferiority complex. Indeed, it’s pointed out at the end of the story that the Scarecrow was never anywhere near as impaired as he considered himself to be. The Wizard makes him the ruler of the Land of Oz, after all. In this way, Baum intended the Scarecrow’s interpretation to represent a community that was vastly misunderstood by the public.

Another detail that makes the agriculture the most likely meaning out of all the popular Scarecrow meanings considered in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the Scarecrow’s relationship with the Tin Man. As a representation of the Farmer-Labor coalition that formed at the end of the 19th Century, the relationship between the Scarecrow and the Tin Man is vital to the Tin Man’s resuscitation.

It’s arguable that Baum intended to give the Scarecrow meaning in this direction because the figure was already a popular representation in political cartoons and advertisements at the time. Of course, it’s also true that the scarecrow was a fun character for a kid’s novel. These multiple meanings are exactly what makes Baum’s book such a fascinating work of fiction.

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