Silver Shoes from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

362px-Dorothy_Gale_with_silver_shoesMany children not only know, but have grown up with the timeless classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Published in 1900 and written by L. Frank Baum, the novel is arguably one of the most beloved fairy tales of all time. What’s interesting, however, is that it’s also a thinly-veiled political satire, in which just about every significant object, event, or character represents something that was happening in the real world at the time the novel was written.

Specifically, Baum was heavily believed to have been writing about the Populist currency debate that was more or less dominating the political landscape at the time. After the Long Depression during the tail end of the 1800s, America’s farmers and factory workers were in some seriously dire straits. The Populist political party advocated heavily for something known as the greenback, which was an unsecured note-based currency (this is symbolized in Oz by the Emerald City).

Knowing they wouldn’t be able to achieve this right away, the Populists instead campaigned heavily for something known as bimetallism, which rested upon a policy of “free silver.” This policy would mean that silver could be minted and coined, in the same way that gold was at the time, making it easier for struggling Americans to repay their debts. If free silver could be combined with the gold standard, Populists thought the benefits would be many. This gives the Silver Shoes meaning in a huge way when one considers that Dorothy had to take them down a road made of yellow bricks (the gold standard) in order to reach the Emerald City (representative of both Washington, DC and the greenback ideal).

It’s a symbol that requires quite a bit of a history lesson, but it’s one that winds up being the most powerful in the entire book in spite of its simplicity. The silver shoes’ interpretation is bolstered by the fact that many of the book’s groups and/or characters are unaware of the power that silver holds in the land of Oz. Indeed, the Silver Shoes could have taken Dorothy home the entire time, as she finds out at the end of the book. Similarly, it was commonly held that many Americans didn’t quite realize the value that free silver possessed at the time.

By crafting them as a metaphor for silver and/or bimetallism, and then giving them the ability to return the lost Dorothy home, Baum was able to give the silver shoes meaning in a very important way. Not only are they a very memorable image in a famous work that’s full of memorable images, but they’re also a symbolic representation of an important part of America’s political history.