Cowardly Lion-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


The Cowardly Lion from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Out of all the characters in L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the oxymoronic Cowardly Lion is perhaps the most memorable. Of course, on the surface, the Lion functions as a relatively comical character, right at home with the flying monkeys and wicked witches of Oz. If one peeks a little deeper, though, it’s easy to see that Baum gave the Cowardly Lion meaning in an important way.

There are many Cowardly Lion interpretations at which one might arrive after reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but the most widely agreed-upon is that the Cowardly Lion’s meaning stems from his depiction of the relationship between Populism and politicians. In particular, it’s highly likely that the Cowardly Lion was specifically a representation of a politician active in the late 1800s named William Jennings Bryan.

Of course, Baum intended the Cowardly Lion’s meaning to extend beyond one politician, but it’s arguable that he chose to use Bryan as a representation of politicians in general. At the time Wizard of Oz was written, the Populist party was embroiled in a fierce debate over currency reform. It was also struggling to maintain any kind of political sway in the country.

When the Cowardly Lion is first introduced in the novel, he accosts Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man as they’re making their way to the Emerald City. He seems fierce at first, but Baum gives the Cowardly Lion meaning by showing him to be relatively toothless, so to speak. Clearly, Baum sees politicians as individuals that posture themselves as aggressive and tough, but who are really cowards underneath.

Baum is an optimist, however, and the Cowardly Lion interpretations that best suit the character don’t rob him of all his redeeming qualities. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that later in the novel, the Cowardly Lion defeats a giant spider and is in turn made ruler of the forest animals. Baum expresses through the Cowardly Lion’s meaning that he believe that politicians have the potential to enact true change. Furthermore, it’s discovered at the end of the novel that the Cowardly Lion DID have the courage he always thought he lacked. Perhaps Baum has more faith in politicians after all.

There are many possible Cowardly Lion interpretations, but the most readily applicable sees him as a portrayal of the American politician—all roar and no bite.