Cyclone from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” By Frank L. Baum


Perhaps one of the most lasting and iconic images from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (in addition to the Broadway musical and 1939 film adaptation) is the cyclone. Appearing shortly after the story’s beginning, it plucks Dorothy and her entire home right out of their drab Kansas setting, before depositing them in the colorful land of Oz.

The Iconic “Winds of Change”

The specific phrase “winds of change” has an origin that’s historically tough to pin down. Regardless, wind has long been interpreted as a symbol of change, and this idea plays a central role when considering what gives the cyclone meaning in Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Its appearance is singular and brief, but significant enough that many children grow up automatically associating tornadoes with this famous cyclone interpretation.

At the time that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written, the Populist political party was an active contender. In many ways, the cyclone meanings tied to Wizard of Oz directly relate to the story as a political allegory. The Populist movement originated in the midwest, much like Wizard’s twister would originate in Kansas.

The Populists called for some pretty sweeping reforms, and it’s likely that Baum intended to lend the cyclone meaning by associating it with this party. These changes, its worth noting, largely dealt with the American infrastructure—not unlike the rebuilding that would be necessary after the destruction wrought by a cyclone.

Change Here, Change There

Not only did Baum successfully tap into symbolic cyclone meanings to whisk Dorothy away from her drab home state, but to bring about political upheaval in Oz, as well. When the cyclone drops Dorothy’s house in Oz, it does so right on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, effectively ending her enslavement of the Muchkins. The sweeping change enacted by the cyclone makes it easy to compare it to the Presidential Elections of 1896 and 1900, both of which featured Populist candidate William Jennings Bryan.

By removing Dorothy from her home in Kansas, transplanting her to Oz, and inciting a political revolution there, it’s clear that the cyclone meanings in Wizard of Oz are concurrent with the kinds of broad changes advocated by the Populist movement at the time of the novel’s publication. Yet another interesting fact that gives the cyclone meaning is the existence of a Populist orator by the name of Mary Lease…at the time, she was also known as the “Kansas Tornado.”

The free silver movement is represented by many aspects of Dorothy’s journey from Oz back to her hometown. In many ways, a cyclone interpretation can also include this political event. It was depicted as a tornado in many popular political cartoons, and completes the free silver movement’s symbolic significance by making it an important part of every step of Dorothy’s journey.

As it’s a rich and well-used symbol, cyclone meanings are many. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, however, the best cyclone interpretation is one that involves casting it as an enactor of great change, not unlike the Populist political party wanted to be at the time.