Yellow Brick Road-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


While the Yellow Brick Road is easily one of the most lasting and recognizable images from L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it may come as a shock to learn that it’s never referred to by that name in the original book. Still, the so-called Yellow Brick Road is one of the novel’s most important objects, which also makes it one of its richest symbols.

At the time Baum was writing Wizard of Oz, the American political landscape was fraught with a currency debate involving the Populists’ quest for the ability to freely mint silver at a 16 to 1 ratio with the gold standard. Knowing this makes it relatively easy to see how Baum intended to give the Yellow Brick Road meaning. Symbolic of the gold standard at the time, the Yellow Brick Road interpretation that best fits Wizard of Oz is one that sees Dorothy using silver in combination with gold to reach her desired destination.

Indeed, the Populists believed in something known as “bimetallism.” Suddenly those silver shoes walking down road made of golden bricks starts to make a little bit more sense. The Populist political party wanted, at the time, for “free silver” to become legal, which would mean that silver could be minted and coined in the same way that gold was. Many saw this as a way to restore the American people to a more prosperous status following what became known as the Long Depression at the end of the 1800s.

As the novel begins, Dorothy and her friends, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, are all looking to reach the Emerald City. In order to do this, they must follow the Yellow Brick Road. Baum gives the Yellow Brick Road meaning by having it represent the gold standard, on which the nation’s factory workers, agricultural workers, and politicians are all dependent (represented by the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion, respectively). Furthermore, the road is unfinished in places, reflecting the fact that many saw the gold standard as a policy with some serious imperfections.

Baum didn’t stop there, however. He sought to give the Yellow Brick Road meaning in more than just one way. It also ties directly in with something that the Populists called the “Good Roads Bill,” which was a piece of public works legislation that was one of the party’s top priorities.

There are many potential Yellow Brick Road interpretations, as is the case with any important symbol in a work of fiction. A close look at history, however, makes it easy to see that Baum was not only writing a children’s fairy tale, but also a carefully-coded political allegory at the very same time.