Office of Public Affairs
(315) 312-2265
July 10, 2002
CONTACT: Ranjit Dighe, 312-3480
OSWEGO -- When L. Frank Baum wrote "The Wizard of Oz" more than a century's ago, was he writing just a timeless children's book or was it also a shrewd take on political and monetary issues of the day?
That's the question Dr. Ranjit S. Dighe, an assistant professor of economics at SUNY Oswego, ponders in his book, "The Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory," recently published by Praeger.
Dighe said he was first inspired to tackle the topic by a pair of articles -- by Henry M. Littlefield in 1964 and Hugh Rockoff in 1990 -- that raised the possibility that Baum's tale reflected the populist movement and its issues, such as the free coinage of silver.
Those studies identified potential symbols in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz": the Cowardly Lion representing Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, the Tin Woodsman personifying urban industrial workers and the Scarecrow symbolizing farmers. The book had silver slippers instead of ruby ones, adding another potential symbol.
Dighe's book "grew out of my teaching of American economic history here in Oswego," he said. "I assigned students the Rockoff article and 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' one semester. While reading the book, it was hard not to be struck by the parallels between Baum's book from the late 1890s and the political economy of that time."
Dighe said the lesson was a hit. "The students enjoyed the assignment quite a bit, but there seemed there could be a way to better integrate the lesson," he observed.
The resulting book has annotations and three introductory chapters by Dighe to provide an improved way for teachers and students to benefit from analyzing the issues, he said.
Baum's politics and character seem to dispel the notion that "Oz" was an intentional allegory, Dighe cautioned. Once analysts started to find symbolism, it became easier to find further evidence to draw an allegory around it. "Seek and ye shall find," he explained.
"I think it's a very novel interpretation. Littlefield and Rockoff were very creative with what they did," Dighe said. "Both of them have since admitted that Baum's intent was miles away from what they wrote."
Rockoff, who is professor of economics at Rutgers University, offers praise for the effort. "Although written in a straightforward and engaging style, the book is based on an impressive understanding of the primary and secondary sources," Rockoff said in the book's liner notes. "Professor Dighe has chosen judiciously among conflicting interpretations, developed new interpretations of his own and dealt sensitively with the thorny issue of Baum's intentions."
Given the enduring popularity of the movie, the book's audience could exceed academic use, Dighe noted. "I believe the main market will be for classroom support, but I'd hate for that to be the whole market," he said. "It should draw a lot of people who are Oz enthusiasts."
The author will give a talk and book-signing for his $21.95 book at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, at the river's end bookstore in Oswego.
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