Study Guide

L. Frank Baum in Imperialism

By William Jennings Bryan

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L. Frank Baum


L. Frank Baum really didn't like William Jennings Bryan. No, scratch that. L. Frank Baum really, really, really didn't like William Jennings Bryan.

He really, really, really didn't like him so much that it has been argued that he created the character "The Cowardly Lion" in the Wonderful Wizard of Oz just to mock him. Check out this piece from the book:

"You have plenty of courage, I am sure," answered Oz. "All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty."

"Perhaps I have, but I'm scared just the same," said the Lion. "I shall be very unhappy unless you give me the sort of courage that makes one forget he is afraid." —L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (189-190).

Looking at this quote by itself, it may seem a little harmless. But when you take historical context into consideration, especially Bryan's "Imperialism" speech, you can actually see a celebrity fight of epic proportions developing. Maybe not as epic as between Taylor Swift and Kanye West…but still epic nonetheless.

Baum is going for Bryan's manhood here. Literally.

He basically wanted to call Bryan out for being a cry-baby little girl who wasn't manly enough to take on imperialism in Cuba and the Philippines. He even hinted that Bryan had the courage inside of him to believe in America's imperial forces, but that he's "scared just the same" to support the imperialist route.

Best Enemies Forever

When anti-imperialists like Bryan kept calling for the U.S. to become "as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day," (112), jingo-imperialists like Baum viewed that as hippy, peace-loving nonsense.

Or even worse: an act of cowardice.

Even outside of the fantasyland of Oz, L. Frank Baum couldn't stand Bryan. He hated his view on Populism. He hated his view on Free Silver. He probably also hated the way that he chewed his food. That's a lot of hate.

He despised the man enough to support William McKinley presidential run against Bryan in 1898, using his literary skills to rip on Bryan's campaign every chance he could.

But L. Frank Baum's veiled messages of Bryan-hating symbolism actually didn't end with the Cowardly Lion. Even Oz's yellow brick road has been seen as a reference to the Free Silver Debate and Baum's own feelings about Bryan's "Cross of Gold" Speech. With so many coded allegories and symbolic interpretations, who'd have thought that a young-at-heart classic like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz was filled with so much hidden messages of hate and political infighting?

If your childhood has now been officially ruined, don't blame us. Blame the election of 1896.

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