Study Guide

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Themes

  • Respect and Reputation

    In Oz, who you are isn't always as important as who people think you are. The entire kingdom perceives Dorothy as a powerful sorceress because she killed the Wicked Witch of the East, but she sees herself as a girl from Kansas.

    The Great and Terrible Oz came to town under similar circumstances, but he works hard to intentionally mislead people. He has convinced an entire kingdom of people that he has Gandalf-level wizard powers, but really he's just a regular guy.

    Other characters are so consumed by their reputations that it affects their sense of self-worth. The Scarecrow, for instance, seems constantly worried that people think he's stupid. And even though the Lion's roar scares the other creatures of the forest, he won't feel satisfied until he's convinced he deserves his fierce reputation.

    Questions About Respect and Reputation

    1. Name at least one character whose reputation matches his or her real personality and/or abilities.
    2. What tools does the wizard use to help create the illusion that he has magical powers?
    3. Who has the worst reputation in all of Oz? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    In Oz, reputation is a harmful illusion. It gives people power they don't deserve, or makes them feel bad about themselves for being inadequate.

    In Oz, reputation is a useful illusion and an important tool.

  • Perseverance

    In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, hard work is well rewarded. It's a good thing, too, because Dorothy and her friends work very, very hard—often against odds that seem insurmountable.

    Most of the time, their can-do attitude steers them right; it keeps them on that yellow brick road even when there are some nasty things growling at them from behind the brush. And a few times the gang encounters more serious obstacles, including death (for the Scarecrow and the tin man) and enslavement (for Dorothy and the Lion).

    Luckily, those setbacks are temporary, and all ends well. The message? If you work at something long enough and hard enough, it will pay off.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Think about a time when the gang felt like giving up. What kept them going?
    2. Who is the most persistent character in Oz? Explain your answer.
    3. The gang encounters many obstacles. Not including their encounter with the Wicked Witch of the West, which one seemed the most dire? How did they get out of it?

    Chew on This

    After a lot of struggle, the gang ultimately achieves their goal—and that's because of skill and strength.

    After a lot of struggle, the gang ultimately achieves their goal—and that's because of luck and hope.

  • Home

    The Wizard of Oz begins with Dorothy being uprooted from her home and ends with her returning to it. And in the time in between these two events, she mostly talks about wanting to get back there. Dorothy Gale is determined to get back to Kansas, by Jove. Home. Home, sweet home. Home on the range. Homeity-home-home-home.

    Say, did you know that Dorothy wants to go home?

    But the book isn't just about Dorothy finding her way back to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em; it's also about her friends finding their homes, which aren't the unhappy places whence they came. Like Dorothy, the Scarecrow's original home was a farm—but he winds up in Oz, ruling a kingdom. The tin man abandons his cottage in the woods for a new life with his good friends the Winkies. And the Lion leaves behind his old forest so he can be king of a new one.

    So while there's a strong undercurrent of "home is where you come from," that's not the real message of the book. In the final analysis, home is wherever you feel most happy.

    Questions About Home

    1. Dorothy is in Kansas in the first and last chapters. How has her home changed in the meantime?
    2. Why did Oz never feel like home to the wizard? Why did it never feel like home to Dorothy?
    3. Dorothy travels a long way just to end up back where she started. Do you think she'd call her journey pointless? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Dorothy's obsession with getting home prevents her from enjoying the good things about Oz.

    Dorothy's obsession with getting home is what gives her purpose and fuels the plot.

  • Friendship

    When Dorothy arrives in Oz, she finds herself in a strange land feeling very alone (unless you count the company of her little dog). But on the yellow brick road, she befriends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion, who provide both company and comfort. Over the course of The Wizard of Oz, they also provide a lot of practical assistance.

    Dorothy, a small girl, could have never made her own way across a huge ditch or a river. But with the help of her friends, she's able to do so easily. Through teamwork—the Scarecrow's logic, the Tin Woodman's engineering, and the Lion's brute strength—they're able to overcome every obstacle.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What do you think is the greatest act of friendship in the book?
    2. Why do you think Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion bond so quickly?
    3. How do Dorothy and the Lion comfort each other when they're captured by the Wicked Witch?

    Chew on This

    The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion help Dorothy through thick and thin. She would have never made it home without them.

    Dorothy helps the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion find themselves on the road. Without her assistance, they would have never found happiness.

  • Good vs. Evil

    Good versus evil is a classic fairy tale theme, and in The Wizard of Oz, it's embodied most clearly in the characters of the good witches (of the north and south) and the wicked witches (of the east and west). The good witches help Dorothy and are kind to their people; the wicked witches are mean as snakes and enslave and murder people left and right.

    But the concepts of good and evil are much more murky in the character of the Wizard of Oz himself, an ordinary man who bamboozles an entire kingdom into thinking he's all-powerful. (Would a good man really do that?)

    Still, we can say this much: good always triumphs over evil in the world of the book. By the end, both of the wicked witches are dead, and all the good people—including the good witches, Dorothy, and her friends—live happily ever after. As for the wizard, well, he's carried away to an uncertain end by his hot-air balloon.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. What does the wizard do to help people? Name at least one example.
    2. The Scarecrow and the tin man kill the Wicked Witch of the West's crows, wolves, and bees, and the Lion kills a giant spider. Why do you think they're still described as "good" characters?
    3. When Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the West, she says she's "very sorry indeed." (12.82) Do you believe her? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the difference between good and evil is cut and dry. You're one or the other, and that's that.

    In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the difference between good and evil is complicated. Sometimes good people do bad things.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Dorothy and her friends have a dream. Well, they have four of them, actually. Stop us if you've heard this one before.

    In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants nothing more than to go home, the Scarecrow wants a brain, the tin man wants a heart, and the Lion wants courage. They remind themselves, and each other, of these goals constantly as they're on the road, repeating them out loud at every opportunity. Their hopes for the future give them a sense of purpose and a reason to move forward.

    These guys are so focused on their personal mantras, they should be guests on Dr. Phil. But, listen, it seems to really work. By the end of the book, all four characters have found what they were looking for. Seems like putting your dreams, hopes, and plans out there for all the world to see—and hear—can actually be effective.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. What do the dreams of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion all have in common?
    2. In what way does Dorothy's dream differ from the dreams of her friends?
    3. Do you think that dreams come true in the Land of Oz? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, dreams are serious business. They give the main characters a reason to keep going.

    In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, dreams are sort of silly. The main characters all long for things they already have.

  • Disappointment

    Wherever there are hopes and dreams, you will find disappointments. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends endure them over and over and over again. But all their letdowns have one thing in common: they're fleeting. Whenever something bad happens, the gang just keeps on truckin'.

    Call it foolish optimism or cunning strategy—either way, it works. Even when Dorothy endures a huge setback (like the time the Wizard's hot-air balloon takes off without her), she just dusts herself off and tries something else. The message is clear: don't let disappointment get you down…or at least don't let it get you down for long.

    Questions About Disappointment

    1. Why do you think that Dorothy is able to move past discouraging situations so quickly?
    2. Describe a situation in the book where disappointment leads to a new opportunity.
    3. What coping mechanisms do the characters draw on to deal with disappointments as they arise? Name at least two and describe the situations in which they were used.

    Chew on This

    In Oz, people who quickly move past disappointment (like Dorothy) succeed.

    In Oz, people (like the Wicked Witch of the West) who dwell on their disappointments come to a sorry end.

  • Power

    In The Wizard of Oz, power is a slippery concept. Sometimes characters find power in unexpected places, like a field mouse or a pair of fancy shoes. Other times it is missing in places they expect it to be, like with the wizard.

    There are two things to note here. First of all, knowledge is power. The wizard knows that people think he's powerful, and he leverages that knowledge to get what he wants. Similarly, the Wicked Witch of the West knows that Dorothy fears her—a piece of information that gives her the upper hand, at least for a while.

    At the same time, power is power. For a long time, Dorothy doesn't realize her own potential. But since others see it in her, she benefits from it anyway. Similarly, her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion don't recognize their own strength. But despite those insecurities, those resources help them pull through all sorts of dicey situations.

    Questions About Power

    1. Who is the most powerful character? Explain your answer.
    2. Do you think the power dynamics in Oz are comparable to those in our world? Why or why not?
    3. The wizard lies about his abilities to gain power. But is his power real? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    In Oz, power dynamics are complicated. It doesn't necessarily matter if you have it or not—under the right circumstances, you can be in charge.

    In Oz, only the pure of heart hold on to power. People who abuse it, like the wizard and the wicked witches, are deposed.