Study Guide

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz Summary

In the abnormally brownish land of Kansas, young Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) runs into problems with local Horrible Person Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton). She insists on taking Dorothy's dog Toto off to be euthanized because he's been chasing her cats. 

So far it doesn't sound like a movie that'll turn into a classic, but...we'll wait.

Toto escapes, but since Dorothy's Aunt Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) basically stood there wringing their hands while the poor little guy got loaded on the Put-to-Sleep Express, Dorothy decides to hit the road.

The kindly Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan) guides her back home just in time for her to take a tornado ride to a colorful, magical land of giggling little people. Her house lands on the local wicked witch, making her a national heroine and gaining the enmity of Witch 2.0 (also Hamilton) who covets the magical ruby slippers that mysteriously migrated from the dead witch's feet to Dorothy's.

The good witch Glinda (Billie Burke) appears and advises her to revisit that "hit the road" plan and make her way to the Emerald City, where the mysterious Wizard of Oz can get her out of this extended hallucination toot-sweet and send her back home. The Yellow Brick Road points the way and leads her to a motley crew:

  • A Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) in search of a brain
  • A Tin Man (Jack Haley) in need of a heart 
  • A Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) looking for a little courage

They get to the Emerald City after dodging some threats from the Wicked Witch of the West, only to watch the bottom drop out of all their plans. A very scary Wizard (also Morgan) demands the witch's broomstick in payment, sending them off to the deep dark woods and a passel of flying monkey minions ready to rumble. Dorothy gets dragged back to the witch's castle with her friends in hot pursuit. They save her just before the sand runs out (literally), but the witch corners them and prepares an uncomfortably ironic demise for each one.

Dorothy responds by throwing a bucket of water on her—though actually she just wanted to save the scarecrow after the witch set him on fire—and the villainess's secret weakness is revealed. (Wow, troubles do melt like lemon drops out here.) The witch's henchmen were apparently getting ready to give her a World's Worst Boss award, and set the foursome free with a hearty "thank you so, so much!" and a joyous rendition of "Ding, Dong! The Witch is Dead!"

We know you know all the words.

They take the broomstick back to the Wizard, who suddenly gets a case of the Wait-A-Minutes instead of granting them their hearts' desires. They get pretty angry at him (having just iced a Wicked Witch, the Wizard's whole giant-head-and-billowing-fire routine doesn't look all that menacing anymore), and Toto knocks the whole apple cart over by pulling away a nearby curtain to reveal a nervous little man running a giant Wizard apparatus.

As it turns out, he's the Wizard: a huckster with no powers and abilities, surviving on his ability to put on a great show and nothing else. 

(Yep. That's where the phrase "the man behind the curtain" comes from.)

After a few half-hearted apologies about sending them off to their deaths, he produces a series of objects designed to make the gang feel better: a diploma for the scarecrow, a heart-shaped watch for the Tin Man, and a medal of valor for the Lion.

Dorothy, unfortunately, can't solve her problem with a trinket. So the Wizard agrees to take her home in a balloon, the same one that brought him here. Sadly, Toto's cat-chasing habit gets the better of him, and Dorothy gets out to chase him. By the time she gets him, the balloon has broken loose and goes flying off into the sky without her.

All seems lost until the appearance of Glinda, who reveals that the magic shoes can take Dorothy home whenever she likes. She says a tearful good-bye (while classily declining to mention that Glinda could have told her this at the start of the movie), and then returns home to find friends and family waiting for her. 

There's no place like home.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    Gray Old Kansas

    • Dorothy and Toto go running down a Kansas country road, having just escaped the wrath of the evil Miss Gulch.
    • She tries to tell Aunt Em and Uncle Henry that Miss Gulch tried to kill Toto. The adults are too busy counting chicks to listen, and blow her off.
    • Sympathetic farm hands Zeke, Hunk and Hickory prove slightly more interested, while quietly showing traits that their Oz doppelgangers are rather famous for.
    • Aunt Em tells Dorothy to find a place where she won't get into trouble, prompting Dorothy to sing the most famous song in movie history in the middle of her barnyard.
    • (Take a moment to sing "Over the Rainbow," Shmoopers. We'll wait.)
    • Miss Gulch arrives with a sheriff's order to have Toto destroyed. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry don't do much more than stand there looking sad.
    • Toto escapes Miss Gulch's supposedly dog-proof basket and returns to Dorothy.
    • Faced with hard evidence that grown-ups are useless, Dorothy runs away with Toto to keep him safe.
    • They meet Professor Marvel, a traveling huckster who nonetheless has a soft spot for runaway children.
    • Using his mystic powers of soothsaying (and looking through Dorothy's possessions), he gently convinces Dorothy to go back home.
    • She arrives in the middle of a cyclone – nice timing, Dorothy – and gets bonked on her head while trying to find her aunt and uncle.
    • She wakes up in the eye of the cyclone, which has conveniently picked the whole house up for a fun-filled game of Let's See If We Can Fly.
    • Various Kansas denizens, two-footed and otherwise, come flying past Dorothy's window…including Miss Gulch, who transforms into an extremely Wicked Witch.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    "We'd Like to Welcome You…"

    • The house gets unceremoniously dumped in Oz, straight on top of another Wicked Witch.
    • Arriving in sudden and glorious Technicolor, Dorothy is greeted by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, who's here to scope out the scene.
    • By killing the Witch of the East, Dorothy has freed the Munchkins (the locals), who rush out to tell her how much they love her.
    • In an extended musical number, they welcome her to Munchkinland and assure her she'll be in their Hall of Fame.
    • The Witch of the West arrives, still bearing a suspicious resemblance to Miss Gulch and sending the Munchkins diving for cover.
    • The Witch has a yearning for her dead sister's ruby slippers, which were sticking out from under the house that landed on her.
    • But the slippers have magically been placed on Dorothy's feet.
    • Much wicked-witchy posturing ensues, before Glinda sends Witch 2.0 on her way by mentioning that other houses might start dropping at anytime. The Witch vanishes in a puff of smoke (leaving the actress with some nasty burns, as it turned out).
    • Dorothy needs to get out of town. Glinda suggests following the Yellow Brick Road to ask the wonderful Wizard of Oz for some help in getting back to Kansas.
    • Dorothy heads out of Munchkinland with another toe-tapping song to speed her on her way.
    • She's off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz. If ever oh ever a wiz there was, the…never mind, you know it.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    Finding Some Buddies

    • The road forks in a cornfield, where a live scarecrow is stuck on a pole.
    • Dorothy helps him off the pole, and using the power of verse and meter, he laments the fact that he doesn't have any brains. Funny, he seems smart enough to us.
    • Dorothy suggests that they partner up like Hope and Crosby, then ask the Wizard for some brains. The Scarecrow is down with this plan.
    • A little further down the road, they run into a grove of living, talking apple trees. The Scarecrow demonstrates his lack of brains by cleverly getting the trees to throw apples at them.
    • While gathering the fruit, Dorothy discovers a man made out of tin: rusted solid and doing his best impersonation of a Civil War statue.
    • She and the Scarecrow de-rust him with the timely application of some oil and he expresses his eternal gratitude.
    • Like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man feels he has a problem – a lack of a heart – despite the fact that he seems like the sweetest guy in the whole wide world. Also like the Scarecrow, he expresses his frustration in song.
    • The Witch of the West interrupts all the singing and dancing like a Broadway heckler and starts threatening the group. Watch out for that fire, Scarecrow.
    • The party resolves to keep going, despite the scariness of wicked witches.
    • The road soon leads into a deep forest, where wild animals roam free.
    • A lion gets the jump on them: besting the Scarecrow easily and going after Toto (the one member of the group who stands up to him).
    • Dorothy delivers a vicious slap to the Lion's nose, making him burst into tears. The lion, it seems, is a bit of a wimp.
    • Refrain #3 kicks in, as the Lion bemoans his lack of guts to all who will listen.
    • He joins the little group in hopes that the Wizard will grant him what he thinks he lacks—courage.
    • The Witch isn't done with them yet, though: as they emerge from the forest, they come across a carpet of poppies that she's put the magic whammy on.
    • Dorothy, Toto and the Lion soon fall fast asleep, and won't wake up. The Scarecrow and the Tin Man shriek for help.
    • Help arrives in the form of Glinda, who sends some magic wake-up snow to break the spell.
    • Refreshed by their unexpected nap, Dorothy and her friends continue on to the Emerald City.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    The Merry Old Land of Oz

    • The guy at the front gate to the city gives them trouble, but lets them in after seeing Dorothy's slippers and hearing Dorothy drop Glinda's name.
    • Much singing and dancing ensues, basically telling us how awesome Oz is and how happy the people are (which might be self-evident, considering all the singing and dancing).
    • Once again, the Witch crashes the party: using menacing skywriting to put the heat on Dorothy.
    • The heat works well. The Wizard refuses to see Dorothy and her friends.
    • Dorothy starts to cry, convincing the Wizard's guard to let them in.
    • They think twice once they enter the presence of the Wizard: a giant floating head surrounded by blasts of flame.
    • They're scared enough to let him insult them before he orders them to bring the witch's broomstick in exchange for his help. The Lion responds by diving out the nearest window.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    Confronting the Wicked Witch

    • Cut to the haunted forest, where the Witch has conveniently pimped her crib with an army of flying monkeys.
    • They pounce on the gang and carry off Dorothy and Toto.
    • The Witch threatens Toto with a grisly death if Dorothy doesn't give up the slippers. Dorothy relents, but the slippers won't come off. Time for a death trap!
    • Luckily, Toto gets away and summons the cavalry… though the cavalry has to pause long enough to put the Scarecrow back together.
    • A magical hourglass marks the time Dorothy has to live. The Witch twists the knife in further by showing her images of Auntie Em in a magic crystal before mocking Dorothy's fate. Wicked witches are kind of awful that way.
    • The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion sneak into the castle by disguising themselves as guards, then cut off the death trap just in time to save Dorothy.
    • But the Witch continues to hold the cards. She sets her guards on them, prompting a brief but pointless effort to escape.
    • Being the generally awful person that she is, the Witch promises to kill them all one by one, leaving Dorothy for last.
    • First up: the Scarecrow, who she sets on fire.
    • Dorothy throws a bucket of water on the Scarecrow to put out the fire. The Witch gets a little splashback. No big deal right?
    • Um, wrong. Water's apparently lethal to wicked witches, causing her to melt like the lemon-drops Dorothy sang about earlier, and prompting the question "why would she keep a bucket of water just lying around like that?"
    • The guards, who didn't like the Witch any more than anyone else, proclaim Dorothy their savior and give her the broomstick as a reward.
    • The gang heads back to the Emerald City in triumph.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    Home Again, Home Again

    • They get to the Emerald City only to find the Wizard waffling on his promises. Having vanquished the scariest woman in the whole wide world, they're now unimpressed by the Wizard's theatrics.
    • Toto starts nosing around a nearby curtain and pulls it back to reveal a frightened little man running an elaborate machine.
    • The man, it seems, is the Wizard. And he has no powers at all. The gang gets a serious mad on, and we can't say we blame them.
    • The Wizard buys them off with a few trinkets proclaiming that they now possess the very qualities they thought they were lacking: brains heart, courage.
    • Dorothy, unfortunately, can't make it home with just a medal or a diploma. So the Wizard agrees to take her back home in a balloon. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion will run the show in Oz in his absence.
    • Just before the balloon leaves, Toto goes chasing after a cat. (The cat-chasing thing really seems to get him in trouble…)
    • Dorothy jumps out of the balloon's basket to get him, and the Wizard and balloon float up without her.
    • Dorothy despairs at ever going home, despite the fact that she's surrounded by people who would cheerfully give their lives to protect her and let her live in their sweet emerald city.
    • Glinda arrives to set things right. She reveals that the ruby slippers could have taken Dorothy home at any time. She only had to learn those important lessons about believing in yourself and facing down scary things and almost be murdered by an evil sorceress before she could do that.
    • With three taps of her heels and reciting a well-known catch phrase, Dorothy and Toto are sent back to gray old Kansas.
    • Everyone's waiting for her there, even though they think she's just had a dream. Stupid grown-ups.
    • Anyway, repeat after Shmoop: There's no place like home.