Study Guide

The Wizard of Oz Themes

  • The Home

    There's no place like it, right?

    Some girl in a movie assured us of that. Home here becomes a bit of a double-edged sword: it's the place Dorothy wants to get the heck away from so badly that she sings a song about it. Of course, as soon as she's out the door, she regrets it, but thanks to that pesky cyclone, it's going to take her quite a while to get back. Home here represents peace, comfort and safety: somewhere without flying monkeys dragging you away, and where the people who love you want you back. It's the prize Dorothy is looking for, the thing that drives her on, and the thing she has to earn the right to return to.

    Questions About The Home

    1. Is the cyclone created because Dorothy tries to return home rather than going with Professor Marvel? Why or why not?
    2. In what ways is Oz like home for Dorothy? In what ways is it completely unlike home?
    3. How does Dorothy keep visions of home alive while she is in Oz?
    4. Why is it so important that home be dull and gray? What does that say about the home, in both good ways and bad?

    Chew on This

    Dorothy has to leave home before she can truly appreciate what it means to her.

    Dorothy always appreciated home and her journey is a sort of retribution for ever doubting it.

  • Courage

    At least one of Dorothy's companions has a big ole thing about finding some courage, but in truth, everybody in the party could use a little. The Scarecrow and Tin Man get quakey at the knees fairly often, and Dorothy is just scared to pieces as children tend to be when pursued by green witches. This reflects the way we feel about the world as children: everything's a little scary when you're five. But it also shows us how to be brave despite our fears. Courage in The Wizard of Oz isn't having no fear. It's being scared and doing what you have to do anyway.

    We're glad that Dorothy and the gang figure that all out at the end. Especially the Lion. He really seems to need it.

    Questions About Courage

    1. At what points along the route do the companions' courage fail them? What tends to happen when they do?
    2. What specific events lead the group to finding their courage? Are there any common points linking them?
    3. What does bravery mean to each of the four heroes? How is it different for each one? How is it the same?
    4. Does Dorothy need more than courage to confront all of her fears?

    Chew on This

    The companions need to find their courage before they can defeat the Wicked Witch.

    The companions always had courage and simply need to realize it to defeat the Witch.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Here in Oz, nothing is what it seems. That scarecrow might talk. The poppies may hide super-doses of Nyquil. And those big scary witches and wizards might turn out to be tiny little people after all (or at least more easily dispatched than they let on). Speaking of tiny people, check out how those Munchkins blend in with the local flora.

    Dorothy learns how to see through those masks on her adventures, which is part of the whole "standing on your own" thing that the Hero's Journey is all about. And she has to do it in Oz. There's not a lot of deceitfulness in Kansas (except for Professor Marvel, who probably can't fool anyone over the age of eleven). But the outside world carries lots of people who will lie to you for their own purposes. The secret to success is figuring out how to look through the façade and find the proverbial little man behind the curtain.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Why do the characters in the movie try to fool other people? What do they hope to gain by it?
    2. How does Dorothy react when she realizes that things aren't as they seem?
    3. What are the differences (if any) between nice characters who deceive and evil characters who deceive? What does that say about them?
    4. How much of the "deceit" in Oz is a real attempt to fool people, and how much is just Dorothy not being away of how things work here?

    Chew on This

    Lies and deceit only cause harm in Oz. Whatever the motive, they hurt people.

    Once the Wizard is unmasked as a ordinary man, he seems relieved.

  • Coming of Age

    The Hero's Journey is big on coming of age: when an earnest young person learns to grow up and take responsibility for their actions.

    Dorothy is really young – she's only supposed to be eleven, though Judy Garland was a few years older – but when her dog is threatened, she has to grow up and experience a little bit of what the world is like. Luckily for her, she gets to do it in a land where everyone routinely breaks into musical numbers. But even so, it teaches her a few things about taking responsibility for her own destiny. She ends up back in her own room, but she's not the little girl she used to be: a little sadder, maybe, but also a little wiser and with a much better sense of who she is.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. Can you consider Dorothy's companions children too? Do they need to come of age the same way she does?
    2. In what ways does Dorothy grow up on her trip? In what ways does she show that to us?
    3. Does the Wizard ever come of age? Why or why not?
    4. Is it possible that Dorothy has to leave Oz because they're still children there and she is no longer a child? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    A land like Oz is perpetually child-like, and because Dorothy comes of age in it, she must leave it once she's grown.

    The real world of adulthood, like Oz, might seem awesome, but is filled with danger. Better to stay home and not grow up.

  • Exploration

    We got dancing Munchkins! We've got talking trees! We've got a horse of a different color! Oz is just a giant chocolate box of goodies, but Dorothy's not going to see it unless she heads out in direct defiance of a sinister witch with a shoe fetish. Exploration always carries a hint of danger, but the pay-off comes in all of the cool things you get to see along the way.

    Exploration means looking into the unknown and coming away with hard-won knowledge for it. Not only does Dorothy experience the awesomeness of traveling through a living musical, but she sees the darker parts too and they don't look quite as dark when she's done. Who needs maps? All you need to do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. What is it about Kansas, specifically, that discourages exploration? Conversely, what is it about Oz that makes you want to explore it?
    2. Besides her companions, what other things does Dorothy find on her journey? How do they affect her (in both good ways and bad)?
    3. What kind of guides does Dorothy have to follow? How do they both prepare her for what she'll find and leave her completely unprepared?
    4. What does Dorothy learn from her explorations (besides that witches are bad news, that is)?

    Chew on This

    Professor Marvel makes his living by taking advantage of people's dreams of exploration and the exotic.

    Dorothy needed to get to Oz before she could truly go exploring.

  • Family

    There's the family you're born into, and the family you choose. The Wizard of Oz puts both of them front and center. Dorothy has the flesh-and-blood family she's trying to get back to, and while they may be a little stone-faced, they certainly do care about Dorothy. They're definitely worth fighting to get home to, and their memory keeps her going even when the freaky nightmares start closing in.

    Along the way to getting home to her birth family, she finds another one: her three companions. (And okay, the Munchkins and Winkies and Emerald City-ans as well, though they're less personal.) Like her "real" family, they're there for her through thick and thin, and willing to throw themselves in front of a runaway broomstick if it means saving her. That's no less important than her family back in Kansas. Ironically, she has to end up leaving them: putting the family she's born into over the family she chooses. Tough decision, but no one said the Hero's Journey was all sunshine.

    Questions About Family

    1. How do Dorothy's family members (real and chosen) demonstrate her importance to them? How does Dorothy return the compliment?
    2. How does the film define family? In what ways do we see that definition in action?
    3. In what ways does Dorothy's family push her away?
    4. Is family best defined by the comfort of their presence or the pain of their absence? How does the film display both sides of that equation?

    Chew on This

    Dorothy's found family (The Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man) is ultimately more supportive and loving than her real family.

    Dorothy's real family is her blood, and means more to her than her found family.