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Somewhere over the rainbow
What's the rainbow supposed to be, anyway?
At the surface level, "over the rainbow" is just a pretty way of saying, "somewhere far away from this crummy place." When Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale sings the song in the film, Dorothy is fed up and just wants to get away from her life in Kansas. But as the song has taken on iconic status over the decades, "the rainbow" has come to mean a lot of other things, too.
First of all, there's the obvious leprechaun connection—those little guys have been traveling over rainbows since before Dorothy was even a seed in the brain of author L. Frank Baum. And from ancient times, rainbows have had a special place in mythology ranging from Hindu and Norse to ancient Japanese and Amazonian cultures. Rainbows have basically been an irresistible symbol since recorded human history. We're guessing that's because they are so scientifically cool (and seemingly mysterious) in real life.
One of the more widespread re-interpretations of the rainbow is the gay interpretation. Gay men are known to have a sizeable Judy Garland following in their ranks. Plus, the six-color rainbow flag is the symbol of the GLBT movement, so to some, going over the rainbow is now a cute insider metaphor for coming out of the closet. In some gay circles, a "friend of Dorothy" is also code for a gay person, especially a gay man.
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby
This is a great example of literary foreshadowing.
Of course, most of us already know what happens in the plot of The Wizard of Oz: The main character, Dorothy, finds herself transported to a magical place called Oz, where she makes friends she never thought she could have and discovers her own strength.
But if you aren't expecting this plot twist, this line works as a bit of foreshadowing, which basically just means dropping a hint or a clue about what might happen later on in a piece of literature. Foreshadowing can serve to build suspense; we're not sure if it does that here, but the whole scene certainly sets up a clear sense of Dorothy's yearning to be transported elsewhere.
In fact, many musicals start out with songs about a character wishing to be somewhere else or for something else to happen. Can you think of any examples? Even Disney movies are fair game here.
Someday I'll wish upon a star
Why did people start wishing on stars, anyhow?
Actually, nobody is completely sure when the idea first emerged of making a wish on a shooting star or on the first star of the night. It's the sort of common motif that can show up in all sorts of writing, but has been especially common in poetry, theater, and music for children.
Think about the American nursery rhyme that goes:
Star light, star bright
The first star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight
It can be traced at least as far back as the 19th century. As for the 20th century, "Wish Upon a Star" was a famous song from the 1940 Disney film Pinocchio, and the title of a 1996 Katherine Heigl pre-teen film, among other things.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Lemon drops. Mm.
Lemon drops are a delicious example of an old-fashioned candy that has survived the test of time and is still sold over 100 years since its invention.
"Drop candy" used to come in all flavors, and simply referred to hard candies that were made by being dropped in liquid form onto a piece of waxed paper to cool and dry. Then, apparently, they would melt in your mouth. Sounds great to us.
Why then, oh why can't I?
These lines set the stage for Dorothy Gale's development as a little bit of a damsel-in-distress type character—but not entirely one.
In the original 1900 Wonderful Wizard of Oz book, Dorothy's character isn't a damsel-in-distress in need of being saved by her friends, but a girl hero who ultimately saves all of her friends. The film role crafted in 1939 takes to a general trend in Hollywood to create female characters who need to be saved—as opposed to female heroes who save others.
We would argue, though, that Dorothy isn't the most disempowered main character, either. In fact, in the movie, she does a whole lot of thinking on her own and taking care of herself. For a contrast, see Disney's Snow White, which came out in 1937. It seems like Snow White needed a lot more saving than Dorothy, right?
In any case, that trend has been somewhat reversed since the second-wave women's movement beginning in the 1960s, which advocated for more empowering representations of women and femininity in the media.