“Fantasy must appeal to the adult in all children, and the children in all adults” says Noel Langley, the screenwriter for the film The Wizard of Oz. The film certainly lends itself to all audiences, making it a cherished trademark of popular American culture even through harsh critical reviews upon its unveiling. 1939 was a socially, economically and politically tumultuous year for the film to appear. President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a letter from Albert Einstein about developing an atomic bomb using uranium. Sit-down strikes were outlawed by the US Supreme Court. Hitler wreaked havoc in Europe, calling for the extermination of Jews. Food stamps were issued for the first time. These conditions affecting not only the United States, but the world, allowed The Wizard of Oz’s political, social and economic implications to shine through its seemingly simple story.
Oz‘s utilization of song is especially significant to its communication with the audience. Every song was written not just as lyrics, but as a scene, fully integrating the scores into the plot. The songs were shaped around the story and the film around the songs, allowing for a natural unfolding of the plot throughout the film. These tunes appealed to younger and older audience members alike, making the film relatable to all. The song “Over the Rainbow” in particular, sung by Dorothy’s character in the film, has become an enduring classic due to its universal message. “In Oz,” write the composers for the film, “the rainbow [is] metaphor for dreaming, [a] device to propel a black and white consciousness into color.”
“Over the Rainbow” exemplifies the message of unity and overcoming obstacles that The Wizard of Oz as a whole conveys. The coming together of the four friends, Dorothy, the cowardly lion, the scarecrow and the tin man provide an example of unity despite differences for a common cause. This message was especially profound given the significant racial and national tensions during the time period in which the film debuted.
The overcoming of obstacles and evils in the world is a theme addressed in the reveal of the true wizard of Oz and in the defeat of the wicked witch. The film speaks to the power of illusion and widespread misconceptions in controlling a group of people. The wizard himself was only a man, but through trickery and myth, he built himself up to be magical, allowing him to control the city of Oz. This has almost direct parallels to the reign of Hitler in Germany and his control over the masses through fear and illusion.
The defeat of the wicked witch asserts that, through unity of purpose, any adversary can be overcome and that very oppressive force has a weak point, like the witch with water. During this time period, this message was especially relevant to the causes of women’s suffrage, racial equality, and workplace injustice.
The main message of the film The Wizard of Oz is that the power of change lies with what are considered to be the “common men”. Four seemingly insignificant companions unite and save an entire world from the clutches of the wicked witch and debunk the myth of the horrible power of the wizard. In the end, the wizard grants their wishes by giving the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a heart-shaped pocket watch, showing them that they always have had the power that they thought they lacked. This awarding of the power to the common person was especially impactful during this time period which promoted fear of other human beings and a feeling of powerlessness to change the world.