Dorothy Proclaims That “There’s No Place Like Home,” But is that the Message of the Wizard of OZ?

It seems that the whole message of The Wizard of Oz comes from Dorothy’s famous line ‘There’s no place like home,’ but it could be argued that the film following Dorothy from dull and dreary Kansas into the spectacular world of OZ does not convince us that this is true. In this essay I will be looking at whether or not the film The Wizard of Oz gives us good evidence to support the message. I will be looking at the film as a whole, focusing on the characters, the techniques used to create the film and its social context and how this all adds to the message of the film.

In Kansas Dorothy and her family live on a farm in the middle of nowhere and even though her family and friends are caring and loving Dorothy is clearly bored there. Dorothy and Toto, her dog and seemingly her best friend, are constantly getting into trouble with their neighbour Mrs Gulch and this just seems to be one of Dorothy’s multiple problems in Kansas. The song Dorothy sings ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ truly shows her desire of escape, this also reflects the immigrant experience of the time, the desire to go somewhere else better, the dream of a better life somewhere far away from where are, your home.

The technical aspects of the film keep the divide between Kansas and Oz very clear. Colour is a key aspect in the film; Kansas which is shot in a sepia tone to emphasise the dull lifeless landscape and to let the audience truly see why it is that Dorothy wants to get out so badly. Then when we see Oz, this bright vibrant world that is shot in technicolour which was still uncommon at the time, the audience gain the same impact that Dorothy does as she opens the door into this new world. Primary colours are used to create the world of Oz to give this hyper real effect and to truly convey that Oz is a world of fantasy, and is a world completely different from that of Kansas. Also the music is an extremely important characteristic of the film because not only does it link characters to moments in the narrative and act as a warning for dramatic events it also acts as an emotional release for the audience and allows us to pause and enjoy the aesthetics of Oz and appreciate how wonderful it is.

When Dorothy enters the world of Oz we as the audience also wait with anticipation as she opens the door to this new, technicolour world seemingly leaving all of her problems back in Kansas. Unlike Kansas where Dorothy’s longing for escape was what made her different, here in Oz her character contradicts itself as she is ordinary in this world she is ‘A spectacle of ordinariness in a spectacular world,’(Robertson:275) however all the creatures she encounters find her fascinating. In Oz Dorothy is still surrounded by dangers and problems much more extreme than those she encounters at home in Kansas but still the audience would see Oz as the more exciting place to be and prefer this world even if the dangers are more threatening. These dangers are also a reflection of the problems she has at home as it is clear to see that the Wicked Witch in Oz is a reflection of Mrs Gulch who in effect is the Wicked Witch of Kansas. From this we can see that Dorothy has took aspects of Kansas and just made them more thrilling in this new and better world she has created.

Even though this is a brand new world for Dorothy she still encounters constant reminders of home. This comes about with the familiarity of the characters she meets along the way, especially the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion and how she makes the connection from them to her friends in Kansas. However the bond she makes with her new friends after only a short time seems remarkably stronger than the bond she has created over many years with her friends at home, which only reinforces the fact that maybe Oz is the better place to be. Also on a social level Oz maybe a better place for Dorothy to be because in Oz women seem to be in a position of power, because even though the Wizard is said to be the most powerful he is revealed as a fake and it seems that it is actually the witch’s that hold all the power and even then Dorothy seems to hold some sort of power over them.  She would never have this power in Kansas, especially in America at the time where it was evident that if you wanted any position of power you had to be a man.

All the way through the film we seem to sympathise with Dorothy and we too long for her to see home again even though we are so engaged with the spectacular world around her and the unusual characters she meets. She never seems to stray from her goal of returning to familiarity and to Kansas. However when her time in Oz comes to an end and when the message of the film is confirmed through the line ‘There’s no place like home,’ this is when we see Dorothy’s strength and determination falter as we see the reluctance to leave what is essentially her new home and her new family. Just before she leaves for Kansas she turns to the scarecrow and says ‘I will miss you most of all’; this is an affection that is never demonstrated with her friends back home.  When she wakes up back in Kansas the reluctance to leave Oz continues as she refuses to believe that it was all a dream and ‘resists the efforts of her family and friends to dismiss her Oz experience’(Robertson:283); she seems to long for Oz now as she longed for Kansas before. She tries to bring her friends from Oz back to Kansas by saying to her family that they were all there in Oz with her, trying to keep her experience going, so maybe now she considers Oz as her real home as again she pronounces ‘There’s no place like home,’ which could be seen as happiness for being home or regret for leaving a place where she truly belonged.

‘The truth is that once we have left our childhood places as started to make up our lives armed only by what we have and are we understand that the real secret of the ruby slippers is not that ‘There’s no place like home’, but rather there is no longer any such place as home; except of course, for the home we make or the homes that are made for us, in Oz; which is anywhere, and everywhere, except for the place from which we began.

(Rushdie:57)

Looking at this quote it could be argued that maybe Oz is the home that Dorothy has made for herself, this is how she wants her life to be; full of excitement, colour and music, and this is understandable because if given the choice this is how many people would want to live. The fact that it was all a dream justifies this point even further as Dorothy has created this world, it has come from inside her, and it is the home she longs for.

On the other hand, however it can be argued that the message of ‘There’s no place like home’ is dominant in the film and is strong enough to overcome any situation or spectacle that tries to disprove it. Looking at the film as simply an observer it seems that in the end Dorothy gets exactly what she wants as do the all of the other worthy characters, the scarecrow gets his brain, the tin man his heart and the lion his courage. Yet it can still be criticised that according to the film this characters already possessed what they desired most, they just didn’t know it, so it could be argued that Dorothy already had the home she desired most, in Oz. The way the film ends can be seen as very dissatisfying as even though the ending provides closure it is not necessarily the closure we want. The fact that she longs for Kansas even after seeing this fantastic world seems absurd and since Dorothy only discovers that ‘There’s no place like home,’ after leaving and facing new and difficult situations suggests that maybe she is just scared of change and it is not a true desire to return to Kansas.

Also the reactions we have to the ending of the narrative can depend on our age. As a young child we may see this as the happy ending we long for in any story, where the main character overcomes all obstacles and in the end is reunited with the ones they love and everything goes on the way it always has, and in some ways we can take comfort in this and we know that everything is going to be alright and the characters will live ‘Happily ever after’. However someone who is older looking at the film may see that Dorothy is now back exactly where she started, in a place that still has all of the problems as before, for example Mrs Gulch, and a place that will after a while make her just as unhappy as she was before and that desire to escape will come back. Oz is a much more appealing place to be and as Dorothy grows older it may not be as easy to find Oz again. Also it is hard to ignore the fact that she has seemed to of just dismissed the friends she loved in this alternate world, we know from the narrative that Oz is not real but in Dorothy’s heart it was ‘A real, truly, live place’ so it is difficult for us to dismiss it completely. Maybe if the narrative was left more open ended that connection with the message it is trying to convey would not be so lost and it would be easier for us to believe that Oz really was this place we could all escape to.

In conclusion in The Wizard of Oz the message of ‘There’s no place like home’ is strongly conveyed however how we interpret it can be very different and whether we see Kansas or Oz as Dorothy’s real, true home can depend on how we see the relationships she has develop in both worlds. Even though we may not relate to the message that ‘There’s no place like home’, it is still easy to relate to Dorothy’s character in some way as at some point we are all in a situation that is new and difficult and we miss the familiarity of home. In a social context, the film was released in an era of depression in America so Dorothy is a character that many people could relate to at the time, because this notion of escaping to a far away world and leaving all problems behind would be incredibly appealing to an audience at this time. However still today this film can get people of all ages to relate to the characters and think about the message however we interpret it and is still extremely relevant to audiences today. At some point we have all wanted to escape from something and this film can make us realise that maybe we all want our own Oz to escape to but it is up to us to create it for ourselves.

Bibliography

  • Dyer, R. (1987), Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, London: BFI/Macmillan
  • Robertson, P. ‘Home and Away: Friends of Dorothy on the Road in Oz’, In Cohan, S & Hark, I.R (eds.) (1997), The Road Movie Book, London: Routledge
  • Rushdie, S. (1992), The Wizard of Oz, London: BFI

Audio/Visual –

  • Fleming, V. (1939), The Wizard of Oz, Warner Bros. 
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