observations by tony mcrae

A lone girl and her dog are running along a dirt road that stretches out to the horizon.  She is clearly frightened.  She looks back over her shoulder, school books in hand.  Miss Gulch has threatened to do away with Toto, presumably because he trespassed onto her garden and went after her cat.     

She arrives at the farm and tries unsuccessfully to convince Auntie Em and the others that Miss Gulch means what she says.  But there is work to be done and the adults can't be bothered by adolescent worries.  

Dorothy Gale is trapped.  And with this entrapment is a sense of emptiness and the concomitant desire for something else, to be in a place without troubles.  "Stop imagining things," says Auntie Em matter-of-factly, "and find yourself a place where you won't get into any trouble."  

One of the subtleties of this story is that while Oz is real for Dorothy--and by extension, for us--no such worry-free place exists on this earth.  Kansas is certainly not the Garden of Eden.  Nor, Dorothy will soon find out, is Oz.  

We must presume that prior to her encounter with Miss Gulch, Dorothy was pretty content.  She has a loving aunt and uncle, farm hands who spoil her, and a home that is a refuge from an outside world suffering from hard times--all in all, a rather idyllic spot.  But Dorothy is passing through adolescence; she has her own yearnings which the older folks either cannot understand or simply don't have time for, given the daily struggle to provide food and clothing and shelter.  Like any youngster, Dorothy is inclined toward trouble, unable to walk that straight line adults have in mind.  She's impulsive and teenage awkward, which is nicely shown when she falls into the pig sty. 

Frank Baum, the creator of the Oz stories, fudges on Dorothy's age.  She might be as young as ten or as old as seventeen.  Judy Garland was sixteen when the picture was shot, and there is little doubt her Dorothy is maturing and well on her way to young womanhood.  Yet her concerns, at least in the first several minutes of the Kansas section of the movie, seem to revolve around Toto and the persistent Miss Gulch.    Her yearnings for another place "over the rainbow" might very well be ascribed to teenager dreaminess, but it also betrays restlessness.  When Toto escapes from Miss Gulch's wicker basket after Auntie Em and Uncle Henry cave in to her demands and let her take Toto, Dorothy decides she has to take things into her own hands.  With Toto she runs away from home, encounters Professor Marvel and asks him if he can take her away to visit the crowned heads of Europe. 

Her encounter with Professor Marvel is beautifully filmed.  Dorothy is completely taken in by the old and lovable coot.  Gazing into his crystal ball, he convinces her that Auntie Em is worried sick at her running away and will probably not survive if Dorothy does not return.  

The fact that film veteran Frank Morgan plays both Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz underlines Dorothy's maturation from young credulous girl to wiser young woman very nicely.  Dorothy's pre-Oz persona views her world in black and white terms.  She is clearly awed by Professor Marvel and unable to see through his sham.  But after her many trials in Oz she emerges a different person.  When Toto pulls aside the curtain hiding the fraudulent Wizard, she scolds the imposter.  She soon realizes, however, that  he is a good man, just a bad wizard.  He will help her get back to Kansas.


The last conversation in Oz reveals just how much Dorothy has grown.  The good witch Gilda returns and tells her she can go back to Kansas when she wants.  Prior to her leave-taking The Tin Man asks, "What have you learned Dorothy?"
    Dorothy:  Well, I think that it wasn't enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em.  If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard.  Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.  Is that right? 
    Glinda:  That's all it is.
    Scarecrow:  But that's so easy.  I should have thought of it for you.
    Tin Man:  I should have felt it in my heart.
    Glinda:  No, she had to find it out for herself.  Now those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds.  ...close your eyes.  Tap your heels together three times...and think to yourself...there's no place like home.

Perhaps too much has been made of the film's last line, "Oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like home," as though to assume that Dorothy is safe and sound and needs only to have those she loves take care of her as before.  But we need only look at Judy Garland and hear the determination in her voice:  she insists that Oz is a real place, that her experience was real.  Dorothy has indeed found her voice.  It is her decision to stay.  And we are pleased.


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