Dammit, Toto, We're Still in Kansas: The Fallacy of Feminist Evolution in a Modern American Fairy Tale

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Boswell, Beth
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Middle Tennessee State University
In a multi-disciplinary interrogation of L. Frank Baum’s “Introduction” to his 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, this dissertation traces the historical, academic, cultural, and aesthetic definitions for the term “fairy tale” as both a generic categorization and an ideological representation of middle-class American culture at the time of the novel’s release and across its most significant film and stage adaptations. Beginning with a close examination of the author’s life, the work seeks to demonstrate the dedication with which Baum approached legitimizing his authorship of a “modernized fairy tale” at the turn of the twentieth century. By then considering that dedication within the context of the American literary market for children, the research situates Baum’s creation against an already complicated history of literature created specifically for young American readers. Placing his authorship against a backdrop of Chicago’s history, during a tenuous time for the city’s national and global reimaging following the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and amongst widespread public interest for folk and fairy tales, the study asserts that a definitional discord regarding the means of fairy tale creation allowed for popular understanding of the genre to ignore The Wizard’s literary origins in favor of placing that tale within the newly-defined tradition of American folklore. The dissertation addresses authorial generic intent, issues with popular consumption of “folk” ideology, traditional definitions for fairy tale authorship, and the ways in which those definitions should be challenged in the case of America and its specific historical, spatial, and technological construction. Additionally, consideration is given to the memetic life of Baum’s characters, specifically that of Dorothy, whose 118-year evolution highlights the ways in which popular affection for folk heroes can alter literary characterization in favor of textual character improvement. The work ends with an exploration of the ways that alterations in the social text of a fairy tale create the opportunity for gaps in social applications of important terms like “bravery,” “independence,” “strength,” and “feminism.” The implications of these gaps are explored with consideration given for the marketed age-group of readers for Baum’s original tale and for those tales which find inspiration in Baum’s legacy.
American children's literature, American folklore, Dorothy, Fairy tale, L. Frank Baum, Wizard of Oz