Hillary Will Be Cast as a Witch

Garland, Hamilton in "The Wizard of Oz"

Garland, Hamilton in “The Wizard of Oz”

I have been vowing to stay away from the 2016 presidential race until (how’s this for an idea?) 2016, but today I am making an exception after hearing a recent student’s presentation on The Wizard of Oz. That’s because Jessica Edwards-Smith’s analysis of women figures in the novel prompted me to see very clearly how Hillary Clinton will be perceived by our vocal right wing politicians and pundits.

Some background explanation is necessary. As I have noted (see the links below), I have come to see The Wizard of Oz as one of America’s great fairy tales. Opening in depression America, it is the story of how a young pioneer girl inspires those who have lost hope with her optimistic can-do spirit. In one past post I noted that, in 2008, a number of people saw Sarah Palin in her red pumps as a new Dorothy. Grown men who felt disempowered by the economic downturn looked to the fresh and sexy Sarah and felt they could reclaim the country of their dreams.

I promise you that none of these men will see Hillary in this way. Instead, they will see her as an emasculating witch. As Jess noted, this is how Baum sees the witches in Wizard of Oz.

The novel starts with a description of a woman who is failing to lift up the drooping spirits of her man:

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

In the novel, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion are all versions of Uncle Henry. (The 1939 movie openly makes the equation between Dorothy’s companions and the workers on the farm.) Each one is stuck—literally in the case of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman—and has lost confidence in himself. Dorothy arrives with the promise of a new day, making a splash as she takes out one witch. When the Great and Terrible Oz proves to be a phony—think of him as the Washington establishment—she takes out the other witch herself. In the process, her three companions regain their self-confidence and each goes on to reign over a kingdom.

From a gender point of view, Baum is telling us that American women have the responsibility to inspire their men. If they do so, they are good witches. If they fail, they are bad witches.

Historians might argue otherwise. They might attribute the “long recession” of the late 19th century to rapacious monopolies and banks and recommend vigorous governmental regulation to curtail their power. Baum, however, informs us the real problem is a failure of belief. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion already have all the brain, heart, and courage they need. Dorothy just has to click her heels. The power of positive thinking will take us home.

Jess pointed out that Aunt Em has the potential to be the Good Witch of the North, a kindly old lady who gives Dorothy a protective kiss. Instead, she has become the Bad Witch of the West, tyrannizing over the men folk. In other words, America has failed because America’s women aren’t doing their job. Dorothy has grown up to be Aunt Em.

Or Hillary Clinton. I predict that, over the next year and a half—and if she is elected, for the four or eight years after that—the rightwing will do everything it can to cast Hillary as a witch who is emasculating America. The attacks will be conducted with the same intensity as the attacks against Obama but they will also be different. Gender will replace race as the great signifier.

Our responsibility as citizens will be to differentiate between honest policy difference and dark fantasy projection. As Bette Davis would say, “Fasten your seat belts, everybody. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”


 Other Wizard of Oz posts

Sarah Palin as Dorothy

Wizard of Oz, America’s Greatest Fairy Tale

Oklahoma Tornado Recalls Dorothy’s

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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