What are the meanings hidden in the children's classic, "The Wizard of Oz"? The story is many layered and multifaceted and has more than one message for the observant reader.

One insight I gleaned from this work came about accidentally as a result of contemplating my emotional reactions to people's behaviour. I realized that I have to some extent a switch mechanism somewhere in my psyche, which is easily tripped by certain social interactions. In addition I have what I call a dual modality perception of people- on a primitive emotional level I perceive people as either friend or foe. On a higher, intellectual level I know of course that this is not the case, that people are a dynamic amalgam of yetzer hatov and yetzer hara, that there is always an interplay of sublime and lesser voices. My more rational apprehension had blinded me to my more deep seated reactions, so I remained for a long time baffled and disturbed by the intensity of my feelings of hostility or intense compassion. It did not occur to me that my emotional reactions could be so simply explained.

The intensity of my reactions is proportional to my contact with that person. Family members and close friends arouse the strongest feelings of love and compassion but also the strongest anger, disgust and even hatred. Such reactions are also on occasion directed at myself.

The internal switch is flipped simply by the perceived attitude of the person to myself. If I believe that the person takes me seriously, then I find myself loving that person with unreserved trust and compassion. If, however, I feel that the same person thinks little of me, laughs at me, or makes it any way apparent that I am not worth taking seriously, they are transformed into the "enemy" and arouse feelings of the most blistering hostility. The switch is quite highly strung, some days much more than others, and can be tripped before the insult is verified. Misunderstandings easily occur. Even when the intent of the other person was truly negative the outcome is still not emes, since it as if that person becomes frozen in her negativity and that negativity pervades her whole essence in my mind so that they become totally perceived as the enemy.

Rationality, apologies, forgiveness and peace prevail in the end, but regretfully not without an unnecessary cost of agmas nefesh and friction which can undermine the fabric of even the best relationships.

Quite apart from the obvious undesirablility of such responses, and my behaviour as a result of this... awareness of immaturity is a first step to growth from that position...this led to contemplation of the child's conscious view of the world and the playing out of the child's perceptions in fantasies. (acknowledgement here to Sarah Chava) Children do tend to perceive people consciously in such a dual mode and without the guidance of sechel to dissolve the images created in the child's imagination. We now find ourselves in the world of archetypes, fairy tales and mythology.


What are the meanings hidden in the children's classic, "The Wizard of Oz"? The story is many layered and multifaceted and has more than one message for the observant reader.

Two archetypes which are prevalent in children's tales are the benificent mother, warm, giving, healing and nurturing; and the witch, cold, selfish, cruel and destructive. These, according to Jung, are the child's perceptions of his own mother, depending on her behaviour as he perceives it. The child separates these two "personalities" of his mother, loving and mothering or witholding and self centered. He cannot integrate the apparently schizophrenic nature of the person closest to him in life. Any severe behaviour on behalf of the mother, even for the child's own good, can be perceived as coming from "the witch", though the mother can do much to convey discipline with love. Much depends on the age and maturity of the child as well as the talent of the mother. (This is quite apart from the mother's need to control her own midos!)

Now, in the "Wizard of Oz" we have two pairs of witches, two wicked witches and two good witches. Dorothy kills the first wicked witch accidentally when she lands in Oz. She comes to melt the second witch less than half way through the book. She meets the first good witch shortly after her arrival and receives the magical kiss which protects her completely for the duration of the quest. She only meets the second good witch right at the end, before she leaves Oz, and it is she who reveals to Dorothy that the ability to return to Kansas was with her all along, (just as the scarecrow always had a brain, etc...) by means of the shoes she acquired from the first wicked witch. All these details are important as we shall see.

The key to the understanding of these witches lies, I believe, in Dorothy's family situation before the fantasy began. Dorothy was an orphan, her mother barely remembered, and she lived with her Aunt Em and her uncle in a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. Her life is described at the beginning as grey, monotonous, actually a very good set up for sensory deprivation phenomena. Her emotional life would be equally barren of stimulus- Aunt Em never smiled and we can infer that Dorothy did not receive more demonstrations of affection. At least Dorothy had her pet dog, which she adored.

Now, given that all mother figures have two perceived personalities for the child, Dorothy would then have four personalities in her unconscious, the good and bad witch of her real mother and the good and bad witch of Aunt Em.

When Dorothy arrives in Oz, she kills the wicked witch of the east. This is the wicked component of her mother. She unconsciously knew it must exist, but it was automatically killed when she arrives on the scene because she never encountered it. The good witch of the north then appears and gives her the protective kiss. This is obviously the good aspect of her natural mother. Of course her mother loves her dearly, and though she departed early in Dorothy's life, her blessing is always with her daughter, her love is sent on into the future.

The threat of the wicked witch of the west is the perceived negative aspect of Aunt Em. Dorothy's aunt is never wicked toward Dorothy, but neither is she the warm mother figure that the young girl needs. The benevolent mother image is absent, and Dorothy only perceives a cold witch who wishes to enslave her. The witch's aversion to water reflects the dry, dusty grey lands of Kansas, and in the real world Dorothy feels that she works for nothing, certainly not for herself.

At the end of the story, when Dorothy has already melted the west witch, she encounters Glinda, the witch of the south, the only witch, incidentally, who has a name. This is the benevolent aspect of Aunt Em, which Dorothy had never really encountered. She had to come face to face with the cold, negative aspect of Aunt Em, and melt it, to be able to see that she also had a beautiful, giving side to her soul, though it was usually sadly hidden deep within her.

Now Glinda reveals to her that she can return home with a wish by means of the ruby slippers. Now, she has resolved her conflicts because she has come face to face with all the mother personalities and integrated them on a more mature level. Now she can return to her home, accept and even love her Aunt Em rather than simply live with her. Her awakening love for her aunt is immediately reflected in Aunt Em's joy and affection at her return.

Incidentally, it is interesting to see exactly what destroyed the wicked witches. The house destroyed the witch of the east. A house can represent domestic values, nurturing, building a pleasant, stable environment for growth. Water destroyed the witch of the west. In Yiddishkeit water represents (as well as Torah) the sefira of chesed, simple outpouring of affection, compassion, love, which exactly counters callous dryness and negates its effects.

Copyright © 1999 Gila Atwood

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