This is one of those things where either (a) this is obvious to everyone else and I’m the last person to get it, (b) I’m crazy, or (c) I’m brilliant.
You’ll have to tell me.
I had an epiphany.
Here’s some context:
Earlier this week I attended a Storytelling for Business workshop taught by Kevin Allison of The Story Studio.
Kevin used The Wizard of Oz as an example to illustrate the “five beats of a story.” In that context, he commented that the “resolution” of The Wizard of Oz—the takeaway— is to be grateful for what you have.
Everyone nodded in agreement. Because everybody knows that this is the moral of The Wizard of Oz. “There’s no place like home” neatly sums up the moral of the story, even people who say that “home” refers to people. (Another epiphany on the crazy/brilliant spectrum).
But something was tugging at me. An inner voice tried to scream out: “that’s not the real lesson.”
Another voice pushed back.
Really? Isn’t this the most clear lesson from a movie in the history of movies?
Maybe. And maybe not.
I was mindfully eating lunch after the workshop when, suddenly, in the middle of a bite of Pad Thai noodles, this came to me:
Live your truth.
The lesson from of The Wizard of Oz is to stop trying to be the person you think everyone expects you to be, and simply be who you are.
To frame it in language that I’ve used here recently, the movie is about discovering and using your unique voice.
It teaches us that we must let go of our expectations of who we think we need to be for others and embrace our authentic selves.
Great movies—all great stories—are like prisms: they reflect the light of our current experience. As we evolve we are able to view facets that were previously hidden from us.
I’ve been obsessed with this movie for years, but I had never seen it from this perspective. Until now. And now that I see it, it suddenly seems so obvious that I can’t help but think that I’m the last person to get it.
Am I the last one to this party?
From my current place on my path, here is what I see:
Dorothy wants to explore the boundaries of her potential. Her curiosity and desire to explore possibilities makes Dorothy’s family uncomfortable. They want her to be a good girl and stay out of trouble.
Dorothy is caught in the tension between her true nature and who she thinks she needs to be to meet others’ expectations.
She is so conditioned by her environment that she doesn’t fully realize this tension even exists until she finds herself in a situation where her life is blown open.
The yellow brick road is the spiritual path. This is Dorothy’s journey of awakening. The road is yellow: it is bathed in the divine light of the sun.
Glinda, the Good Witch, sets Dorothy on her path and watches over her. Glinda is Dorothy’s Divine. I mean, look: she comes to Dorothy in an actual ball of light. The imagery is pretty heavy-handed.
The Inner Voices
The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion each represent a part of Dorothy.
The Scarecrow is her heart. He lacks a brain, so he relies on the wisdom of his heart. He doesn’t get held back by fear.
The Tin Man is Dorothy’s thinking mind. He lacks a heart. He is hardened. Stubborn. Literally set in his ways. He is an over-thinker.
The Lion is Dorothy’s emotional intelligence. His fear paralyzes him; it blocks his other emotions from surfacing. Without courage, he cannot unlock the full potential of his heart and mind.
For most of the journey, these friends are separate from her and from each other. Each is motivated by his own self-interest, and they compete for Dorothy’s energy and attention. Eventually, they put aside their competition and integrate their strengths as they work together to save Dorothy from the Wicked Witch. This leads to the pivotal moment when Dorothy kills the Witch.
The Wicked Witch lacks self-worth and is driven by her insecurities. She is envious of her sisters; she covets what they have. She attempts to rule by instilling fear. She is the voice of Dorothy’s inner critic.
In the moment when Dorothy accepts and integrates her various parts—heart, mind and emotions—she is able to silence her inner critic. This allows her to take the broomstick to the Wizard so that she can return home: home to her true self.
This is actually the “Main Event” of the movie—the beat that precedes the Resolution.
And let’s not forget about the Wizard. Of all the characters, he is the most fitting archetype for our modern age, but more about that another time.
The Wizard is Dorothy in the future.
The Wizard projects an image of what he believes the people of Oz expect him to be—a great and powerful wizard—while he hides his true self behind the curtain.
He literally changes his voice and appearance to project what he thinks the people want him to be.
The tragedy here is that he knows he is subverting his true self. He knows that this role isn’t his true self. When Dorothy tells him that he is a bad man, he corrects her:
Oh, no my dear. I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad Wizard.
The Wizard is a warning: this is the life of suffering that awaits Dorothy if she continues to subvert her truth to meet the expectations of others.
This is the lesson: live your truth.
Embrace and integrate all of your parts, quiet your inner critic, and step into who you are.
“There’s no place like home” is still the lesson, but in a different sense:
what we learn is the importance of returning home . . . to your authentic self.
I’ve got nothing on Toto. Maybe it will come to me. Or, maybe a dog is just a dog.
What do you think about this interpretation? What does Toto represent? Please share your thoughts in the comments.