A Hero’s Journey: The Wizard of Oz
In the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, main character Dorothy, experiences what Joseph Campbell refers to as a “Hero’s Journey” by achieving great deeds through the call to adventure. Dorothy departs an ordinary world, transforms through ordeals, and reintegrates into the original world as a transformed character. She makes the decision to run away from her farm home to protect her dog Toto after Mrs. Gulch orders to put him down. Although Dorothy isn’t a crime fighting hero in the film, she still follows the guidelines of a hero’s journey by experiencing not all, but the 3 main steps presented by author and American Scholar, Joseph Campbell.
According to Campbell, the monomyth involves a “hero” who ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; however, Dorothy’s adventure fits this pattern, excluding the idea of her having boons to bestow when she returns. Campbell states, “Typically the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth and world-historical, macrocosmic triumph” (37-38). Because The Wizard of Oz ends directly after Dorothy returns to Kansas, she still retains the power to bestow boons in the midst of her home town. In Oz she saves two cultures: The Munchkins and the Winkies. She gains the ability to achieve only a domestic triumph. Author Richard Tuerk argues that The Wizard of Oz is in fact structured as a monomyth and states, “Dorothy gains something that can provide an exceptional boon. As one would expect after seeing how closely the structure of the film follows the monomyth, Dorothy’s voyage is in part one of self-discovery and growth. Moreover, if the story is viewed on a psychological level, Dorothy’s growth should not be surprising” (par. 14). Furthermore, Dorothy sorts through fears that her mother abandoned her and overcomes emotions as she travels through Oz, ultimately returning to Kansas more mature.
Dorothy is carried away to the threshold of adventure by a tornado where she meets “a shadow presence that guards the passage.” According to Campbell, “The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark…” (245-46). The heroine conquers the power after her house drops on the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy then crosses the threshold between an ordinary world and fairy land. Although she doesn’t meet a figure prior to her defeat, she kills the witch and meets the Good Witch of the North, who claims she is weaker than the witch Dorothy just killed. After being denied company to the Emerald City, the Good Witch of the North offers a kiss, stating that no one will dare injure a person kissed by her. This “amulet” according to Campbell, provides protection for her future quests in Oz. Because of the kiss, Dorothy is protected by the “Power of Good,” therefore, the flying monkeys take her to the witch’s castle rather than destroying her.
“Beyond the threshold, Campbell states, “The hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers)” (246). In contrast to the dull and somber landscape of Kansas, Oz is fruitful and lush with color. Tuerk furthers this statement by expressing, “Readers often notice how intimate some of the unfamiliar forces are that threaten and help Dorothy, so much so that the makers of the 1939 movie treat her adventures as a dream, thus making her journey entirely internal” (par. 17). Dorothy experiences “tests” in her pursuits by passing them through logic mixed with magic or bad luck. Her ultimate ordeal occurs when she is sent to kill the Wicked Witch of the West after becoming the witch’s prisoner. From there, her goal is to return back to Kansas.
Her adventures in Oz are centered around 3 separate pursuits: The Wizard, death of the Wicked Witch of the West, and a palace for Glinda the Good Witch. Over the course of her adventure, she seeks to find something more than some place to call home. Tuerk explains, “She finds within herself the ability to participate in the selfless love that characterizes most of the inhabitants of Oz. Once she finds this ability, she is ready to cross the threshold back to Kansas so that she can bring joy and love into the gray world of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry” (Tuerk par. 18). Killing the two witches was Dorothy’s way of overcoming the idea of her mother deserting her as a child. Tuerk states, “Dorothy’s subsequent killing of the Wicked Witch of the West, her journey to Glinda’s palace, and her loving reception by Glinda involve a kind of additional mother atonement which reconciles Dorothy to her mother’s death, a necessary prelude to her return to Kansas and her reunion with Aunt Em” (par. 20). Since Dorothy’s mother has been dead for some time, this gives her a chance to grow.
Campbell writes, “The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued” (246). Glinda the Good Witch of the South blesses Dorothy and sends on her way to Kansas after explaining the magic of the silver shoes. Campbell then writes, “At the return threshold, the transcendental powers must remain behind” (246). Thus, Dorothy completes her journey after realizing the silver shoes were lost in the desert mid-flight while traveling back. She lands in the place of labor, drought, and poverty after being in a dream-like world of Oz.