As kids, most of us are fortunate to read our share of fairytales either imposed on us by our schools, or for our own fun. Animal Farm is one of those stories imposed on us by our educational system. Let’s admit we do secretly love anything George Orwell will publish, even though his stories of fiction are dystopian and tragic. George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ is a satirical fairytale and metaphorical allegory of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1805), among others (the Great Purge & the rise of Stalin). The social-political contexts and themes are the same in both the French Revolutionary Period and ‘Animal Farm’. In the case of France it was a despotic Empire led by a tyrannical Emperor by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte is also the dictator’s name as he is referenced in Animal Farm. In the satirical story, Bonaparte, along with a board of executive pigs, end up killing animals of the farm (as thousands upon thousands were guillotined during the French Revolution). In reality, ‘the piglets’ could be viewed as the satirical allegory of Napoleon Bonaparte’s sons: heirs to the throne, or the Board of Directors that took power right as Napoleon was gaining stripes as an Army General.
The French Revolutionary Periods were also most famously known for the ‘Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen’, introduced by General Lafayette in 1793 that was largely influenced by the American Revolution and by Jeffersonian Republicanism.
The famous quote from Animal farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” is a direct reference to the Declaration. Animal Farm is a metaphorical allegory to a past historical event put into a satirical work of art that interprets and challenges a socio-political phenomenon.
Meanwhile, there are other fairytales that have turned into Hollywood classics which have ‘miracle’ endings. For instance, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Lyman Frank Baum, is one of those stories. This children’s book author also fuses politics of his time and art to build a satirical allegory. Unlike Animal Farm, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (which then became ‘The Wizard of Oz’ the movie) does have a happy ending (in the movie and book) though the potency of the message may be said to be just as daunting.
Author Lyman Frank Baum’s Childhood
Baum was born in Chicago, which at the time, was the biggest and wealthiest urban city in America. He grew up in a wealthy household; his father a successful businessman who struck much of his wealth during the Pennsylvania Oil Rush. Frank and his younger brother were schooled and they both took-up writing as a hobby. The brothers published The Rose Lawn Home Journal together (The Rose Lawn is the name of their glorious victorian mansion, which they regarded as a ‘paradise’). Three years later, they published their second amateur journal The Stamp Collector, whereby they also started their own business as stamp collectors and sellers, and Lyman Frank Baum, by this point, was only 20 years old.
South Dakota Years
In his adulthood, L. Frank Baum witnessed some tough times. In the few years between 1890-1893, Frank had his own pawn shop. He had credited many items from his shop ‘Frank’s Bazaar’, hoping that his loans would someday turn into a sale, but they did not. He felt short of paying his mortgage for his retail business and was declared bankrupt by the banks. This was not entirely his fault since that year was known as the Great Depression of 1893: an economic crash.
A New Ruling Class
The depression, as with all all others, was happening everywhere in America and it trickled unto the rest of the world. Immigration was booming in the years of the industrial age and the railroads were taking people everywhere. Working wages in the United States were some of the highest wages in the world at this time. The industrial age also saw a rise in a new class of business entrepreneurs: bankers, investors and stock brokers that manipulated inflation, interest rates, and, not irrelevantly, the stock and price of goods such as was famously done with agricultural products. Southerners, by this time, depended highly on their cotton industry and the agricultural sector for economic sustainability. Unfortunately, the Civil War had seen many farms razed and had parched many acres of cultivable land. A series of crop failures followed the war and farmers were forced to take several highly-leveraged loans from creditors. Because of the crop-lien system (a contract hedging the landowner’s property to banks, liable for re-possession, should the loan go unpaid), many unfortunate farmers lost their family property as collateral default from risky loans.
It was rumored that the banks were keeping the printing of money very low so that inflation would not hinder the price of goods. A low number of legal tender would keep the value of the dollar high. Thus, if the value of the American dollar is high; corporations gain purchasing power internationally on imports, and wages even though seem low, are actually higher because of the value of the currency in comparison to the value of other foreign currencies. This would not be a profitable bargain for Americans that were already settled.
The Money Reform Issue
The supply of money was regulated by the amount of gold a nation has mined, this system is called the Gold Standard. A growing sentiment in the South & Mid-Western States was that not enough money was being printed in the United States because of the Gold Standard. In fact, the Election of 1896, (sometimes called the first modern presidential run at candidacy), featured William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic Populist who shared in the same ideas as Lyman Frank Baum about the money reform.
Bryan and his followers (Populists) called for the ‘free coinage of silver’: the view of increasing the amount of money in currency, by extracting silver from the land. In their belief, more money in the market economy would increase the prices farmers received for their crops. They also wanted a progressive income tax (like we have today), more banking regulations, and the right for workers to form unions. Moreover, they wanted to abandon the Gold Standard altogether. Populists (who were mostly white Southern farmers) endorsed Bryan’s candidacy. Silver was also prominent in the South and West. If Washington agreed with the free coinage of sliver nothing would be impossible.
Contrary to his beliefs, many big-time bankers and industrialists were alarmed by Bryan’s call for monetary reform. Instead, corporations and industrialists poured some pretty coinage into William McKinley’s campaign. He was the Republican Party’s candidate, who was also running for President. Unlike the populists, they believed that gold was the only honest currency and abandoning the gold standard would destroy business confidence and prevent economic recovery.
‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was a satirical allegory for the monetary reform issues of the United States of America during the 1890s. The concern of both Baum and Bryan was the nature of the money supply then prevalent in the United States, and in the Mid-Western States in particular. Both author and politician wanted money to be based on silver, not gold, as silver was more readily available in the Mid-West, where it was mined. Such a money supply as silver, could not be manipulated by the banks.
‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’
So the story of the Wizard of Oz starts with Dorothy, who represents the down-trodden and poor farming families in the South-Western. She gets caught in a storm that spins her whole house out of control; but then comes out of the cyclone in the form of imaginary electoral success for Bryan. Dorothy’s house comes down on the Wicked Witch of the East (East Coast bankers), and killing her, thereby freeing the munchkins (down-trodden and poor). But the Wicked Witch of West (West Coast Bankers) remains loose. Dorothy must deal with her and get back to Kansas (normality), and she must seek out the Wizard of Oz (Oz = ounces, measurement for gold or silver) to do this. The Good Witch of the North represents the Republican electorates of the North. They give her silver slippers (as in the book, later changed to ruby ones – as in the film) and with them she would be protected from the Witches on the yellow-brick road (which represents the Gold Standard), on her way to Emerald City (or Washington).
On her journey, Dorothy encounters a Scarecrow, representing the farming class, to whom hard work may come easy do not have the brains or the wit to understand how they can end up losing their farms to the banks. If only they could “think it through!” Next, they encounter a Tin Woodsman, who represents the industrial workers, rusted as solid as the factories of the 1890s depression. The Tin Woodsman lost the sense of compassion, co-operation and love to work to help during hard times. A spell cast upon him by the Wicked Witch of the East meant that every time he swung his axe, he chopped off a bit of himself – he downsized (as workers lost their jobs)! Then they encounter a Cowardly Lion, representing the politicians. Politicians have the power, through the power of Congress and the Constitution, to confront the Wicked Witches, representing the banks, but they lack the courage to do it. Dorothy is able to motivate them and leads them all towards the Emerald City, for an encounter with the omnipotent and wonderful Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of Oz himself, is initially suppose to be awesome and majestic, but he turns out to be a little man and an industrialist, without the power that people assumed he possessed. He does, of course, represent the President of the United States. In the film, they say he is but a “humbug”, meaning a small man with no power. With the Wizard’s illusion of power shattered, he is replaced by the Scarecrow who would be presumably another Lincoln. The Wicked Witch of the West, fearful for her own power, then attempts to destroy Dorothy but is herself “liquidated”, and melted down by fire, as in the film (like the process of melting silver). In the book, she is dissolved in a bucket of water, which represents the alleviation of the drought in the Mid-West. The Good Witch of the North, representing the Southern electorate, tells Dorothy that her silver slippers (silver-based money), are so powerful that anything she wishes for is possible, even without the Wizard. Dorothy wishes to go home. There all is now well, because the land has an abundant money supply.
So that’s the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the message is no less pertinent today than it was at that time. The struggles that all small farmers and small-time business owners face are still relevant today. Banks, the monetary system, interest rates, inflation and the money supply are all topics still debated almost everywhere where those words mean anything. If money is only a means to exchange, then do we have to sacrifice precious metals and the environment to create debts when real wealth accounts for the goods and services provided by a country? Would there be other ways in the future to regulate, or evaluate currencies? My hope is that we might settle for other means someday…
Jimmy Al Hawa