Tin Woodman - Sources of The Tin Man Image

Sources of The Tin Man Image

In the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book of 1900, the Tin Woodman is depicted as a formerly human worker who has been stripped of his humanity (his heart especially) and dehumanized by industrialization. The Tin Woodman little by little lost his natural body and had it replaced by metal; so he has lost his heart and cannot move without the help of farmers (represented by the Scarecrow); in reality he has a strong sense of cooperation and love, which needs only an infusion of self-confidence to be awakened. In the 1890s many argued that to secure a political revolution a coalition of Farmers and Workers was needed.

Economics and history professors have published scholarly studies that indicate the images and characters used by Baum and Denslow closely resembled political images that were well known in the 1890s. They state that Baum and Denslow did not simply invent the Lion, Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, Yellow Brick Road, Silver Slippers, cyclone, monkeys, Emerald City, little people, Uncle Henry, passenger balloons, witches and the wizard. These were all common themes in the editorial cartoons of the previous decade. The notion of a "Tin Man" has deep roots in European and American history, according to Green (2006), and often appeared in cartoons of the 1880s and 1890s. Baum and Denslow, like most writers and illustrators, used the materials at hand that they knew best. They built a story around them, added Dorothy, and added a series of lessons to the effect that everyone possesses the resources they need (such as brains, a heart and courage) if only they had self-confidence. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a children’s book, of course, but as Baum warned in the preface, it was a "modernized" fairy tale as well.

The Tin Man--the human turned into a machine--was a common feature in political cartoons and in advertisements in the 1890s. Indeed, he had been part of European folk art for 300 years. In political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Tin Woodman is supposedly described as a worker, dehumanized by industrialization. The Tin Woodman little by little lost his natural body and had it replaced by metal; so, he has lost his heart and cannot move without the help of farmers (represented by the Scarecrow); in reality he has a strong sense of cooperation and love, which needs only an infusion of self-confidence to be awakened. (In the 1890s, many argued that to secure a political revolution a coalition of Farmers and Workers was needed.)

The 1890 editorial cartoon to the right shows President Benjamin Harrison wearing improvised tin armor because he wanted a tariff on tin. Such images support the argument that the figure of a "tin man" was in use as political allegory in the 1890s. The man on the right is politician James G. Blaine.

The oil needed by the Tin Woodman had a political dimension at the time because Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company stood accused of being a monopoly (and in fact was later found guilty by the Supreme Court). In the 1902 stage adaptation, which is full of topical references that do not appear either in the novel or in any of the film adaptations (unless they are satirical), the Tin Woodman wonders what he would do if he ran out of oil. "You wouldn't be as badly off as John D. Rockefeller," the Scarecrow responds, "He'd lose six thousand dollars a minute if that happened."

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