The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved films of all time, and therefore, it has been thoroughly examined from every imaginable angle. Based on the works of L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale, a young girl who, after getting trapped in a tornado, wakes up in a strange and magical land. As Dorothy searches for a way home, she makes a number of friends (and an enemy) that make her time in Oz all the more magical.

There are a lot of theories about the deeper meaning of The Wizard of Oz‘s story. One of the most well-known is that it’s a parable on populism in modern America (though this one was seemingly disproved), and other interpretations ruminate on its religious or atheistic commentary. One of the most undeniable, however, is that The Wizard of Oz contains a running theme of feminism. After all, the only people shown to wield actual magic in Oz are female, and all of its male characters ultimately look to Dorothy as a caregiver and savior.

The Wizard of Oz‘s feminist themes actually come with a problematic subtext, though. First, Dorothy accidentally murdering one of Oz’s Wicked Witches gives her an unwanted power over the Munchkins, who begin to treat her as their savior. Then, the male characters she happens across look to Dorothy to help them, latching onto her and following her on her way to the Emerald City. Ultimately, Dorothy acts as a caregiver to these characters – and that doesn’t end when she meets the Wizard, either: he also needs her help, and she obliges. This does more than give The Wizard of Oz an underlying theme of feminism – it actually creates its own dark subtext to the idea, too.

The Wizard Of Oz’s Ending Makes Its Feminism Bleak

Billie Burke as Glinda and Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz

The film’s ending sees Dorothy waking up safe and sound back in Kansas. Though it’s never stated outright, the implication of The Wizard of Oz‘s ending is that Dorothy’s adventure may well have all been a dream – rendering its feminism entirely redundant in the process. Dorothy escapes a colorless world of drab injustice to find herself in a place where she seems to hold some power – except, it may not have been real at all. In other words, any feminist ideas that may have formulated in Dorothy’s mind are doomed to remain nothing but colorful fantasies.

As The Wizard of Oz doesn’t confirm that Dorothy’s adventure was in fact a dream, it may have actually happened. If this is the case, it’s actually worse in many respects: it means that the feminist land of Oz does indeed exist, but that Dorothy isn’t allowed to remain there. Of course, Dorothy spending the entire movie trying to return home seems to indicate that she’s fleeing the concept of feminism – she apparently doesn’t want to be in the place where women seem to hold all the true power. This compounds the problems with The Wizard of Oz‘s feminist subtext, because it makes the intention largely unclear.

Is Dorothy Gale a feminist icon? Is she an impressionable young girl who attempts to reject Oz’s matriarchal society in favor of her own drab existence in which women’s dreams of power are seemingly nothing more than a flight of fancy? There is clear evidence of feminism throughout The Wizard of Oz, but the thrust of its story – and its ending – twist it in a way that means there’s no happy ending for Dorothy Gale.