Thinking about The Wiz, and of course its ultimate source material and ur-text in The Wizard of Oz, you start to think about the class of stories this fits into. Sure, it shows elements of the monomyths and Jungian archetypes Joseph Campbell and others have written about. And there’s an intriguing flurry of contemporary books and movies, especially in the fantasy and sci-fi universe, that have more than a passing resemblance to core elements of the story. But aside from these, which I hope to riff on in another post and on the show microsite, time allowing, there is something rootedly American about Dorothy and her saga, no matter the setting or what groovy tracks get set on it. Very much an American tale of the coming of age of an American young woman. In her article Journey or Destination: Female Voices in Youth Literature,author Kay Vandergrift explores some of this literature and legacy, and its occasional limits:
American literature is rich in both young adult novels and in
our own versions of the bildungsroman, the novel of education or
of initiation in which the central character learns about the
world while growing up and into that world. In fact, as a young
country, many of our classic stories are about rebellion, loss of
innocence, and coming of age, the staples of young adult literature.
One will note, however, that from The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn to The Catcher in the Rye to A Separate Peace to The Rule
of Bone, most of the protagonists in these books are male. Even
The Outsiders, considered one of the foundations of contemporary
young adult literature, has a basically all-male cast of characters,
although it was written by a young adult female.
One of the most critical and most fascinating elements … for those who work
with young adults is obviously that of coming of age. Readers
look to stories for confirmation and illumination of their own
life experiences and for vicarious experiences very different
from their own reality but that, nonetheless, extend their perceptions
of the world and their understandings of those who share
that world. In Heilbrun’s words, these are “stories to live by,”
stories that portray strong models for young women coming of
age in difficult times and difficult circumstances.
One might posit that almost all young adult literature is coming
of age literature; that is, it is a literature in which young
protagonists are engaged in the process of separating from
childhood, of making the transition from the security of family
and then from peers to independence and maturity, and ultimately
of integrating their lives into a community of adults. Of
course, not all young adult books include the entire range of this
process. Younger young adults, approximately ages ten to
twelve, often read stories that focus on young characters
rebelling against parental authority as they develop new interests
in the opposite sex and in their own appearance and establish
strong ties with peer groups. In real life this is a dangerous
time for girls … In the literature, however, the real
physical and emotional changes facing young girls are seldom
dealt with. While boys are breaking boundaries with rebellious
adventures, girls are most often featured in stories in which an
animal character has co-billing or those which perpetuate the
paradigms of male power.
In the transition stage, both male and female characters usually
go on a journey and face some sort of isolation, either physical
or psychological. For girls, the journeys and isolation are
frequently internal as they face the personal tragedy of being
different, while the conflicts faced by young men are most often
physical ones. As indicated earlier in this chapter, most of the
novels young people read in schools are male coming of age stories
and require the resistance of female readers to avoid that
crisis of consciousness all too commonly experienced by young
females. It is at the third stage, as young people take their
places in the adult community, when we have traditionally seen
the most dramatic differences between male and female characters.
While young men are portrayed as establishing separate
identities, beginning careers, and embarking on life’s journeys;
females are pictured as reconciling themselves to their circumstances,
assuming new responsibilities, and settling in as if at
the end of a journey.
Click your heels, Dorothy….