Beacon Lesson Plan Library

A Parable on Populism

Clark Youngblood
Santa Rosa District Schools


This lesson is designed to show the symbolism between Populism of the 1890's and the story of [The Wizard of Oz].


The student knows the causes of the Industrial Revolution and its economic, political, and cultural effects on American society.

The student understands the nature of political authority and the nature of the relationship between government and civil society in limited governments (e.g., constitutional democracies) and unlimited governments (e.g., totalitarian regimes).


-_________. [The Americans]. Massachusetts: McDougal, Littel, & Company, 1994.
-Background information on symbolim in [The Wizard of Oz] from
-[The Wizard of Oz]. Dir. Victor Fleming. Perf. Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, and Charley Grapewin. 1939. Videocassette. MGM/UA Home Entertainment Inc. and Turner Entertainment Co., 1966.


1. Prepare background information on Populism and its effects.
2. Define all key terms, with examples.
3. Bookmark the following Website for background information on the use of symbolism in [The Wizard of Oz]:
4. Review pages 470-474 in [The Americans] by McDougal, Littel, & Company, 1994.
5. Acquire the original version of [The Wizard of Oz].


This lesson can be used when discussing Populism in American History.

1. Explain the term “Populism”–A movement begun by farmers in the 1890’s who wanted a number of economic and political reforms.

2. Students must also understand the terms to be used in this lesson. List these terms on the board and have the students define them on paper. Discuss with the class to make sure they have a complete understanding of the terms.

TERMS: Deflation, Inflation, Cheap Money, Populist party, Bimetallism, Gold Standard, Industralization, William Jennings Bryan, Farmer’s Alliance, Sherman Silver Purchase Act, Co-ops

3. Once students understand the terms, outline the 6 major planks in the Ocala platform that was established by the Co-ops. They are as follows:

a. Sub-Treasury (opened in various counties which produced at least $500,000 worth of agricultural products per year and would give loans for up to 80% of the crop)

b. Free Silver (coinage of silver)

c. Direct Election of Senators (17th Amendment to the Constitution)

d. Graduated Income Tax (16th Amendment to the Constitution)

e. Lower Tariffs to Help Farmers

f. Government Regulation of Railroad and Utilities

Note: Five of the six planks became a part of American Life, the exception--Free Silver.

4. Define “allegory;” this will help the students understand the coalition between the use of [The Wizard of Oz] and Populism. Put the definition on the board and have students copy it.

5. Review with students the ideals of Populism in the 1890’s so they have an understanding of the farmer’s concerns.

6. Present the symbolic representation of [The Wizard of Oz] to society in the 1890’s.

Explain that this is a mid-western view of our country in the 1890’s, since this area contained most of the agricultural production at that time. List the following on the board, and have the students copy.

a. Yellow Brick Road---Gold Standard in the country

b. Scarecrow---Farmers (no brains by society's standards, but smarter than given credit for)

c. Cowardly Lion---William Jennings Bryan (not a coward, but a leader, as lions are usually dominant)

d. Tin Man---Industrialization (doesn’t have a heart, but doesn’t hate either)

e. Dorothy’s Slippers---Silver exchange (YES they are red in the movie; this was done to make them stand out. In the original book the slippers were silver. Remember the slippers hold the power until the end, because silver was the exchange. Once back in Kansas they were gone, just as silver was overtaken by the Gold standard.)

f. Dorothy---Level-headed, innocent humans

g. Wizard---Politicians (trying to be all things to all people)

h. Winged Monkeys---Plains Indians (Remember the mid-western view of farming, and having to deal with the Indians; they were not bad people but could be swayed by good and evil.)

i. Wicked Witch of the East---Bankers who have nothing for farmers

j. Wicked Witch of the West---Nature (water kills and the farmers need water)

k. Good Witch of the North---Northern businesses that could seemingly do everything well, and were educated

l. Munchkins---Little people of society (middle class and below)

m. Emerald City---Washington, D.C.

n. Tornado---The idea of “change”

7. Know that students understand Populism and the symbolic representation; show the video [The Wizard of Oz] and have students follow and understand the symbolism shown in the movie.

8. After completion of the video, discuss with students the idealism of Populism and symbolic representation.


Student performance is based on written assignments, with details stressed on the content and the use of symbols that describe Populism. Students write minimum 400-word report on the effects of Populism in the 1890ís on the American society and use the ideals of the [The Wizard of Oz] to combine thoughts that were interjected.

Reports are assessed based on the following criteria:

Give background information of Populism in the 1890's (how farmers fit into the overall political picture).

Give the views of the Agricultural society vs. the Industrial society as it dealt with the economy of the 1890's.

Explain how the movie was a political statement and include symbols.

Draw a conclusion: How does the movie show the impact of the Industrial

Revolution on the farmers in the Midwest, economically and politically?

Rate each criteria as follows. Allow students to redo areas that are not acceptable.

3=Excellent Work You covered the criteria topic completely and accurately.
2=Acceptable Work. You addressed the criteria topic but could've added additional details or some small part was inaccurate.
1=Unacceptable Work. Your information on the criteria topic is incomplete or inaccurate. Please see me and you may redo this portion.

Web Links

Web supplement for A Parable on Populism
The Wonderful World of Oz

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