American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


From 'The Wizard of Oz' to 'Wicked': Trajectory of American Myth

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/English

First Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Don McQuarie (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Piya Pal Lapinski (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Gene Trantham


The 'Wizard of Oz' story has been omnipresent in American popular culture since the first publication of L. Frank Baum's children's book 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' at the dawn of the twentieth century. Ever since, filmmakers, authors, and theatre producers have continued to return to Oz over and over again. However, while literally hundreds of adaptations of the 'Wizard of Oz' story about, a handful of transformations are particularly significant in exploring discourses of American myth and culture: L. Frank Baum's 'The Wondeful Wizard of Oz' (1900); MGM's classic film 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939); Sidney Lumet's film 'The Wiz' (1978); Gregory Maguire's novel 'Wicked: The Life and Time of the Wicked Witch of the West' (1995); and Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's Broadway musical 'Wicked' (2003).

This project critiques theories of fixed or prescriptive American myth, instead developing a theory of American myth as active, performative and even, at times, participatory, achieved through discussion of the fluidity of text and performance, built on Diana Taylor's theory of the archive and the repertoire. By approaching text and performance as fluid rather than fixed, this dissertation facilitates an interdisciplinary consideration of these works, bringing children's literature, film, popular fiction, theatre, and music together in a theoretically multifaceted approach to the 'Wizard of Oz' narrative, its many transformations, and its lasting significance within American culture. In the process of addressing these myths, this dissertation explores themes consistent within these five versions of the 'Wizard of Oz' narrative, looking at the shifting significance and representations of gender, race, home, and magic in these works. These themes have been central to establishing the national identity of the citizen throughout American history; as such, their popular representations tend to reflect the values espoused by the surrounding culture at the time of creation. Therefore, a close examination of the recurring themes in these five versions of the 'Wizard of Oz' story provides significant insight into the negotiation of these issues, their representations, and their corresponding moments in American culture.