Bates, Laura Raidonis. "Sweet Sorrow": The Universal Theme of Separation in Folklore and Children's Literature. The Lion and the Unicorn 31.1 (2007) 48-64. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2007
In this article, Laura Bates looks at a common storyline for females in fairytales: separation, trials/tests, and reunion. In it she examines six stories: “Hansel & Gretel”, “The Juniper Tree”, “The Deserted Children”, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, “The Wizard of Oz”, and “Peter Pan”. She argues against the idea that women are portrayed weakly in fairy tales only to be saved by a prince Charming. Alternatively, in these stories the women not only successfully take care of themselves, but often take care of others as well. The men become dependent on the women. In the tales, the first stage of the story is separation. Sometimes the separation is caused by the parents as in Hansel and Gretel, but sometimes the separation is due to the child’s action as in The Wizard of Oz or Peter Pan. The next stage of the story is a quest or a trial. Girls often initially respond with fear or tears, as would be expected from society for a young girl. However, they always have to summon some sort of inner strength to overcome obstacles. Dorothy’s quest is to follow the Yellow Brick Road to eventually return home. Her quest is both psychological and physical. She discovers things about herself she didn’t realize such as her courage and empathy. The last stage of the story is the homecoming and reunion. Bates states that homecoming is a natural desire that stems from separation, but it is not a guaranteed outcome. In Dorothy’s case, she vanquished the wicked witch and discovered (with the help of Toto) the deception of the Wizard. However, we learn that Dorothy didn’t really need to do those things and perhaps all she needed was the ability to believe in herself.
This common theme in stories is important because it must help lend to their popularity. The common stages of separation, quest, and reunion are seen time and time again and thus must contain some quality that is attractive to the mass audience. In this sense, this aspect of the Wizard of Oz can also help lend to its popularity. The question, however, remains as to why such storylines are favored. It is perhaps due to the general idea of female empowerment that people enjoy. Alternatively, Bates suggests that gender roles allow female lead characters to incorporate magical beings into the story because females embrace their natural surroundings, while males separate themselves from it. Humans may have an innate desire and fascination with magic and thus these types of stories allow them to be incorporated. Whatever the reason, Dorothy surely goes through the three stages identified by Bates, and shows that a girl can be just as heroic as anyone else.