“There’s no place like home” or is there? An exploration of belonging through the Wizard of Oz and Shrek.

Wizard Of Oz and the concept of home

Dorothy Gale’s famous chant of ‘There’s no place like home’[1] to call her Kansas into physical existence is an odd one. The action remains to date one of the most famous lines from film. However, there remains something unsatisfactory about the film’s ending. Her sudden reawakening seems too simple and works to undermine Dorothy’s journey. While the first understanding is that Dorothy is claiming there is no better place than home, in reference to Kansas, the mere action of calling for home undermines this.

Home does not exist, to the narrative or Dorothy, unless we name a specific place home, but the act of calling for it makes it’s very existence seem uncertain. The action implies that the very nature of ‘home’ is allusive and once left does not exist, or has never truly existed. This implies that home spaces are defined by the inhabitation of people. We can see this prevalently in both Shrek[2] and The Wizard of Oz[3]. Please bear with me here.

Cinematically this is certainly true. Once a protagonist leaves their home, such as Shrek leaving the swamp, we no longer see it. It doesn’t lurk in the background but merely in memory, an intangible shadow of what existed implying that the place only exists when the protagonist inhabits it. Once they leave, home becomes obsolete. Even when Dorothy views her aunt in the crystal ball when imprisoned by the witch it is only because of her presence that the image is seen. The witch would not conjure the image of Kansas without Dorothy’s presence. Instead this shadow that both Dorothy and Shrek hold throughout their narratives exists to represent safety, to provide a sense of belonging along their adventure. In the same way that one inhabits their own mind, the home is only a tangible concept through personal existence within.

Shrek wants to build a ‘ten-foot wall around [his] land’[4] to keep those out that wish to discriminate against him despite claiming it’s because he wants to be alone. The home, whether Kansas or the swamp, works as a reminder of belonging to provide the protagonists’ with comfort along their journey, an unseen anchor while they remain mobile and an eventual stopping point. However, though this is true of Dorothy, she returns to Kansas and the narrative ends, this is not true for Shrek. He returns unfulfilled and finds his beloved home provides no comfort and so once again leaves to seek another home, Fiona.

The home is typically envisioned as utopian, a place without imperfections where there is only acceptance. This utopian space provides motivation to the protagonists’ plot and becomes nostalgic. The protagonists’ idealise their past, which here is represented by the home acting as the starting location of their narratives, but only exists within dialogue throughout the films and not physically so becomes ephemeral.

Laura Bieger claims that narrative itself is a ‘resource of orientation and emplacement that sustains our being through its capacities to articulate unsettling experiences’[5]. Bieger argues that the narrative acts as a method of understanding structure for the protagonists and is a ‘fundamental constituent of human being’[6]. However, this is not true for The Wizard of Oz or Shrek. The narrative cannot stand-alone and act as a guide for understanding the protagonists’ function because their narratives are embedded in a starting location that they are both forcefully removed from. Shrek and Dorothy have no control over the beginning of their narratives, it is not a choice for either of them to leave their homes. Dorothy is removed through an act of nature where her house is stolen away to Oz. Shrek is invaded when fairy tale creatures are dumped on his land and he is therefore forced to leave for Duloc to have them removed.

Pinocchio sums up the dilemma with Bieger’s theory in Shrek when confronted by the ogre stating that ‘no one invited us. We were forced to come here.’[7] The protagonists are not invited on their journeys but forced onto them and so the narrative cannot become their mode of emplacement for dealing with unsettling experiences because, for them, the narrative is the unsettling experience. Instead the utopian depiction of home becomes the point to which they centre themselves and also their end goal, despite Shrek’s clear loneliness at the beginning and Miss Gulch’s attempted removal of Toto. While the home ceases to exist physically once the protagonists’ leave, so there really is ‘no place like home,’ it functions as a mode of emplacement within the narrative, providing both with a goal to achieve whilst simultaneously acting as the driving force behind the plot. The narrative cannot exist without the original performative nature of belonging. The space becomes untied from its conception as a stable backdrop and is carried within the dialogue of the protagonist throughout the two films.

Ironically it is only when Dorothy leaves the farm that it becomes this utopian depiction of belonging she carries. The film opens in monochrome and compared to Oz’s Technicolor this is a clear statement that somehow Kansas is lacking in someway. The narrative also begins with Dorothy beseeching her aunt and the farm hands to listen to her troubles with Miss Gulch. The problem of Toto and Miss Gulch is the original trouble but soon Dorothy finds herself falling into a pigsty, begging Zeke to ‘get me out of here’[8]. Dorothy is expressing an unconscious desire to escape, from the pigsty but also from Kansas and those that won’t listen to her. This is emphasised later when her surrogate maternal figure, Aunt Em, tells her ‘you always get yourself into a fret over nothing. Now you just help us out today and find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.’[9] Claiming that Dorothy’s worries are ‘nothing’ patronise her and belittle her emotions. This combined with a plea to help out by ‘finding yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble’ again does this by placing Dorothy as the problem in the scenario rather than the victim. It also encourages Dorothy to be away from them, to escape.

Dorothy’s rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ is full of yearning, demonstrating a need for a place where ‘troubles melt like lemon drops’[10]. While referencing the problems Dorothy has already encountered on the farm, it also speaks of the way she is perceived as a problem child and furthers the peripheral trauma Dorothy has suffered. Her parents are absent and she lives with her aunt and uncle, so there is an implied trauma of parental death that conveys her role within this family unit is uncomfortable for her. Todd S. Gilman expresses that Dorothy needs to escape even when she returns from trying to with Professor Marvel, seemingly accepting her position seen ‘when the storm begins, the narrative articulation veers still more insistently from Dorothy’s straightforward verbal self-articulation.’[11] The narrative forces Dorothy away from Kansas in order to reflect on her function within this unorthodox family and return home after she can accept her position within this unit. Dorothy’s desperation for escape is another way in which she wishes to find a place of belonging. The utopia of home, here Kansas, is lacking because it does not contain a favorable nuclear family, Dorothy’s parents are absent so the utopia is incomplete. At first, Dorothy’s utopia is anywhere but Kansas, somewhere over the rainbow. But to belong, to accept her position in Kansas, and her home, she must temporarily venture outside in order for it to become utopian.

Shrek, conversely, opens with a subjective utopian depiction of an ogre in his swamp taking pleasure in using a book to wipe his bottom. This rejection of the book signals DreamWorks’ intent to dispense with the fairytale formula set out in Disney’s animations and offers a more modern tale. What is key, however, is that though this is Shrek’s personal utopia it is clearly not a traditional one. Shrek’s home is heavily satirized compared to that of Disney’s princes but this demonstrates Shrek’s difference and illustrates quite literally that you shouldn’t ‘judge a book by its cover.’ Shrek is an unconventional hero but unlike Dorothy who is passive throughout The Wizard of Oz, only really acting to throw water over the Wicked Witch, Shrek is active. Fully aware of himself as a fairy tale creature he takes action when they are prosecuted and dumped on his land, seeking out Lord Farquad. Dorothy comparatively is forced into Oz because of a Tornado and is then set on the path to ‘follow the yellow brick road’[12] to the Emerald City by Glinda the Good Witch.

We see later that Dorothy has been used to rid Oz of the Wicked Witch of the West when Glinda reveals she could’ve gotten home the minute she gained the ruby slippers. Salman Rushdie points out that this ending remains unfulfilling as we have to ‘accept that [Dorothy] now accepts the limitations of her home life, and agrees that the things she doesn’t have there are no loss’[13]. Rushdie, however, sees this through the gaze of a post-feminist movement where women have considerably more choice. During release, Dorothy’s acceptance of the domestic sphere would have been deemed favorable in 1939 conservative America. What is also forgotten is that Dorothy is still a child and so must accept her home; there is no other choice than an implied death by remaining in OZ, removed from reality. In Shrek, though the protagonist is used to retrieve Princess Fiona for Lord Farquad, he is at all times in control of his path and does so to reclaim his home. However, while Dorothy ventures out in order to accept her position in Kansas, Shrek returns from his quest unfulfilled. He finds that the swamp is no longer utopian as he has changed and fallen in love. While Lewis Roberts argues that Shrek shows ‘a confident, independent ogre who learns to resolve his crises of identity’[14] what we have really is an ogre who has abstained from society because he hasn’t fully matured and eventually does so through love.

What we see then is that there really is ‘no place like home’[15]. The utopian home that the two protagonists hold onto remains allusive throughout their narratives. Dorothy begins yearning for escape while Shrek is happy in his swamp alone. Kansas only becomes home for Dorothy when she leaves, it is then that she finds a way to belong there despite the absence of parents. In leaving, Kansas comes to represent safety throughout her journey in Oz. However, Shrek’s swamp remains a utopia all the time he remains alone and childlike in his simplicity. The minute he evolves through love it is no longer enough. This shows that there really is ‘no place like home’ for Shrek as by changing, so must his home and this can only happen with the co-habitation of Fiona as her ogre self. Shrek, unlike Dorothy, holds the freedom of choice in his ending, he can either try to find solace in solitude or he can go get Fiona. Dorothy, meanwhile, has to accept her position within the domestic sphere or remain unhappy in her desperation for escape, which cannot be granted, as she is still a child. While Dorothy appears to mature during her journey, her acceptance of a role, as a submissive child back in Kansas, seems unsatisfactory.

However, Dorothy’s assimilation within the family unit is necessary. She must find a way to belong to Kansas, as she is not old enough to support an independent existence. Although she regresses, Dorothy shows an emotional maturity that sustains a utopian depiction of home to provide herself with one, though it is unfulfilling for spectators. If not, she would become a destitute orphan. Shrek, meanwhile, deals with ‘an adult challenge: in the first, to find love and see beyond appearances,’[16] and as an adult Shrek can choose his path. When his home fails to remain a utopia he seeks another, developing the swamp as he has with the acceptance of Donkey and Fiona’s inhabitation. Crucially, this is when the narrative ends.

Home, therefore, is never simultaneously present or utopian.

[1] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[2] Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, Shrek, DreamWorks Pictures, United States, 2001

[3] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[4] Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, Shrek, DreamWorks Pictures, United States, 2001

[5] Laura Bieger, ‘No Place Like Home; or, Dwelling in Narrative,’ New Literary History, Vol. 46 No. 1 (Winter 2015) <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/new_literary_history/v046/46.1.bieger.html> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 17

[6] Laura Bieger, ‘No Place Like Home; or, Dwelling in Narrative,’ New Literary History, Vol. 46 No. 1 (Winter 2015) <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/new_literary_history/v046/46.1.bieger.html> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 17

[7] Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, Shrek, DreamWorks Pictures, United States, 2001

[8] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[9] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[10] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[11] Todd S. Gilman, ‘”Aunt Em: Hate You! Hate Kansas! Taking the Dog. Dorothy”: Conscious and Unconscious Desire in The Wizard of Oz,’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 20 No. 4 (Winter 1995) <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/childrens_literature_association_quarterly/v020/20.4.gilman.html?> [Last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 163

[12] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[13] Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz, (London: British Film Institute 1992) pp. 56-57

[14]Lewis Roberts, ‘“Happier Than Ever to be Exactly What He Was”: Reflections on Shrek, Fiona and the Magic Mirrors of Commodity Culture,’ Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 45 No. 1 (March 2014) <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10583-013-9197-4#> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 3

[15] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[16] James Poniewozik, ‘The End of Fairy Tales?,’ Time International (South Pacific Edition), Issue. 21 (June 2007) <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=25272689&site=eds-live> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 60

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