Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wizard of Oz analysis - part 2: Depiction of Dante's Inferno (Hell) in the movie


Inferno (Italian for "Hell") is the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. The circles are concentric and descend into the Earth, representing a gradual increase in wickedness as one descends from circle 1 to circle 9, and culminate at the center of the Earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: Each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed. (People who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths are found not in Hell but in Purgatory, where they labor to be free of their sins. Purgatory will be discussed later in this analysis.) Those in Hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant.[a] As described below, there is representation of Dante's Hell in our movie, with Dorothy herself being the allegorical Dante, on a journey through this Hell, and her dog, Toto, being the allegorical Virgil (i.e., Dorothy's guide through Hell). (Note: The diagram of the structure of Dante's Hell at below right, is a 'profile' (i.e., side) view; if viewed from above, the viewer would see nine concentric circles).

Above: The structure of Dante's Hell, with the sin punished in each circle being labeled. Note that greed is punished in circle 4; as we will see below, this is one of the circles in which Munchkinland resides. Left: Inside the palace at Emerald City, during the second visit there by Dorothy and her companions: The red smoke and flames suggest the fires of Hell, and thus, the inside of the palace itself is in (Dante's) Hell.

Left: The decorative green structure protruding from the side of one of the Emerald Palace's walls, at the far left of the screencap, is designed by the movie-makers to be a representation of the levels of Dante's Hell. Here, each level has been labeled with its corresponding circle number, and the fact that the innermost segment represents level 9 (i.e., circle 9), indicates that when Dorothy and the others are standing at floor level in the palace, they are in circle 9 of Hell.

Left: The labeling of the gray platforms, and of the pool water surface (which can be taken as being at ground level), using black and brown numerals, indicates that Dorothy, standing at ground level in Munchkinland, is in both circles 4 and 7 of Hell. The river Phlegethon lies in circle 7, and is represented by the water flowing into the pool. This water also represents the river Acheron, and the fact that Dorothy is here on the 'shore' of the Acheron indicates that she is also standing in the vestibule, which is not in Hell proper, but is instead just before the entrance to Hell. Thus, as labeled in dark blue text (near the center right of the screencap), when Dorothy has first arrived in Munchkinland, she is simultaneously in the vestibule, circle 4, and circle 7. The three rings of circle 7, described below, are represented by the three different sizes of floating circular green pads (labeled 'A', 'B', and 'C' on the screencap).

If one imagines the gray platform structure and the lamp in the above screencap being flipped upside down, a physical structure similar to that of Dante's Hell can be visualized. In the flipped structure, the numbering of circles 1 through 7 (labeled on the screencap in black numerals) would be reversed, i.e., '1' would become '7' (and thus indicate the level of circle 7), '2' would become '6' (indicating circle 6), '3' would become '5', etc. To aid in visualization, the positions of the 8th and 9th circles have been labeled (in red text and numbers) in their correct sequence (i.e., 9 will end up below 8 after the flip). The red numeral '8' is actually pointing to the top of the small green cone-shaped structure at the base of the green lamp-post (click image to enlarge). The bottom of the cone sits atop the smaller gray structure indicated by the rightward pointing white arrow.

In addition to labeling (in black) the circle positions along the right-hand edge of the platform structure sitting above the pool (and the pool water surface itself), there have also been labels placed (in brown numerals - '1' through '4') along the left-hand side of the larger platforms (indicated by the large white downward-pointing arrow) and the water surface - the entire platform structure is designed as it is by the movie-makers, to suggest the 'dual' numbering scheme as indicated in the screencap (using the black and brown numerals), and to thereby give the audience a hint that Muchkinland is, speaking metaphorically, in circle 4 and circle 7, as stated (in addition to being in the vestibule). Note that the hints about Munchkinland being in circles 4 and 7 are given in a context that is before the above-mentioned flip. (After the flip, the brown numerals themselves effectively become irrelevant).

The wall enclosing the pool represents the walls of Dis. In Inferno, the City of Dis encompasses the sixth through ninth circles of Hell, which are marked in the above screencap as '2', '1', '8', and '9' respectively. Again, after the flip, '2' would become circle 6, and '1' would become circle 7; both of these points, as well as '8' and '9', would be within the pool wall after the flip, since the pool itself, and its wall, are not to be flipped.


According to the story in Dante's Inferno, Dante the Pilgrim (as contrasted with Dante the author of the story, though the two are essentially the same person), and his guide, Virgil, who are together in the vestibule and have not yet entered Hell completely, see the Uncommitted (i.e., the Indifferent), souls of people who in life did nothing, neither for good nor evil; these souls are neither in Hell nor out of it, but reside on the shores of the river Acheron. Their punishment is to eternally pursue a banner (i.e., self interest) while being chased by wasps and hornets that continually sting them as maggots and other such insects drink their blood and tears. This symbolizes the sting of their conscience and the repugnance of sin. This can also be seen as a reflection of the spiritual stagnation they lived in.[a]

Those whose attitude toward material goods deviated from the appropriate mean are punished in the fourth circle. They include the avaricious or miserly, who hoarded possessions, and the prodigal, who squandered them. The two groups are guarded by a figure Dante names as Pluto, either Pluto the classical ruler of the underworld or Plutus the Greek god of wealth.[a] The seventh circle houses the violent. The Minotaur serves as gatekeeper for the entire seventh circle, which is divided into three rings. The outer ring (represented by the large-diameter green pads floating in the water, such as the one labeled 'C' in the above screencap), houses the violent against people and property. Sinners are immersed in Phlegethon, a river of boiling blood and fire, to a level commensurate with their sins. In the middle ring (labeled 'B') are the suicides and profligates. Finally, the inhabitants of the inner ring ('A') are the violent against God (blasphemers) and the violent against nature (sodomites and usurers).

All of the inhabitants of the inner ring of the seventh circle reside in a desert of flaming sand with fiery flakes raining from the sky, a fate similar to Sodom and Gomorrah. The blasphemers lie on the sand, the usurers sit, and the sodomites wander about in groups.[a] Recall from our movie that when snow begins to fall in the poppy field, Dorothy is lying down, and the Lion has his body positioned such that he takes on the appearance of both lying and sitting (the latter being suggested by the positioning of his legs; see screencap at left). Also note that Dorothy and her companions are traveling as a group. We've already noted that the Lion represents a gay person, and thus, he represents a sodomite. In accordance with the above, he must also represent a usurer and a blasphemer. And, since Dorthy is here lying down, she herself must represent a blasphemer.

Recall from above that Dorthy's guide through Hell is her dog, Toto. From the Dictionary of Symbols:

"There cannot be a mythology which does not associate a dog...with death, Hell, the Underworld or with those invisible realms ruled by the deities of Earth or Moon. At first glance, therefore, the extremely complex symbolism of the dog seems linked to the threefold elements Earth, Water, and Moon, with their recognized female and hidden significance, all connected with the basics of growth, sexuality and divination, as much in terms of the unconscious as the subconscious.

"Evidence of the primary mythic role played by the dog, that of psychopomp, is worldwide. Having been man's companion in the light of living day, the dog becomes the guide through the darkness of death. At every stage of Western cultural history the dog has featured among such powerful psychopomps as Anubis, Cerberus, Thoth, Hecate, or Hermes. But dogs are universal phenomena and make their appearance in every culture in different forms which serve only to enrich this primary symbolism."[b]


As will be explained later in the analysis, ground level and the levels of the stepped platform in Munchkinland not only represent levels of Hell, but concurrently with this, for certain specific characters in the movie (excluding the Munchkins), they also represent various levels of Dante's Purgatory and Paradise. (This 'triple representation' should not be taken to imply that the movie 'equates' Hell with Paradise, or some such thing. Each representation is independent of the others).

a. Wikipedia, 'Inferno (Dante)'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Dictionary of Symbols. Ed. Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, Trans. John Buchanan-Brown. London: Penguin Group, 1996. p. 296.


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