Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wizard of Oz analysis - part 4: Depiction of Dante's Purgatory in the movie


Above left: Map of Purgatory.[a] Above right: Dorothy in Munchkinland.

Purgatorio (Italian for Purgatory) is the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy, following the Inferno, and preceding the Paradiso. The poem was written in the early 14th century. It is an allegory telling of the climb of Dante up the Mount of Purgatory, guided by the Roman poet Virgil, except for the last four cantos at which point Beatrice takes over as Dante's guide. In the poem, Purgatory is depicted as a mountain consisting of a bottom section (Ante-Purgatory), seven levels of suffering and spiritual growth (associated with the seven deadly sins), and finally the Earthly Paradise at the top. Allegorically, the poem represents the Christian life, and in describing the climb Dante discusses the nature of sin, examples of vice and virtue, and moral issues in politics and in the Church. The poem outlines a theory that all sin arises from love – either perverted love directed towards others' harm, or deficient love, or the disordered love of good things.

Having survived the depths of Hell (described in the Inferno), Dante and Virgil ascend out of the undergloom, to the Mountain of Purgatory on the far side of the world. The mountain is an island, the only land in the Southern Hemisphere. Dante describes Hell as existing underneath Jerusalem, created by the impact of Satan's fall. Mount Purgatory, on exactly the opposite side of the world, was created by a displacement of rock, caused by the same event.

Dante and Virgil first travel through Ante-Purgatory. Then, from the gate of Purgatory, Virgil guides Dante through its seven terraces. As stated above, these correspond to the seven deadly sins. The classification of sin here is more psychological than that of the Inferno, being based on motives, rather than actions. The core of the classification is based on love: the first three terraces of Purgatory relate to perverted love directed towards actual harm of others, the fourth terrace relates to deficient love (i.e. sloth or acedia), and the last three terraces relate to excessive or disordered love of good things.[b]

The first terrace relates to pride, it is where proud souls purge their sin. As indicated in the right-hand screencap above, this is the terrace Dorthy inhabits when she begins to wander around Muchkinland after just having arrived there. Recall from part 2 of this analysis that we said Dorothy is the allegorical Dante, and Toto represents Virgil, Dante's guide.

The second terrace of Purgatory is where the envious purge their sin.[b]

Above left: Recall that the Wicked Witch of the West has green skin. As mentioned in part 1 of the analysis, green can symbolize envy (there is a saying, "green with envy"). Since the Wicked Witch flies overhead, she is physically above the land inhabited by Dorothy. The point is that the Witch is being depicted as being in terrace 2 of Purgatory (where the envious reside), which is one level above terrace 1. Above right: The Wicked Witch envies Dorothy for her ruby slippers.

a. Image from the Wikipedia 'Purgatorio' page; Purgatory Plan by Anthony Dekker, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
b. Wikipedia, 'Purgatorio'. Web, n.d. URL =


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