Tag Article List: Disability

The Tin Woodman, Captain Fyter, and Chopfyt: L. Frank Baum’s Portrayal of Body Image and Prostheses in the Wake of World War I

Marie Gethins
University of Limerick
Sreelane, Limerick, Ireland


Nineteenth and early twentieth-century children’s literature frequently depicts characters with disabilities as flat stereotypes — villains or saintly invalids. L. Frank Baum’s The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918) provides a sharp contrast to these typical portrayals, as well as contemporary “socio-cultural” beliefs on physical normalcy and sense of self. Written as the U.S. entered World War I and details of trench warfare reached the home-front, it presents an interesting exploration of society’s response to physical disability and prostheses. In addition, it highlights the psychological devastation associated with body changes.

During Baum’s formative years, disabled Civil War veterans returned to New York state in large numbers. Initially respected for their service and their subsequent loss, Civil War veterans gradually found themselves the subject of resentment across much of the United States. Many cities passed ordinances prohibiting the disabled from frequenting  public areas to avoid “disturbing” the populace. Baum’s portrayal of three characters contrasts with contemporary “socio-cultural” mores. 

In The Tin Woodman of Oz, the Tin Woodman and Captain Fyter, who progressively dismembered themselves and replaced body parts with tin prostheses, are shown in a positive light. When these “tin twins” Captain Fyter and the Tin Woodman encounter Chopfyt — a man assembled from a combination of their flesh body parts — the three characters reflect on what constitutes physical normalcy, as well as the value and beauty of prostheses. Through Chopfyt, the psychological effects of limb loss and the concept of usefulness come to the fore. 

This paper considers the influences the Civil War and World War I amputees may have played on Baum’s writing of The Tin Woodman of Oz and what cultural lessons underlie his characterizations of prostheses, physical normalcy, and what constitutes a sense of self. 

Keywords: Disability, prostheses, amputee, Oz, World War 1, physical normalcy

Author Bio

A medical writer for more than two decades, Marie Geth­ins also has more than 80 creative writing publications. Marie is a Pushcart, Best of the Short Fictions, British Screenwriters Award Nominee and a recipient of the 2016 Frank O’Connor Bursary. In 2019, she presented academic papers at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA), Irish Association for American Studies (IAAS), Children’s Literature Association (ChLA), International Gothic Association (IGA), and Gothic Spaces Tokyo conferences. Awarded B.A.’s in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and Dra­matic Art/​Dance from U.C. Berke­ley, she has a Master of Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.

Suggested Citation

Gethins, M. (2020). The Tin Woodman, Captain Fyter, and Chopfyt: L. Frank Baum’s portrayal of body image and prostheses in the wake of World War I. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 7(1). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-1/the-tin-woodman-captain-fyter-and-chopfyt-l-frank-baums-portrayal-of-body-image-and-prostheses-in-the-wake-of-world-war-i/

Gethins, Marie. “The Tin Woodman, Captain Fyter, and Chopfyt: L. Frank Baum’s Portrayal of Body Image and Prostheses in the Wake of World War I.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol 7, no. 1. 2020. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-1/the-tin-woodman-captain-fyter-and-chopfyt-l-frank-baums-portrayal-of-body-image-and-prostheses-in-the-wake-of-world-war-i/

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