Dorothy is one of the most familiar characters in American popular culture and in most political interpretations of The Wizard of Oz she represents, as Ranjit S. Dighe puts it, "the American people at their best."  Dorothy demonstrates that she's determined and resourceful, and she's loyal. Perhaps Dorothy embodies how Americans want to see themselves. According to Henry Littlefield, "Dorothy is Baum's Miss Everyman. She is one of us, levelheaded and human, and she has a real problem."  Hugh Rockoff expresses a similar view, "Dorothy represents America—honest, kindhearted and plucky."  Though Gretchen Ritter links Dorothy to a different political movement in her analysis, she offers a similar interpretation of Dorothy as "the all-American girl from the heartland, with a big heart, independence, and daring, a fine example of the sort of woman that the suffragettes had in mind when they promoted their cause." 
Jack Weatherford states that Dorothy represents "the average rural American citizen." She comes from Kansas, which was a Populist stronghold in the late-19th century. This leads Weatherford to believe that she was based on the "Populist orator Leslie Kelsey, nicknamed 'the Kansas Tornado'".  This would provide some insight on the imagery of the tornado in Baum's story. Salman Rushdie points out that Dorothy's last name, Gale, which means strong wind, suggests that Dorothy is the storm that blows over the Great Plains.
Those who see The Wizard of Oz in spiritual terms generally see Dorothy as the seeker of enlightenment or redemption. Regardless of background, the reader identifies with Dorothy. Dorothy's journey is our own spiritual quest. To Darren John Main, Dorothy represents the soul. Samuel Bousky argues that Dorothy represents the spirit while Toto represents the physical body. Dorothy's name is short for Dorothea, which means "Divine Gift" in Greek. Together these two characters represent the whole of humanity. Bousky likens Dorothy's quest to Job's in the Old Testament. Job was accompanied by three companions, and through some linguistic manipulation, Bousky equates their names with the characters accompanying Dorothy on the yellow brick road. 
The Baum family claimed that L. Frank Baum chose the name Dorothy because he liked the sound of it. They asserted that he did not base the character of Dorothy on anyone he knew.