There was once an ordinary man by the name of Nick Chopper (the name first appearing in The Marvelous Land of Oz), the Tin Woodman used to make his living chopping down trees in the forests of Oz, as his father had before him. He was in love with a girl and intended to marry her. His sweetheart was working for a lazy old woman who wasn’t happy about two young people falling in love.
The lazy old woman didn’t want to lose her Munchkin maiden who she kept as a servant, so she bribed The Wicked Witch of the East to enchant Chopper’s axe to prevent him from marrying his sweetheart. (In a later book of the series, The Tin Woodman of Oz, the woman is said to be the Witch’s servant, and it is the Witch herself who decides to enchant Nick’s axe.) The enchanted axe chopped off his limbs, one by one. Each time he lost a limb, Ku-Klip the tinsmith replaced it with a prosthetic limb made of tin. Finally, nothing was left of him but tin. However, Ku-Klip, the tinsmith who helped him, neglected to replace his heart. Once Nick Chopper was made entirely of tin, he was no longer able to love the lady he had fallen for.
His desire for a heart notably contrasts with the Scarecrow’s desire for brains, reflecting a common debate between the relative importance of the mind and the emotions. This occasions philosophical debate between the two friends as to why their own choices are superior; neither convinces the other and Dorothy, listening, is unable to decide which one is right. Symbolically, because they remain with Dorothy throughout her quest, she is provided with both and does not have to choose just one. The Tin Woodman states unequivocally that he has neither heart nor brain, but cares nothing for the loss of his brain. Towards the end of the novel, though, Glinda praises his brain as not quite that of the Scarecrow’s.
The Tin Woodman appeared in most of the Oz books that followed. In The Tin Woodman of Oz, Nick Chopper finally sets out to find his lost love, Nimmie Amee but discovers that she has already married Chopfyt, a man constructed partly out of his own dismembered and discarded limbs. For the Tin Woodman, this encounter with his former fiancée is almost as jarring as his experiences being transformed into a tin owl, meeting another tin man, Captain Fyter, and conversing with his ill-tempered original head.