Here we are with my second post for today! The Themes of Wicked!
Perhaps, one of the most obvious themes in Wicked, there are many instances in which radicalized religion is criticized. The largest of these instances being Nessa, who terrorizes Munchkinland with her love for the Unnamed God. It is how she gets the name The Wicked Witch of the East. She uses magic because she believes it will keep people loyal and loyal to the Unnamed God. Throughout the book her radicalized view and preaching is played off as a joke and as a serious warning. Nessa takes the religion she was indoctrinated into, in some ways, forces it upon many of those around her.
However, it is not simply Nessa and her Unnamed God. The Ozmists, who believe that Ozma will return and worship her, do some crazy things. There is no right or wrong religion in this book. The book simply makes a comment on the power and the issue with radicalized religion, and its effects not only on the person radicalized, but the populations in which they touch.
The book also makes a comment on people in power and being radicalized, in the case with Nessarose.
Easily put as the difference between animals, Animals, and humans. As well as the differences between the human races: Winkies, Quadlings, Gillikinese, Gilikuns, and Munchkins. Quadlings are thought to be stupid, and are murdered for it. Animals (capital A) lose their rights and must become animals (lowercase) because they lose their rights. What truly separates them? Dr. Dillamond tries to research it and ends up dead for it.
Throughout everything Elphaba is ostracized due to her skin and she questions her existence as a human due to it. The novel touches on how this racism affects mindsets and can be spread, as well as how it can destroy identities.
Wind and Death
Throughout the novel the wind is paired with death. Where there is wind, there is death. The wind also travels with evil, but more often than not it is paired with death. The characters seem to really notice the wind there.
I think this speaks to the fact that death is ever present and it’s only when we feel it personally, that we notice it. Such is the same for wind. Most days we would not notice the wind, unless it strikes or touches us personally.
The Nature of Being Evil
As we transition from this point on, the following sections are going to flow more together, as they feed into and off of each other.
“When goodness removes itself the space it occupies corrodes and becomes evil, and maybe splits apart and multiplies. So every evil thing is a sign of the absence of deity.”pg 80
What is it to be wicked? To be evil? To be irredeemable? This question is asked throughout the series in specific regards to Elphaba. Elphaba is born with teeth and with green skin. She is said to be sin in the flesh. However she is also said to have been born with the weapons to protect herself from the evils of the world.
Regardless of the truth, Elphaba becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. She falls into “evil” while trying her best to be good. With all that she is, she becomes what others define themselves as evil.
Yet what is evil?
“Wrong takes and awful long time to be proven, in my experience.”pg 103
Throughout the book, all those who are said to be evil, those who are given the title, are those who are seeking to do the most good. They are trying to save lives, help people, fight for rights, and turn out on the wrong side of history and are labeled aptly for it. It is not until later books that this evilness is revoked as history is revised again, but it does make it clear that in some ways history decides who is evil.
Throughout this book those who are evil, are those who do no conform. The ones who fight back, or speak up, or have their own ideals tat are unapologetically their own and make them outsiders — they are the evil ones. Nessa, Dr. Dillamond, Elphaba. And it’s through their eyes that we see how they see evil, as injustice within the world and the actions that are taken.
Does this mean that they are evil? Or the things they perceive as evil are?
In the case of Elphaba, no. For she views herself as wicked and evil, and horrible. Often these titles are associated with her mistakes that she couldn’t save lives and so their lives are on her hands. She could not protect those she needed to and thus she is evil for it.
History would say yes, and as the quote above says, all her mistakes prove to her that she has never been good.
However this is not the central idea that the book asks.
“To the grim poor there need be no pour quoi tale about where evil arises; it just arises; it always is. One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her — is it ever the right choice? Does the devil struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? It is at the very least a question of definitions.”pg 231
Elphaba was slated to be evil in the eyes of all those around her from the moment that she was born, and given no real opportunity to prove otherwise. While at Shiz this continues, and when she tries to do something she kills her lover. Elphaba is so worried about having been cursed by Madame Morrible, that she falls into this predestined fate while trying to run from it.
She becomes evil as she tries to run from it.
So was she always born to be evil? Does her story prove that there is no way to escape the destiny that is laid before you? I don’t believe so. I also do not believe that Elphaba was evil. For all that she calls herself evil for, are her human traits, traits she was ostracized for, simply by existing.
“When the times are a crucible, when the air is full of crisis… those who are the most themselves are the victims.”pg 238
This book tells us that evil is not necessarily the absence of good, but rather the decay and corruption of conformity. That there is always the struggle but once history and the people have labeled you, evil is where you remain. People want a criminal and want someone to blame. We have seen time and time again that true evil is not those who are different, but rather those who believe truly and fully that they are good and right.
“People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us. It’s the people who claim that they’re good, or anyway better than the rest of us, that you have to be weary of.”pg 357
The Nature of Being Good
What is it to be good? If it is the opposite of evil, then is it conformity? Or rather is it the notion of doing actions and creating consequences with complete confidence that you are doing the right thing. That this is the way it is, should be, and will be. That they are good, because they say and fully believe they are good.
Whereas evil is thrust upon us by outside factors who look upon us as she struggle to try to be anything else. Goodness is something that one perceives in themselves. It is not a label that is given, it is one you give and name for yourself.
‘ “I’m not,” he said. “I’m good.” ‘pg 206
So when characters call themselves good, is it no surprise that they are, in many ways, the most morally unjust of the characters? Or the ones who die? They are the ones who create situations in which others become blamed or are hurt. They think themselves right and just and essentially are the ones who do the most damage.
Where goodness is the opposite of evil. Goodness is the morally unjust actions claimed for a higher purpose or to be done with such in mind.
“Well, the family always was bright, and brightness, as you know, decays brilliantly. Madness is the most shining anyway.”pg 131
If we are born to be evil, can they ever be good? History says that the title can be revoked, however this happens in time.
It is not the true good that is remembered, but the true evil.
Blindness, Naivety, and Ignorance
” ‘This is why you shouldn’t fall in love, it blinds you. Love is wicked distraction.’pg 197
‘I know this: The wickedness of men is that their power breeds stupidity and blindness,’ she said.
‘And of women?’
‘Women are weaker, but their weakness is full of cunning and an equally rigid moral certainty. Since their arena is smaller, their capacity for real damage is less alarming. Though being more intimate they are the more treacherous.’ ”
Throughout the book we see cases of ignorance, either willful or otherwise. One of the best examples is Glinda. When she begins the book she is Galinda, by the time she is Glinda, she has seen harsh truths of the world and has reinvented herself. Later after Elphaba leaves her, she becomes Saint Glinda, once more returning to ignorance.
There are times in which the novel speaks about things where people change because they understand. In the case above it is because of love blinding. In another it is because people don’t understand that they can have children to bring into the horrible world.
Regardless of the case, many characters, if not all, are plagued by some sort of ignorance that leaves them unable to see the truths of their world. In many cases, this is what destroys them.
What is a Soul
This is in some ways a question of what it means to be alive and to exist. Throughout the book Elphaba struggles with what the difference between Animals, animals, and humans amounts to. Is it the soul? Well what determines a soul.
And if it is. then is Elphaba a human? For she has no soul (or at least she does not believe to have one).
“All souls are hostages to their human envelopes, but souls must decay and suffer at such indignity, don’t you agree?”pg 13
I find that this book has a lot to say not only on the nature of a soul, but on being human. Outside of not looking like alike, what does it mean to be human? To care? To want to save others? To empathize? To sympathize? To exist?
And what about those who don’t at all times, or can’t, or were born knowing the terrors of the world? What of those who are able to experience the world in a way that in not inherently the same?
Who is to say what or what doesn’t have a soul? What is a soul? Is it what makes us humans? Is it what makes us redeemable? Is it what makes us exist? Or is it a part that can be given and taken. Can a person be born without a soul?
“I never use the words humanist or humanitarian, as it seems to me that to be human is to be capable of the most heinous crimes in nature.”pg 187
In this book, the lack of a soul is what is used to define monsters. But in many ways I feel that the book shows that it is not that these people lack souls. Rather it is that they care, that they do exist, but they do not fit into what society defines as good and correct. Their soul is not what society says a soul is, because their values and morals are different.
So often in history it is that concept that has created the othering of peoples. Their values, morals, ideals, and lives are different from our own and they may not have souls. Its not that you don’t have one, its that society doesn’t respect the one you have.
The novel touches on destiny in a way that proves that destiny does and does not happen. Instead of saying that destiny happens because it was predetermined, it’s saying destiny happened because you willed it to happen.
“Nothing is written in the stars. Not these stars, nor any others. No one controls your destiny.”pg 239
The only person who controls their own destiny, is the person themself. When Elphaba got told that she would become a pawn and rule the west, she ran and did all she could to avoid that fate ultimately becoming a pawn and ruling the west. She did it to escape and ultimately made it happen. She sent her sister to the east and left Glinda to fend for herself. Destiny happened because the people living their lives took their lives into their own hands to respond to the world around them.
This book proves that mentality is what changes everything. If you think you are destined to be something, you will become it. Not because it is your destiny, but because you were so single focused on it that you became it. In a world where you can be anything, you are the one who decides what you will be.
Memory and Stories; The Oziad
Out of all the themes in this book, the use of stories and memories is the one that drives so much of this plot, and concepts. It is through stories that we learn of the history of the world, as well as what is happening in the world. However, I think that this concept is what the book sets out to do and ultimately does the best.
We can examine all the other themes forever, but it is the concept of a story, of a memory, that ultimately is what this book drives home.
“So you can disappear and not be dead.”pg 282
In a world where stories circle and memories are passed on. People can live on even after they are gone. For a person is never truly gone until they are fully forgotten. Someone can disappear from your life and not be dead, for its the memories and stories about them that keep them alive with you.
However, not all stories are written. Not everything is figured out, and even if something ends it does not mean it was the ending.
“Well?” she said.pg 375
“Well what?” he answered.
“Where’s the rest of the play?”
… “Who said the end was written yet?”
I feel as if, so often, people are caught up in the ending that they forget the middle. Yes, having a direction of where to go is important, but stories don’t end until we get to the ending and until it is written we have a lot more to see.
I feel as if memories are the same way. Yes there are endings within them, but not all endings are the end of the story, of the person’s story and of yours. Things may seem like they are over, and perhaps they are, but stories are passed and learned from. Memories are remembered.
People stay with us forever and experiences guide us. In a world where no one wants to know how the Wicked Witch became Wicked… Where all any one cares about is the happy ending… this book reminds us that there is always a story and that story may not be over.
“And there the wicked old Witch stayed, for a good long time.”pg 247
“Did she ever come out?”