Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Set in a typical small New England town, The Witches of Eastwick offers a witty, irreverent, and pointed glimpse of small-town people and values, but with a twist. The three main characters are witches, and amid local gossip, scandal, and sorcery, they seek the perfect relationship by any means.
The Witches of Eastwick is divided into three chapters. These sections (“The Coven,” “Malefica,” and “Guilt”) respectively introduce the players and the situation, resolve the various conflicts that arise, and detail the aftermath. The story is related by an unseen, omniscient narrator who is a town resident.
The story begins as the three principal characters, Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont—all divorced, and whose former husbands are literally gathering dust on shelves in their homes—prepare to meet at Sukie’s for one of their weekly “Thursdays.” At such rendezvous, the three relax with a few drinks, gossip about the latest affairs they are having with various tired Eastwick husbands, and practice witchcraft.
During the first section of the novel, the narrator details the minutiae of life in Eastwick; however, the focus remains largely on the three witches, the various tricks and pranks they play (at times outright nasty), and their own boredom-generated affairs. The reader becomes acquainted with Alexandra’s deep, earthy rootedness and power; with Jane’s cranky, precise nature and passion for music; and with Sukie’s good-natured, inquisitive sensuality.
Darryl Van Horne makes his appearance at a community concert. Ostensibly, he has come to Eastwick to further his aim of inventing a solar-energy-collecting paint, but little is actually known of Darryl. The...
(The entire section is 719 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Jane Smart, Alexandra Spofford, and Sukie Rougemont are divorced single mothers in a small town in Rhode Island. They are also witches. One day in September, Jane tells Alexandra that a new man has moved to town, a New Yorker. Alexandra begins to reflect on her past as she returns to putting away the jars of spaghetti sauce she has made from her summer tomato crop. She continues these reflections as she walks her dog Coal on the beach.
Alexandra is an artist; she sculpts small clay figurines of women and sells them locally. Jane is a cellist and teaches piano. Sukie writes a gossip column for the local newspaper. They meet every Thursday for drinks and talk. At their next meeting, they discuss Greta, the awful wife of Raymond Neff, with whom Jane plays music. They also talk about Darryl Van Horne, the town’s newest resident.
On Sunday night, Jane and Neff play in a concert at the Unitarian church. Van Horne attends. He talks to Alexandra about her sculptures, and she decides that she hates him. Jane meets him, and he critiques her performance and makes suggestions about her playing. Ed Parsley, the minister, joins them, as does Sukie. Van Horne reveals that he is attempting to invent some sort of protective coating that generates electricity.
Sukie is the first to visit Van Horne, and she publishes a newspaper story about him. She tells Alexandra that Van Horne wants to get to know all of them. Alexandra reflects on her life and her struggles with depression. She is waiting for something to happen. Sukie is attracted to her editor, Clyde; she talks about his wife Felicia’s obsession with causes. Jane is practicing pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach at Van Horne’s suggestion. The women think about visiting the newcomer.
Alexandra takes Coal for a walk on the beach near the Lenox mansion, the house Van Horne has bought. He happens upon her and persuades her to come into his house. When she notices the smells of sulfur, he explains that there is a laboratory in the house. Van Horne encourages Alexandra to try sculpting larger pieces, and he tells her that he knows of a gallery where she might be able to sell them.
The three witches visit Van Horne together, and soon a tennis match on his new court is in progress. Sukie and Van Horne play against Jane and Alexandra. Afterward, Sukie leaves, but the two remaining women bathe with Van Horne in a huge teak tub he has had custom built for a room with a skylight. This will be the first of many such baths. They smoke a joint and discuss men and women and the history of withchcraft. Sukie returns and joins them, having checked on her children. The women caress one another, listen to Janis Joplin, and, when they all leave the bath, bring the naked Van Horne to orgasm. They will become a subject of town gossip that...
(The entire section is 1151 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Witches of Eastwick is a diabolical comedy—a novel that explores the uses and abuses of power in its diverse forms in an age of moral and social confusion and that resolves itself in marriage. Like Rabbit Redux, the novel is set during the first year or so of the Richard Nixon presidency, an era of protest, discontent, and polarization. The setting is a small town in Rhode Island called Eastwick. In Rabbit Redux, Updike portrays a rather powerless Rabbit as witness to cultural disintegration and moonlike spiritual barrenness in the context of the late 1960’s. In The Witches of Eastwick, though he wrote the book in the early 1980’s, Updike goes back to the same polarized period but explores the female perspective and the emerging new feminist synthesis. As the power of patriarchy “wastes” itself in yet another war—this time the seemingly endless war in Vietnam—women are rediscovering the old goddesses, the old sources of unity, integration, and power. Yet, like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Updike shows that power unmindful of history and exploitative of nature constitutes an evil that produces death and guilt.
The “witches” of the title refer to three divorcees, Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont, who have become close friends, meeting each Thursday and speaking often over the telephone, and who have discovered the power of sisterhood as well as some ancient feminine powers. The term “witch” is meant to refer to free women and to imply the discovery of neopagan powers—an inner direction, a sense of nature as sacred, a rejection of such dualisms as body and soul and of various political hierarchies. This hypothesis, represented by the three women, is challenged by the demonic figure of Darryl Van Horne, who takes them all as lovers and proves later to be a confidence man.
The novel is divided into three parts, “The Coven,” “Malefica,” and “Guilt,” which suggest a progression from the women’s newly found power and independence through an encounter with the demoniac to a rediscovery of responsibility. In “The Coven,” the portrayal of the three women shows...
(The entire section is 885 words.)