Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
As with many stories, this novel can be read from different perspectives. On one level, it posits the possibility of instant wish gratification and questions the moral implications of such a proposition: Would such power corrupt? and to what degree? What is the nature of such corruption? How much pleasure is too much? On another level, the novel is a somewhat bawdy romp filled with satiric pokes and jabs at small-town Americana.
It is through the everyday lives of the principal characters that these themes are explored, as well as others concerning religion, gender, and morality. The narrator guides the reader through Alexandra’s middle-aged doubts about herself and her consequent use of witchcraft to prop up her unexciting life. Chiefly through Alexandra, readers come to know how daily annoyances can be taken care of with a murmured spell, or a thought. Readers also see, however, the darker side to such power, as when Alexandra’s petulance causes the elderly Mrs. Lovecraft to break her hip. In the same way, Jane’s passion for the cello becomes an obsession under the tutelage of the devilish Darryl. In the end, her instrument lies in splinters, testament and analogy to her own shattered ambitions. Sukie’s caring, free-spirited innocence also undergoes a transformation, and she changes from the buoyant confidante of Alexandra into a vengeful witch.
Darryl might be thought of as both focus and source for the witches’ powers, yet he...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
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As it is in most of Updike's other longer works, the importance of the individual person's struggle to understand his or her place in the universe and comprehend the meaning of life are major themes in The Witches of Eastwick. Bereft of the comforts that conventional living provides to so many individuals, the three heroines are forced to look within themselves, and to each other, to discover some purpose for living. While he avoids being overly philosophical, Updike manages to place his heroines in situations where they must question their role as women and as mothers. Each confronts in some way a personal tragedy, causing all three to reflect on the transitory nature of life. Even their fecundity and their almost rapacious desire to engage in sexual activity have metaphysical implications: As they enjoy the fruits of behavior which leads to procreation and continuance of the species, they are forced to see that their own offspring are visible signs that a new generation is arising to replace them as they grow older. The presence of physical illness within the community— one of the witches suffers from what appears to be cancer—causes them to reflect on their own mortality.
A second important theme in the novel involves the universal conflict between good and evil. Set against the background of a New England community, allowing Updike to rely upon the traditions of a region that has been closely associated with witch trials in the past, the...
(The entire section is 708 words.)