Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

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Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In both L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz (1900) and Victor Fleming's film version of the tale (1939), the story is less concerned with the "wizard" than the "witch". In the film and Baum's novel, the Wicked Witch of the West is, from the very beginning of the tale, a wicked woman devoid of emotion. In the original tale, before Dorothy's adventure begins, the Wicked Witch of the West is Miss Gulch, a mean spirited woman who seeks to terminate the life of young Dorothy's puppy Toto: "Oh! You Wicked Old Witch!" exclaims Dorothy at the thought. In terms of appearance, the Wicked Witch of the West is a striking stereotypical figure with her bright green face, rotten teeth, black gown, pointed hat, pointed chin and long scraggly fingernails. We are not surprised at her appearance or her demeanor because they adhere to the image of a witch and her representative "badness"—witches ride broom sticks, live in forests and dark and gloomy castles, and are bad for no other reason than because they just are. Thus, The Wizard of Oz (the film and the novel) makes extensive use of our conventional body of knowledge for fantasy. It is, therefore, fitting that Gregory Maguire's feminist novel which gives an account of the witch of Oz is called Wicked. While L. Frank Baum's "Wicked" Witch of the West is a one-dimensional stereotype, Maguire's "witch" has substance. To begin with, she has a name.

Naming the "witch" is an integral step in bringing the reader closer to the presence of the supernatural character in stories that rework traditional tales of witches. In almost every one-dimensional extreme (or male centered/authored) account of supernatural women, these characters are nameless and identified only by the evilness or goodness they presumably embody. This is particularly the case in fairy tales such as Snow White and Cinderella (who have evil nameless stepmothers), Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel (who have evil witches), and in this particular case, in the The Wizard of Oz (where the good witch is named, but the bad witch is not). However, in Maguire's Wicked, the Wicked Witch of the West is called Elphaba.

Wicked begins with an explanation of Elphabia's birth. She is born to Brother Frexspar (a minister) and Melena of Colwen Grounds, a woman of nobility who leaves her comforts to live in Rush Margins with her preacher husband. Maguire makes reference to the image of both "witch" and "woman" often throughout the novel, as Elphabia struggles with her own ongoing otherness (to begin with, she is born green). Further, he works to incorporate the notions of social labeling and alienation of self image within his work: "Now I just think it's our own lives that are hidden from us. The mystery—who is that person in the mirror—that's shocking and unfathomable enough for me". Maguire's "witch" is aware of how others see her. She is, at times, detached from herself and unable to identify with her own image which is imposed upon her by outside forces. Elphaba lives the deconstruction process. Shunned and treated with contempt by her own family from an early age, Elphaba has difficulty forming close relationships with other people. Her own father believes she is nothing more than a punishment for his religious failings. This feeling is strengthened by Elphaba's aversion to water, which suggests a refusal of baptism. A self confessed atheist who does not believe she has a soul, Elphaba struggles to find her place in a world that makes no room for green women.

Elphaba is also full of political ambitions. Her "wickedness" becomes the plight of the othered, struggling in the face of social denial and oppression in a rebellion against a culture which denies her (and others like her) a fair existence. While her own identity is troublesome, Elphaba is a strong willed woman who defies social norms. Indeed, as Nanny profoundly notes, "little green Elphaba chose her own sex, and her own color, and to hell with her parents". With such a strong sense of difference from an...

(The entire section is 2,139 words.)