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

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Wicked is a progressive narrative that treats witchcraft and the notion of witches with an irony not seen in previous accounts of this tale. For Maguire, "witch" is a label that is constructed by society. It is a label that provides an explanation for activities or events which are otherwise unexplained. Thus, for Glinda, her title as Witch of the North is silly, if not an insulting term for someone of her "social standing":

Well, you know how Munchkinlanders bow and scrape no matter what their democratic inclinations. No sooner had I arrived than they deferred to me, introducing me as a witch. I tried to correct them, a sorceress is really much more apt, but never mind. It was no doubt the outfit, it cowed them. I was on a salmon-pink fantasy that day, and really it suited me.

Similarly, for Elphaba, her label of witch is nothing more than an acceptance of difference: "People always did like to talk didn't they? That's why I call myself a witch now: the Wicked Witch of the West, if you want the full glory of it. As long as people are going to call you a lunatic anyway, why not get the benefit of it? It liberates you from convention". Thus, Wicked attempts to deconstruct traditional notions of otherness and difference, endearing the Wicked Witch of the West to its readers.

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

1. Discuss Maguire's ultimate message to the reader which lies in the following passage: "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 ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? It is at the very least a question of definitions." What is Maguire trying to say about the nature of the image of the witch in fiction? Can you think of other "witches" that are seen this way by fiction?

2. Elphaba's sexuality is ambiguous, first at her birth and later in her love affair with Fiyero. Why do you suppose Maguire chooses to blur the gender lines of her character?

3. Elphaba is a believer in conspiracy theories. How much influence do you believe that Madame Morrible had on the events that transpire within the novel?

4. Elphaba is a character embedded with difference from the very beginning of the novel. How significant is her greenness?

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Based on L. Frank Baum's character the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, Gregory Maguire's Wicked retells the famous children's tale from the perspective of the witch. A feminist account of the "life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West", Maguire's novel addresses both political and social concerns in the fictional world of Oz which reflect real world issues.

Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, embodies most of the novel's social concerns. It is through her various plights for social justice (on behalf of specific causes) that the novel progresses. The most notable social concerns within Wicked are issues surrounding religion, political unrest, and Animal/animal rights.

When Elphaba is born, Oz is beginning to see the first signs of religious dissent and upheaval that is to haunt her throughout life. In fact, on the eve of her birth, her minister father, Frex, ventures to speak against the "Tik Tok" thing visiting local areas. The Tik Tok thing is a mechanical device that travels through Oz and offers predictions for the future. These predictions encourage the "pleasure faith" and threaten religious beliefs in the "unnamed God" (a Christian deity of sorts) and in the pagan Lurline, a goddess figure. The dangerous nature of the Tik Tok creature reflects contemporary movements toward progressive technology. Thus, the novel chronicles the movement towards a dangerous technology by a society too ignorant to successfully cope with its advances. Meanwhile, Wicked raises important social criticism revolving around racism, gender bias, and problematic issues in education, among other things.

Religious dissent is closely related to issues...

(The entire section is 1,315 words.)