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.)