Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 708 words.)