Themes and Meanings
The self-destructive innocence of the creative artist and the corrupting power of commercialism are recurrent motifs in John Collier’s fiction, providing themes for such stories as “Evening Primrose,” “The Steel Cat,” and “The Invisible Dove Dancer of Strathpheen Island,” among others. As in “Evening Primrose,” the artist of “Witch’s Money” is killed because he is incapable of comprehending the meaning of money to those among whom he chooses to live.
The unnamed artist of “Witch’s Money” brings about his own death, much as the villagers later initiate their own catastrophe. Dazzled by the spectacle of the village, the artist forces himself on a reluctant Foiral. However, he speaks to Foiral with curtness and much contempt, impatient with working-class values and oblivious to the dangers presented by those long deprived of money and possessions. The artist fails to imagine Foiral’s depth of ignorance concerning banking, and he is unconcerned with the latter’s festering sense of injustice. However, the artist openly reveals the contents of his wallet and his checkbook. It is this combination of innocence, impatience, discourtesy, and tunnel vision that brings about his death.
The townspeople are, indeed, “very honest men,” until they are corrupted by the prospect of the artist’s wealth. From that time on, however, the killers become swollen with pride; they can neither speak to others nor be addressed, not even by their wives. The taint of corruption surrounds the marriages between old and young, while a village widow, in opening her home to “certain unattached young women” and giving “select” evening parties, introduces prostitution to a town that previously could not afford that particular vice. Similarly, the card players can now afford new cards. In short, the town experiences the results of capitalistic emphasis on money and possessions at the expense of human values. Moreover, the townspeople do not know when to stop, and, like the artist, undermine themselves, in this case by the decision to take the checks to Perpignan. As the villagers disappear through the bank doors, the reader is left uncertain as to their fate, but the “swing doors” suggest the doors of prisons and the swinging rope of the hangman.