Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury
Tools of Characterization
Actions, or the lack thereof sometimes, help to characterize the two boys and their relationship to one another. Think about the betrayal Will feels, for instance, when Jim slips out of the house for a nighttime adventure without him. Consider how they often alter their natural actions for the sake of their friendship: "Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim" (3.8). Lastly, think about how Will tries valiantly to prevent Jim from riding the carousel, going so far as to punch his best friend in the nose, and how Jim really does seem to be running off to the carousel every chance he gets. Their actions with respect to one another are a good marker of the health of their friendship.
Actions are also important in defining the character of Charles, who is initially portrayed as a remote, somewhat doddering old man. The extraordinary courage he displays in the face of evil, however, illustrates the changes in his character that occur over the course of the novel.
With names like "Mr. Dark" and "Fury," this one is a biggie. Characters' names are a great indication of their nature. Mr. Dark is a very wicked man. Jim Nightshade is drawn to the dark side. (Also, interestingly, "The Deadly Nightshade" is a kind of poisonous plant that we advise you avoid eating. On that note, we have another study question for you: how might Jim in some ways be "poisonous" to his friend Will?) Tom Fury's specialty was the fury of storms. "Halloway" is almost "Halloween," and Will was born just before the spooky holiday.
Names are also important when it comes to the carnival freaks' scary names, which are usually related to their particular act. Monsieur Guillotine chops off heads, for instance, and Mr. Electrico gets electrocuted. Mr. Dark is adamant that he is the Illustrated Man, not the tattooed man. We think that Illustrated means that the images on his body have narratives or stories attached; they are illustrations of events that have happened. As most of the images on his body are of the freaks he lured to the carnival, this is a plausible explanation.
Will is blond, while Jim is dark-haired. Guess which one was born before midnight, and which one after, on the day of Halloween? In terms of physical appearance, Will is light while Jim is dark, helping to visually define some of the personality traits we associate with each of them – i.e., Will is unerringly good while Jim is drawn to the dark side.
Don't forget, also, that the way each of the freaks is described physically highlights their truly evil nature. Much has been said elsewhere in the guide about the Witch's "mummy-linen ears" and "dry-rivulet river-sand brow" (44.31). You can also think about how the Dwarf is a "squashed" version of Tom Fury. Shiver.