When Howl and Sophie are rushing back to the moving castle to fight off Miss Angorian for the last time, Sophie shouts, "I'm the eldest! […] I'm a failure!" and Howl replies, "Garbage! […] You just never stop to think!" (21.63). And the thing is, Howl is totally right: Sophie's biggest problem in the bookis that she reacts without thinking.
For example, when the Witch turns Sophie into an old woman, she just ups and walks out of Market Chipping without talking to her family. When Sophie sees Howl and Miss Angorian, she just assumes that he's going after her romantically. (Okay—Howl encourages Sophie to believe that as well, but she never thinks twice about what motivations he might have beyond the obvious.)
However, as we learn over the course of Howl's Moving Castle, nobody acts in this novel without a million motivations. All of their choices are complicated and tough to judge at first glance, and by avoiding snap judgments and finding out more about each character's plans, we get a very different sense of their real morality and ethics than often appears at first.
Questions About Morality and Ethics
- Are there any characters that are unambiguously immoral in this novel? Who are they, and do we have a sense of what makes them that way? Who in the book expresses sympathy for these characters, and why?
- In what ways might some aspects of Sophie's behavior be considered immoral? What does she come to regret about her behavior? How does she try to make amends?
- Various people have different moral and ethical judgments of Howl. Whose judgment comes closest to yours? How do you view Howl's moral choices?
Chew on This
In spite of the Witch of the Waste's violent aggression toward Howl and the people he loves, Howl expresses unique sympathy for the Witch of the Waste's isolation because he recognizes a possible future for himself if he fails to break his contract with Calcifer.
While both Sophie and Megan accuse Howl of irresponsibility and unreliability, Megan's accusations are sharper and appear less justified because she literally does not live in the same world that Howl does.