Study Guide

Something Wicked This Way Comes Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Ray Bradbury

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Clock Imagery

Clock imagery in Something Wicked This Way Comes is both literal and figurative. In a literal sense, the town clock is a major figure in the text. It is constantly striking the different hours of the day, letting us know exactly when we are in the novel: seven o'clock, nine o'clock, midnight, whatever the case may be. (It also has a brief cameo in its own right when Mr. Halloway pretends to talk to the clock when he is actually communicating with the boys.) But why exactly do we always need to know what time it is in the novel? What's the big deal here?

As we talk about in "Themes," different times of day have different meanings in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Evening is when danger and evil lurk, whereas daytime is pleasant and safe. Exact hours are critical, too. Three in the morning, Charles Halloway muses, is the hour when "the soul is out" and "you are the nearest to dead you'll ever be save dying" (14.12). It's a horrible time of day, so it's little wonder that the carnival chooses exactly that moment to roll into town. Think also about Will and Jim, born on either side of midnight, a miniscule difference that determines so much of their personalities. (See "Character Analysis" for more.)

Clocks are also used figuratively in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Mr. Halloway describes women as "strange wonderful clocks" (14.20), and Mr. Dark directs the Dust Witch to stop "the janitor's clock" (43.77). People, then, are thought of in the novel as clocks. This brings us to that carousel, which really does treat the people of the town like clocks – it actually winds them forward or backward. But as you would know if you've ever took a screwdriver to your family TV to find out how it worked, messing with internal mechanisms is tricky business. The carousel tends to engender more horror than pleasure in the people it alters. Thinking more on people as clocks, we can't help but notice that it really ties people to Time, as in, clocks are always running forward at a regular speed. The carousel interrupts that mechanism and creates great psychic trauma.


Shivers went down our spine when we read that scene in Chapter 35 when the Dwarf stares at Will and Jim taking pictures with his eyes. "Blinkety-click"? Shiver.

This idea of eyes as mechanic recording devices pervades the novel and crops up in other less creepy contexts. There are at least two instances when Will is startled because his brain has finally "processed" what his eyes have seen. First, he wakes up out of sound sleep in Chapter 29 when he realizes that the lightning rod on Jim's roof was gone. He had seen the house earlier, of course, but hasn't fully realized what he was seeing until later. Secondly, when he is in Miss Foley's house, Will is reaching for something to say to her and her nephew when his brain "processes" the sign outside Mr. Crosetti's shop door labeling it closed on account of illness. Both these descriptions parallel the Dwarf's experience, albeit in a less creepy, less mechanical fashion. Could this suggest that the Dwarf is still capable of human experience, but a radically altered, very messed up form of human experience?

We're most interested in this mechanic approach to vision, but eyes and sight play a big role in other ways too. While the carnival may radically change a person's body, his or her eyes never alter. The boys are thus able to identify "Robert" as Mr. Cooger, for example. This passage on the Dwarf connects well to this concept:

And in his eyes were the lost bits and fitful pieces of a man named Fury who had sold lightning rods how many days how many years ago in the long, the easy, the safe and wondrous time before this fright was born. (35.25)

Given their unchanging nature in the novel, it appears that eyes really are the window into the soul, that essential part of our humanity.

Other imagery dealing with eyes that you might want to think about include the five eyes tattooed on the back of Mr. Dark's fingers (creepy!), the Witch's blindness, and the ways in general that eyes may be a limited form of experience. Can you trust your eyes in this novel? Sight is not always desirable, as in the case of the Mirror Maze, where characters are sometimes horrified by the things they see reflected back at them.

Summer vs. Autumn

This has been covered in detail elsewhere (check out the themes of "Good vs. Evil" and "Time" for more), but we wanted to remind you again of this powerful motif in the novel. In Chapter 38, Mr. Halloway defines the carnival people as autumn people, or, in other words, Evil. Based on newspaper research, he learns that the carnival comes to Green Town only in October. In some of the most beautiful language in the novel, he talks about how the carnival is made up of people who live in perpetual autumn, or, in other words, reside in and feed off of evil.

Presented in opposition to autumn is summer. (Which is why you should check out Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, because it covers summer in Green Town.) Mr. Halloway, our resident guru on good vs. evil, tells Will and Jim that they are sometimes summer people and sometimes autumn people. Both tendencies, the good and the bad, live within us.

The Storm

Chapter 1 opens with a lightning-rod salesman declaring that a storm is coming. No storm arrives. Literally speaking, anyway. Instead of old-fashioned thunder and lightning, we get an evil carnival. The lightning-rod salesman moreover warns that the storm will strike Jim's house rather than Will's, and this is true, after a fashion. Jim is far more susceptible and attracted to the temptations of the dangerous carnival than his friend Will. In short, no literal storm arrived, but a big old metaphorical one blustered in.


We just have to talk about that Mirror Maze. The way Bradbury describes it, once you step into the mirror maze you are lost in a sea, an army of your own image multiplied a billion times back at you. We imagine this would enough to drive anyone crazy, and definitely cause those in middle-age like Miss Foley to get depressed over a couple wrinkles. There's some deep metaphor here, however, that's just perfect for adolescents with self-esteem issues. We're talking about the way in which Charles Halloway breaks the eerie magic of the Mirror Maze – by accepting and loving himself for who he is, just as he is, wrinkles and all.