Study Guide

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Fate and Free Will

By Gregory Maguire

Fate and Free Will

Why shouldn't I know if I was being a pawn of the Wizard? I could tell when I was being manipulated by that harridan, Madame Morrible. I learned something about prevarication and straight talking back at Crage Hall. (3.12.14)

Ah, the irony. Poor young Elphaba is pretty cocky, confident that she showed Madame Morrible who was boss. Scenes like this really contrast to Elphaba's crushing doubt at the end of the novel, when she no longer knows if she's in charge of her own life or not.

The word adept sent chills down Elphie's spine. Was Nessarose even now responding to some sort of spell that Madame Morrible had placed on her ...? Was she in fact a pawn, an Adept of the Wizard or of Madame Morrible? Did she know why she did what she did? For that matter, was Elphaba herself merely a playing piece of a higher, evil power? (4.3.1.10)

Stopping to figure out why you're doing something is probably tricky enough without adding a crazy, manipulative headmistress to the mix. The use of the word "adept" here and throughout the book is really interesting. Adept can mean a sort of apprentice or person in training, which is how Morrible meant it. But "adept" can also mean skilled. This is the meaning that Dorothy points out at the end of the novel. Elphaba is worried that she's being manipulated unknowingly by Morrible, and she becomes increasingly anxious about her own worth and ability as she grows older.

Either accept the burden of leadership or turn it down, but either way make sure it's your choice in the matter, and not an accident of history, a martyrdom by default. (4.3.6.83)

Elphaba's parting pep talk to Nessa is all about choice and free will. It's interesting that Elphaba references "accidents of history" here. This recalls the book's epigraph from Tolstoy (see "What's Up with the Epigraph?" for more detail on that) and foreshadows Elphaba's own fate as the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, who was arguably more of an "accident" than an actual person.

"You saw fiends with knives behind every chair, you always did" said Nessarose. "I don't think that Madame Morrible had any real power. She was a manipulative woman, but her power was very limited, and in our naiveté we saw her as a villain." (4.3.6.54)

Aside from suggesting that her sister is a paranoid nut who probably lurks on conspiracy theory websites and thinks the moon landing was a hoax, Nessa also introduces a cool idea of "real power." Is there fake power? Well, Nessa means that Morrible didn't have enough power to determine major political events. But the idea is interesting to consider in terms of Elphaba. The Wizard seems very wary of her, but how much power and influence and control does Elphaba have?

I just mean, Glinda, is it possible we could be living our entire adult lives under someone's spell? How could we tell if we were the pawns of someone's darker game? (5.3.75)

Elphaba's big question is kind of scary, too, in a sort of Matrix, Truman Show, 1984 Big Brother kind of way. How can you tell if you're under someone's control? The idea of a "pawn" also acts as a recurring motif in the later chapters of the book. Pawns suggest that a sort of chess game is being played, and chess is all about strategy and choice, which is a cool tie in to the themes of fate and free will.

I am the silent partner. I work through events, I live on the sidelines. I dabble in causes and effects, I watch how the misbegotten creatures of this world live their lives.... To some extent I can see what's coming, and to that extent I meddle in the affairs of men and beasts. (5.8.22)

The dwarf is super melodramatic. He's basically portraying himself as a kind of god here; he "meddles" in people's lives, predicting what's going to happen. The use of the word "partner" is curious, though. The dwarf later denies working directly with Yackle, so who exactly is he a partner to? Is he the partner of fate itself?

I was a tool. My dear father used me ...he used me as an object lesson. Looking as I did, even singing as I can – they trusted him partly as a response to the freakishness of me. (3.6.9)

We don't generally like to indulge in easy pop psychology, but Elphaba's issues with manipulation and control really do date back to her childhood. She probably needs therapy! Elphaba's problem isn't just with the fact that Frex used her; she also has a serious beef with the effect that manipulation had on the Quadlings.

But surely the curse was on the land of Oz, not on her. (Prologue.31)

Several characters, most of them from the Other World, refer to Oz as cursed: the Wizard, Dorothy, the dwarf, Elphaba herself. Is the curse the presence of all the Other World people in Oz?

"I never believed in child saviors," Elphaba said. "As far as I'm concerned, children are the ones who need saving." (4.2.8.39)

Elphaba might be right on here; after all, Dorothy is more of a destroyer than a savior in the novel. This idea of child saviors ties into ideas of prophecies and destiny, too, which Elphaba doesn't approve of. We guess a friendship between Harry Potter and Elphaba just wouldn't work out. Bummer.

You have shown no sign of interest in sorcery and I don't claim you have any natural aptitude. But your splendid lone-wolf spit and spirit can be harnessed, oh yes it can, and you needn't live a life of unfulfilled rage. (2.3.6.33)

Madame Morrible's assessment here isn't all that accurate; Elphaba really does have a "natural aptitude" for sorcery. It's interesting that, while Elphaba is concerned (even obsessed) with the idea that Morrible is controlling her life, Morrible's actual predictions for her future "adepts" weren't entirely accurate.

"Beware whom you serve," said the Wizard of Oz. (2.3.8.76)

The Wizard might have a career in writing fortune cookies if the whole crazy dictator thing doesn't work out. Our main question here is whom he was cautioning Glinda and Elphaba against. Himself? Madame Morrible? This idea of "serving" is interesting, too, since Elphaba refers to herself as a "handmaiden" more than once. Elphaba seems to spend her entire life feeling like she's serving something, but what is that something exactly?

"When the times are a crucible, when the air is full of crisis," she said, "those who are the most themselves are the victims." ..."But the choice to save yourself can itself be deadly," said the Princess Nastoya. (4.1.3.24-6)

The Wizard might have some competition in the fortune cookie business. Nastoya says a lot of stuff that doesn't fully make sense to us. She's a big fan of paradoxes, or statements that seem contradictory but really have some truth in them.

The first sentence here seems to suggest that people who are firmly rooted in their identities have a bad time in a crisis since they can't adapt to change very well. Elphaba, stubborn as she is, fits the bill there.

The last bit is really confusing, though: how can saving yourself be deadly? Nastoya may be referring to some sort of spiritual death here; if saving yourself involves changing yourself, then you lose yourself and "die," in a sense. There are a lot of no-win situations at work here, and we still aren't entirely clear on what Nastoya means.

"Listen to me, sister," she said. "Remember this: Nothing is written in the stars. Not these stars, nor any other. No one controls your destiny." (4.1.3.43)

OK, we're back on board with Princess Nastoya now, because this is pretty straightforward. These also sound like song lyrics. The "any other" star reference is definitely intriguing, though. Is Nastoya aware that Elphaba is half from the Other World?

For who was in thrall to whom, really? And could it ever be known? Each agent working in collusion and antagonism – like the cold and the sun alike creating a deadly spear of ice. (4.3.7.4)

"In thrall" basically means under someone's control. "Thrall" is an interesting word choice here, since it implies a sort of spell. A person can be enthralled (mesmerized or obsessed) by someone or something. The last part of the sentence is the start of a really interesting style shift in the book. We hear about Manek's death rather abruptly, then sort of travel backward through Elphaba's thoughts, with poetic references to the sun and the ice, and Sarima's hot and cold types of anger, until we reach the moment when Elphaba loosed the ice spear and killed Manek.

"Act Three," he said. "The Marriage of the Sacred and the Wicked."

She waited, but no area was illuminated, no puppet moved.

"Well?" she said.

"Well what?" he answered.

"Where's the end of the play?"

He stuck his head out of a trap door and winked at her. "Who said the end was written yet?" he answered. (5.8.39-44)

This play was a total rip-off. But the dwarf was apparently channeling Princess Nastoya, since he has the same "written in the stars" idea of destiny. The differences in tone between Nastoya's destiny talk and the dwarf's are notable.