Study Guide

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Gender

By Gregory Maguire

Gender

"I know this: The wickedness of men is that their power breeds stupidity and blindness," she said.

"And of women?"

"Women are weaker, but their weakness is full of cunning and an equally rigid moral certainty. Since their arena is smaller, their capacity for real damage is less alarming. Though being more intimate they are the more treacherous." (3.7.6-8)

Elphaba is pretty harsh on both sexes here, which isn't surprising, since she's pretty harsh on people in general. Her comments about women give us insight into Oz's society, though. Women have "smaller" arenas and a more limited sphere than men; there clearly isn't gender equality in this world.

"Boys needs hot anger to survive. They need the inclination to fight, the drive to sink the knife into flesh, the energy and initiative of fury. It's a requirement of hunting, of defense, of pride. Maybe of sex, too." . . .

"And girls need cold anger. They need the cold simmer, the ceaseless grudge, the talent to avoid forgiveness, the sidestepping of compromise. They need to know when they say something that they will never back down, ever, ever. It's the compensation for a more limited scope in the world." (4.2.10.56-58)

Sarima's theory of hot and cold anger sounds a bit like yin and yang energy. Sarima may be uneducated, but she is definitely smart, as these insightful thoughts reveal. It's also notable that Elphaba believes that she has both types of anger within her. Elphaba might be a sort of gender hybrid on top of everything else.

Nanny didn't mention that Yackle was certain the next child would be a girl too. There was too much chance Melena would try to abort her, and Yackle sounded quite sure that history belonged to two sisters, not a single girl. (1.8.90)

Oz might not be an equal opportunity zone, but it's certainly dominated by a lot of powerhouse women. The only really powerful man we see in the whole book is the Wizard. Pretty much all the other leaders and figures of influence are women.

[T]he colleges had decided to give assembly lectures to all the students from all the colleges, at once. Boq would see Glinda at the first coeducation lecture ever held at Shiz. (2.3.2.25)

This detail gives us insight into how Shiz University is structured, and into how Oz itself functions.

"They've got a new witch performing. They say she's hot. She's a Kumbric Witch." (2.2.1.7)

It's really interesting that a Kumbric Witch is made to sound like a sort of stripper here. The idea of the Kumbric Witch as a sexual figure crops up a few times in the narrative, and it's a bit of a shout out to how witches were traditionally perceived (in our own world) as whores. (See the Puritan witch trials for this sort of rhetoric.) Elphaba is linked to the Kumbric Witch, but she is also portrayed as fairly asexual at times. Weird stuff going on all in all.

Once we get the full measure of it – we're slow learners, we women – we dry up in disgust and sensibly halt production.

But men don't dry up, Melena objected: they can father to the death.

Ah, we're slow learners, Nanny countered. But they can't learn at all. (1.1.23-25)

Nanny would have rocked her own Oprah-type show if she were around today. Or else she would have written very fun girl-power scripts like Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers. Or perhaps she would have had her own stand-up comedy routine. Either way.

I'm a Munchkinlander by birth anyway, if not by upbringing, and I'm a girl by accident if not by choice. (2.2.2.19)

Elphaba's composite, hybrid character pops up yet again: she basically considers her gender an "accident" and a "choice." We'd love to sit Elphaba down with some transgender people and listen to their conversation.

"I am married," she said, "just not to a man."

He raised his eyebrows. She put her hand to her face. He'd never seen her look like that – her words had shocked herself." (3.3.11-12)

Why exactly did Elphaba shock herself here? We'd suggest that it was because her "martial status" reveals just how committed she is to her political cause, and how much that cause dominates her life.

"No," she cried, "no, no, no, I'm not a harem, I'm not a woman, I'm not a person, no." (3.3.19)

Fitting in with her "unbecoming" quest, Elphaba seems a second a way from arguing that she doesn't really exist and is just a trick of the light or an optical illusion.

"Oh I know you have your silly boys on the edge, forgettable things. Good for one thing only and not even reliable at that. But I digress." (2.3.6.29)

Madame Morrible, we are raising our eyebrows at you here, in a Spock-like fashion. We do find it kind of hilarious that, along with Nanny, Madame Morrible is the character most likely to spout off some sort of feminist zinger or girl-power pep talk.

"At any rate, the Wizard needs some agents. He requires a few generals. In the long run. Some people with managing skills. Some people with gumption."

"In a word: women." (2.3.6.31-2)

Madame Morrible has a very interesting assessment of women here. The words she uses to describe them are typically associated more with men, like "generals" and "gumption."