Study Guide

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Good vs. Evil

By Gregory Maguire

Good vs. Evil

Frex was aware that the Clock of the Time Dragon combined the appeals of ingenuity and magic – and he would have to call on his deepest reserves of religious conviction to overcome it. If his congregation should prove vulnerable to the so-called pleasure faith, succumbing to spectacle and violence – well, what next? (1.2.14)

Frex's conception of good and evil are heavily influenced by his religious beliefs, which bear a strong resemblance to Christianity, and particularly Protestant denominations. Frex seems like a bit of a Puritan here (with his horror of "spectacle"), so it's interesting to see how his strict moral code holds up for the rest of the book.

"But maybe there's something to what you say," said Elphaba. "I mean, evil and boredom. Evil and ennui. Evil and the lack of stimulation. Evil and sluggish blood." (2.1.2.84)

The idea of evil as some sort of emptiness, or lack, recurs a couple of times in this book. Elphaba here seems to have taken on some of her father's religious ideas. The connection between boredom and evil is reminiscent of the maxim that "idle hands are the devil's tools," which dates back to Chaucer. The moral here is to be careful the next time you're bored, or you could become evil. Or a Wicked Witch.

"When goodness removes itself, the space it occupies corrodes and becomes evil, and maybe splits apart and multiplies. So every evil thing is a sign of the absence of deity."

"Well I wouldn't know an evil thing if it fell on me" said Galinda. (2.1.2.91-2)

Elphaba here takes the connection between boredom and evil even further, suggesting that evil might be a sort of vacuum, or an absence of good. This makes good seem pretty flimsy, since evil pops back up the second good decides to go on vacation. We can see this theme crop back up in Elphaba's actions, or lack thereof, at the end of the novel, when she seems so jaded and disaffected.

"People who claim that they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us." He sighed. "It's people who claim that they're good, or anything better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of." (5.5.20)

Boq here makes a very astute point about being wary of people who run around saying how good they are. We definitely see this with the Wizard, who runs around saying how great he is and how everything he does is justified. The Wizard actually sounds like a lot of politicians in our world, come to think of it. Yikes.

Madame Morrible, for all her upper-class diction and fabulous wardrobe, seemed just a tad – oh – dangerous..... Galinda always felt as if she couldn't see the whole picture. It was disconcerting, and to her credit at least Galinda felt inside herself the ripping apart of some valuable fabric – was it integrity? – when she sat in Madame Morrible's parlor and drank the perfect tea. (2.1.4.8)

Glinda uses a running fabric motif here in an interesting way. She references Morrible's fabulous wardrobe, then speaks of her own "integrity" ripping like fabric. There's an idea here that sometimes evil and danger comes in a pretty package. There also might be an implication that Glinda herself is rather superficial, since she links herself to the fabric motif. Like Madame Morrible, Glinda can be "dressed up" in various ways and can perhaps appear as something that she's not.

They managed to chase the Quadlings out and kill them, round them up in settlement camps for their own protection and starve them. They despoiled the badlands, raked up the rubies, and left. My father went barmy over it. There never were enough rubies to make it worth the effort . (2.3.2.8)

There's definitely a lot of different kinds of evil explored in Wicked, but one of the most prominent is political oppression and injustice. The term "settlement camp" here probably refers to something like a concentration camp, and it's clear from Elphaba's description that the Wizard committed some sort of genocide against the Quadlings.

[Sorcery is] a practical skill, like – like reading and writing. It's not that you can, it's what you read or write. Or, if you'll excuse the play on words, what you spell. (2.3.2.31)

Though Glinda is talking specifically about sorcery here, this idea can also apply to the theme of good and evil. What a person chooses to do is what makes them good or evil, not the fact that they can do something.

"You're eschewing all personal responsibility. It's as bad as those who sacrifice their personal will into the gloomy morasses of the unknowable will of some unnameable god. If you suppress the idea of personhood then you suppress the notion of individual culpability."

"What is worse, Fiyero? Suppressing the idea of personhood or suppressing, through torture and incarceration and starvation, real living persons? (3.9.8-9)

Vocab points to Fiyero here. Snazzy word choice aside, he is basically just saying that it's bad to not take personal responsibility for your actions. We definitely see a lack of personal responsibility with the Wizard, who has his "I can do what I want!" routine down pat. It's interesting though that Elphaba, by the end of the novel, is desperate to take responsibility for something, be it Madame Morrible's "murder" or freeing the Lion cub. How might this attitude be just as bad as refusing personal responsibility?

"I say you save the innocent bystander if you can ...but not, not, not at the expense of other, realer people. And if you can't save them, you can't. Everything costs."

"I don't believe in the concept of 'real' or 'realer' people." (3.9.11-12)

One of Elphaba's biggest character flaws is that she tends to place people and Animals on a sort of hierarchy of worth. Fiyero argues that one person can't be "realer" or worth more than another; Elphaba disagrees. How might Elphaba's own personal experiences, and particularly her fraught relationship with Frex, contribute to her attitude here?

Work together, Fiyero found himself thinking, hardly aware he could have such a thought. Work as a team – there are twelve of you and only one of him. Is it your differences from one another that keep you docile? Or are there relatives inside who will be tortured if you make a break for freedom? (3.11.13)

The scene where Fiyero witnesses the Gale Force guards abusing political prisoners, including a Bear cub, is really crucial in his character development. This scene also demonstrates the political themes at work in the book.

"In folk memory evil always predates good.". . .

"One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her – is it ever the right choice? Does the devil ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? It is at the very least a question of definitions." (4.1.1.43-5)

Oatsie manages to synthesize a bunch of major themes here. (Way to go, Oatsie!) This idea of evil predating good in folk memory really speaks to Maguire's thoughts upon writing this novel. In a number of interviews, Maguire noted that the Wicked Witch was this sort of icon of evil in the Western world. After her death, "evil" is about the only thing anyone remembers about her; Elphaba doesn't really exist anymore.

Oatsie continues, talking about how no one ever questions evil or tries to explore it. Maguire might have made a pitch similar to this when he went to get Wicked published; it's basically the untold story of evil.

Nothing in the Grimmerie on how to depose a tyrant – nothing useful. Armies of holy angels were not answerable to her. Nothing there that described why men and women could turn out so horrible. Or so wonderful – if that ever happened anymore. (4.3.1.46)

This idea of how and why people can be good or evil is never really answered in the book, which is probably the point. Perhaps one of Elphaba's biggest problems is that she slowly loses the ability to see the "wonderful" in the world, or the faith that it still exists.

"Evil is an early or primitive stage of moral development. All children are fiends by nature. The criminals among us are those who didn't progress . . ."

"I think it's a presence, not an absence," said an artist. "Evil's an incarnated character, an incubus or a succubus. It's an other. It's not us." (5.7.59-60)

Avaric throws the best dinner parties. The idea of evil as an "absence" makes another appearance, but we also get some new ideas here: evil as "primitive" or as an "other." This is a really elitist and possibly even racist idea. Basically, Anonymous Dinner Guest is saying that evil is a trait of "lesser" and primitive people, like the Quadlings or criminals. It's the lower strata of society who are the "evil" ones, not "us." The denial of evil, and of "personal responsibility" once again, might be a form of evil in and of itself.

"Sir," she said, "I think you are a very bad wizard."

"And you," he answered, stung, "are only a caricature of a witch." (5.4.78-9)

Gee thanks, guys – way to ruin the whole Wizard of Oz for us. The Witch isn't really a Witch? The Wonderful Wizard is just a jerk? Appearances are deceiving, especially in the world of Wicked. So it's probably fitting that our supposedly good Wizard is really bad and our supposedly Wicked Witch is pretty good.