Study Guide

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Language and Communication

By Gregory Maguire

Language and Communication

The words were archaic, even ridiculous, but they worked.... Before he had even begun, they all looked guilty as sin. (1.3.1)

Words have power if they're deployed the right way.

The dwarf gave a poetic welcome. "All our lives are activity without meaning; we burrow ratlike into life and we squirm ratlike through it and ratlike we are flung into our graves at the end. Now and then, why shouldn't we hear a voice of prophecy, or see a miracle play? (1.3.13)

If this were a debate, the dwarf would totally kick Frex's butt. We like the imagery the dwarf uses here, with references to rats and graves. These words have very negative connotations, which makes his ending reference to a "miracle play" all the more powerful (Oratory 101).

"Traveler not to know where he is," said the man. "Two nights to cross the hills from Downhill Cornings. To look for the inn at Three Dead Trees. To rest."

"You're lost, you've veered," said Melena, deciding not to be perplexed at his scrambled words. (1.5.20-21)

Turtle Heart's syntax, or word order, is really interesting – he seems to favor the infinitive for verbs ("to" plus verb). He could give Yoda a run for his money.

"Horrors," said Elphaba.

It was her first word, and it was greeted with silence. Even the moon, a lambent bowl among the trees, seemed to pause.

"Horrors?" Elphaba said again, looking around. (1.8.24-26)

This probably isn't something you'd want to put on the "baby's first word" page of your baby book. It's fantastic that Elphaba seems to stun the entire world; even the moon "seemed to pause" at hearing it.

"Animals should be seen and not heard."

Again, there was mumbling, but it was of a different nature now; a meaner key. Doctor Dillamond harrumphed and beat a cloven hoof against the floor, and was heard to say, "Well, that's not poetry, that's propaganda, and it's not even good propaganda at that." (2.1.3.10-11)

Madame Morrible's poetry slam certainly goes over like a lead balloon. She deviously uses the venue as a forum for spouting off some scandalous political ideas.

Though in a script too crabbed and archaic for Boq to decipher, perhaps this document supported the fable of a Kumbric Witch spell that gave the Animals the gifts of speech, memory, and remorse. (2.2.6.3)

The detail of Boq being unable to read the script on this picture puts a new spin on the theme of miscommunication that's running through the book.

"This has political implications," said Elphaba, loudly. "I thought this was life sciences, not current events."

Boq and Avaric shushed her. She was getting a terrible reputation as a loudmouth. (2.3.3.53-54)

Elphaba's "loudmouth" reputation is interesting, since she spends the bulk of her life underground, either under a vow of silence or exiled out in Kiamo Ko. The bulk of the people of Oz have probably never heard Elphaba speak at all.

"I do not listen when anyone uses the word immoral. The thing is, my green girlie, it is not for a girl, or a student, or a citizen to assess what it wrong. This is the job of leaders, and why we exist." (2.3.8.52)

The Wizard's arrogance really comes shining through here. He speaks very emphatically, lumps himself in with super-important and all-powerful "leaders," implies everyone else is "lesser" than he is, and calls Elphaba a "girlie." We wish she would have decked him for that.

"I don't know that I understand [political theory and moral philosophy]. I read them as poetry," she once admitted. "I like the sound of the words, but I don't ever really expect my slow, slanted impression of the world to change by what I read." (3.4.4)

The theme of interpretation is important here. Elphaba interprets politics as poetry and introduces the idea of "reading" things in different ways. We also like the words Elphaba uses to describe herself here: slow, slanted, and impression. There's something sort of imprecise and impermanent about Elphaba, which makes sense given her status as a partial Other-Worlder.

The Witch was so stunned that she nearly lost her grip on the branch. The last thing she ever cared for was gossip. Yet she had been out of touch for so long that she was astonished at the vigorous opinions of these random nobodies. (Prologue.13)

Gossip plays a huge role in defining the Wicked Witch of the West. This scene really shows how Elphaba had little to do with the creation of her own alter ego.

Afterward, there was a lot of discussion about what people had thought it was. The noise had seemed to come from all corners of the sky at once.

Journalists, armed with the thesaurus and apocalyptic scriptures, fumbled and were defeated by it. "A gulfy deliquescence of deranged and harnessed air" ..."A volcano of the invisible, darkly constructed." (5.1.1-2)

Those journalists clearly love their thesauruses. Their failure to describe the tornado emphasizes how unusual and traumatic an event it was.

There were a great many jokes about the disaster, naturally. "You can't hide from destiny," some said, "that house really had her name on it." "That Nessarose, she was giving such a good speech about religious lessons, she really brought down the house!" (5.1.12)

Both Nessa and Elphaba have really unfortunate legacies: Nessa became a punch line and Elphaba became Evil with a capital "E."

"Admit it, admit you're the Adept! Admit it!"

"I'm not adept, I'm adopted," said the girl. "I'm sure not adept at anything, can't you tell that?" (5.17.18-19)

This miscommunication is funny in a dark sort of way, given that Elphaba is terrorizing Dorothy here. Dorothy understands the word "adept" as meaning skilled, while Elphaba is using it in the way Madame Morrible once did: as a type of apprentice or trainee. It's interesting that Dorothy brings a similar-sounding word to the mix, "adopted," given how significant a theme family is in the book.