Study Guide

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Life, Consciousness, Existence

By Gregory Maguire

Life, Consciousness, Existence

"I wouldn't mind leaving myself behind if I could, but I don't know the way out." (2.2.3.47)

This idea of finding a way out of the self gives us good insight into Elphaba's character, and also ties in with her revolving door of nicknames. She seems to try to reinvent or find herself with limited success throughout the book.

"Or is it just that the world unwraps itself to you, again and again, as soon as you are ready to see it anew?" (3.11.20)

Fiyero's thoughts following the scene where he witnesses Gale Force guards abusing prisoners take a cyclical view of life. In other words, the world reveals itself "again and again," so life and existence may be about learning similar things over and over.

She supposed, glumly, that she had meant to be a sort of living marble bust: This is Youthful Intelligence; admire Her. Isn't She Lovely? (2.1.2.34)

Poor Galinda apparently wanted Shiz to be more of a party school. This desire to be a "living marble bust" highlights how superficial and surface-oriented Galinda is.

"I thought I knew all the shapes of passion," Elphaba said one bright afternoon. "I mean, growing up with a unionist minister for a father. You come to expect that theology is the fundament on which all other thought and belief is based. But boys! – this week, Doctor Dillamond made some sort of scientific breakthrough.... . He began to dictate, and he was so excited that he sang his findings; he composed arias out of what he was seeing! (2.2.4.9)

We like this connection between religious and intellectual/scientific passion – in terms of emotion, the two aren't very different. This is an interesting detail in a book that spends a lot of time exploring the connections and divisions between the two subjects. It's also interesting that Elphaba says she "knew all the shapes of passion," since she never mentions experiencing those feelings herself.

"She is my world" he answered.

"Your world is too small if she is it."

"You can't criticize the size of a world." (2.2.6.18-19)

Way to go Boq. Elphaba can be really judgmental at times, and he has a great rejoinder here. This exchange also raises the question of how "large" Elphaba's own world is. Does an interest in big political issues automatically make your world a "large" one or not?

"I have no colleagues. I have no self. I never did, in fact, but that's beside the point. I am just a muscular twitch in the larger organism."
"Hah! You the
most individual, the most separate, the most real . . ." (3.7.30-1)

These series of debates between Elphaba and Fiyero are really fascinating. Fiyero smartly points out the egotism behind Elphaba's seemingly self-effacing words. Elphaba refers to herself as a "handmaiden" or a "twitch," but Fiyero points out that even these references cast her as somehow unique and "more" than everyone else. It's as if Elphaba spends her life trying to justify her status as an oddity.

If one could drown in the grass, thought Elphie, it might be the best way to die. (4.1.2.22)

Elphaba channels her inner Keats [or insert your Romantic poet of choice] here with her stylized dreams of drowning in the grass. In her post-nunnery life, Elphaba seems very interested in death. Note also the indirect allusion to water here – this time without actual water.

The benefit of a uniform was that one need not struggle to be unique – how many uniquenesses could the Unnamed God or nature create? One could sink selflessly into the daily pattern, one could find one's way without groping. (4.1.1.21)

Elphaba's thoughts on her uniform are really interesting, especially when we consider her conversation with Fiyero about being "more real" and special. After Fiyero's death, Elphaba's reaction is to try to lose herself entirely, even more than in her underground days.

"It's unbecoming," she agreed. "A perfect word for my new life. Unbecoming. I who have always been unbecoming am becoming an un." (3.1.82)

Elphaba really does love her wordplay, and here she has fun playing around with the various meanings and iterations of "unbecoming." It's also interesting that Elphaba defines her life in terms of erasing herself.

"But is life worth living in the wrong form?" said Elphaba.

"The interior doesn't change," she answered, "except by self-involvement. Of which be not afraid, and also beware." (4.1.3.34-5)

There's an interesting tension throughout the book between Elphaba's static nature (she never really changes who and what she is) and her chameleon-like nature (she has a lot of different facets and alters herself). Elphaba has arguably lived in different "forms" before this conversation with Nastoya. Perhaps her concern here has more to do with the fact that she'll be lying about being a witch; "wrong" here might be Elphaba's way of saying false.

"You are a half-breed, a new breed, you are a grafted limb, you are a dangerous anomaly. Always you were drawn to the composite creatures, the broken and reassembled, for that is what you are." (5.8.28)

The dwarf echoes Turtle Heart's reflections on Elphaba as a child here, when he noted that she liked "broken" things. Elphaba herself is "composite" (and hybrid), and it's as if she seeks out that strangeness in others.