Study Guide

The Witches Appearances

By Roald Dahl

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<em>REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. </em>(1.4)

Simply through dressing like women and making themselves look like women, witches can be mistaken for women. It's crazy to think how much our looks can trick the outside world.

Kindly examine the picture opposite. Which lady is the witch? That is a difficult question, but it is one that every child must try to answer. (1.23)

Here, Roald Dahl integrates Quentin Blake's illustrations into the book, by having the reader try to figure out which of the drawings is an ordinary woman and which one is a witch. It makes us feel like we're really involved in the book and that our narrator wants us to pay attention. In a book without illustrations, could Roald Dahl have still accomplished this? How?

"[A witch] doesn't have finger-nails. Instead of finger-nails, she has thin curvy claws, like a cat, and she wears the gloves to hide them." (3.10)

Do you notice that the things that are strange about a witch are always extremities? They're always at the edges of her body: her fingernails (or lack thereof), her hair (or lack thereof), her toes (or, yep, lack thereof). Why do you think this is? Why doesn't a witch have a strangely shaped stomach or a really long neck?

"<em>Bald?" I said.</em>

"Bald as a boiled egg," my grandmother said.

I was shocked. There was something indecent about a bald woman. (3.15-17)

Some of the things about the witches aren't really unattractive, they're just... different. Granted, a human being with claws is a little odd because it reminds us of an animal, but a bald woman? There are plenty of those. Heck, two of the best female contestants on the first season of <em>The Voice </em>were bald, not to mention <em>America's Next Top Model. </em>

I kept looking at the hand with the missing thumb. I couldn't help it. I was fascinated by it (4.15)

Grandmamma is missing a thumb (from an encounter with a witch, we're led to believe). But our narrator isn't grossed out by <em>this</em>. Stumpy witch feet? Yeah. Missing Grandmamma thumb? Nope. We wonder if the situation were reversed, and all the witches were missing thumbs and Grandmamma was missing her toes, would the narrator's reactions be different?

I simply cannot tell you how awful they were, and somehow the whole sight was made more grotesque because underneath those frightful scabby bald heads, the bodies were dresses in fashionable and rather pretty clothes. It was monstrous. It was unnatural. (7.17)

Contrast is important here. The witches are ugly, but they're made even uglier because their disguises are pretty. Like, if you put Voldemort next to Kreacher the House Elf, he might look like Brad Pitt.

<em>Bruno looked down at his paws. He jumped. "Good grief!" he cried. "I am</em> a mouse!" (13.25)

Granted, Bruno is a little slow – who can't tell they're a mouse when they're only two inches off the ground? – but we can't blame him too much for being so clueless. Without a mirror, we might not know what we look like. It's funny to think that the people we spend our time with probably know what we look like better than we do, especially because, when we do look at ourselves, we're always looking at a mirror image. Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought, "Hey, I thought that freckle was on my other cheek!"? Well, there you have it.

"It's quite simple," my grandmother said. "All they've done is to shrink you and give you four legs and a furry coat, but they haven't been able to change you into a one hundred per cent mouse. You are still yourself in everything except your appearance." (14.52)

Appearances can only change so much about us, but our core stays the same. You might cut your hair, change your wardrobe, or pierce your ears, but you're still you. Shmoop might redo its homepage, but it's still Shmoop at heart.

"Quite right, she said. "You are a human in mouse's clothing. You are very special." (14.54)

Even though our narrator looks like a mouse, he's really a human. His appearance only affects the way he relates to the world physically. The way he relates to the world emotionally is still the same.

"It's amazing," my grandmother said. "It looks just like a real face. Even though I knew it was a mask, I still couldn't tell." (15.34)

Looks can be deceiving, even when you know you're being deceived by them.

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