Study Guide

The Wizard of Oz Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)

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Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)

Something Bad is Happening in Oz/Kansas

Four of the five biggest characters in The Wizard of Oz present us with a thorny dilemma: they're actually two characters instead of one. We have the folks from Oz, and then we have a set of "real world" counterparts who live on and around Uncle Henry's farm in Kansas. That probably has something to do with the whole "it was all a dream" notion that frames the movie, which we'll talk more about soon. It's a pretty good device to use, because most theories of dreams suggest that they're made up of "day residue," i.e., the stuff on our minds because of what's happened to us during the day.

In terms of personality, however, it lets the "real world" characters give us an exciting sneak preview of things to come. Nowhere is this more true that with the film's big baddie: the Wicked Witch of the West. Her real-world counterpart is Miss Gulch, who "owns half the county" and apparently has a serious grudge against Dorothy's dog Toto. Details are sketchy, but Toto has a habit of chasing her cat, to which she responds by trying to kill the little guy with a rake. When that doesn't work, she calls in the sheriff on him and scores herself an official notice claiming that she can take the dog away.

MISS GULCH: That dog's a menace to the community. I'm taking him to the sheriff and make sure he's destroyed.

Not "keep your dog out of my yard." She's going to have little Toto killed. That's pretty wicked-witchy in and of itself: a powerful figure throwing her weight around for the sake of showing us how mean she can be. We suppose she has a right to not get bit, and we agree with Hunk's assessment that Dorothy really needs to just stay away from the old lady's house. But rather than talking things over with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry like a civilized person, she lets her bloodlust run rampant. "He's really gentle… with gentle people," Em says, implying that maybe Gulch has it coming – but Gulch will have none of it.

Not only does she insist that the dog be killed instead of non-lethal alternatives, but as the movie makes clear, this is business as usual for her. "For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you!" Em says. "And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!" Again, we're not sure why she's so mean or what brought her to that place.

All we know is, you'd better cross the street when you see her coming.

No One Mourns the Wicked

Once she morphs over to Oz (and the specifics of that are still a matter of some debate), she's basically the same woman, only more exaggerated and blatantly evil. The nastiness is more overt, the bullying more out of control, and the inexplicable anger at sweet little girls and their dogs is flat-out homicidal. She wears a lot more black and has an army of flying monkeys to get take-out for her, but otherwise, she's just a meaner incarnation of that that Kansas shrew on her bicycle. Two minutes after she meets Dorothy, she's threatening to kill her for supposedly killing her sister:

WITCH: Didn't mean it, eh? Accident, eh? Well, my little pretty, I can cause accidents, too—and this is how I do it!

She then utters those famously terrifying words:

WITCH: I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!

And oh my is she power-hungry! She's dying to get her hands on those magical ruby slippers, and with them, she could presumably go on to rule all of Oz beneath her bony green thumb (we're not sure on the details; perhaps Oz rulers are chosen based on how fly their shoes are?). And like Miss Gulch, she couches her saber-rattling in more "acceptable" terms. Miss Gulch goes on about "the law" protecting people like her from suspiciously non-existent dog bites. The Witch is supposedly avenging her sister (who by all accounts was no prize herself), which at least has the pretense of emotional legitimacy to it.

She ain't fooling anyone though: the minute those ruby slippers get mentioned, she gets a case of the grabbies, and by the time Dorothy runs into her again, she's settled into a full-bore vendetta. In the same way, Miss Gulch can't pull the wool over anyone's eyes by waving her sheriff's orders around. She wants to hurt Dorothy and that's all there is to it.

If we think about their similarities, it actually helps answer one of the movie's big unresolved issues. We never officially find out what happens to Miss Gulch at the end (assuming it really was a dream, and not just those magic shoes hitting the reset button), which leaves a troubling issue behind. After all that Dorothy's been through, what's to prevent a surviving Gulch from showing up again and dragging Toto off to be destroyed?

No one worries and no one asks that question because Gulch and the Witch are so closely entwined as characters. And if the Witch went down through some deceptively simple means, it stands to reason that the same thing would happen to Miss Gulch. Maybe that tornado gave her a rougher landing than Dorothy. Maybe her cat finally got tired of her and dropped an electric fan in her bathtub. Maybe she perished of pure spite. But because we identify her so closely with the Witch, then we can guess her fate, even if the Witch was just a figment of Dorothy's imagination.

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