When Dorothy triumphs over the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, the reader rejoices with the same excitement as the rest of Oz.
The notion that the Wicked Witch of the West might be a victim of circumstance isn’t even seen as an option, not until Maguire published his take on the story, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. At first glance a simple fairy tale, or a the continuation of a classic novel, Maguire’s book turns out to be a feminist text in how it addresses the nature of sexual ideology and its ability to destroy women who don’t fit the criteria. More than just a victim, Maguire manages to turn the Wicked Witch into a heroin, a martyr killed by sexual prejudice.Maguire opens the text with two very powerful and significant quotes from two other great novelists, Daniel Defoe “tis very strange men should be so fond of being wickeder than they are” and Leo Tolstoy’s famous line from War and Peace “In historical events great men – so-called – are but labels serving to give a name to the event, and like labels they have the least possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity.” Defoe’s line simply implies that all men have the quality to be wicked and prepares the reader to sympathize with a character that until now they had been programmed to despise. Tolstoy’s line however implies a much deeper take on the book.
This quote from War and Peace suggests that the role the Wicked Witch plays is predestined. This notion has a dual irony, one in that yes the character’s future is predestined because the story is a retelling of another tale, but her fate is predestined by the nature of Oz and its acceptance of her appearance. By her actions being a product of society rejecting her, she becomes less wicked and more of a victim.These significant lines setup the message of the novel, which ironically has a plot that is already set in stone, giving the book even more depth and meaning. The question Maguire poses with these lines is whether good and evil really exist. There is no doubt that he depicts the Wicked witch as a heroin/ victim, with which the reader has no choice but to sympathize.
This is further demonstrated in the novel when Maguire shows other characters pitying the witch. The tin woodmen argues to the Lion that the Wicked witch was castrated at birth, and born hermaphroditic, the Lion argues that she was born deprived of a mother’s love, and the Scarecrow implies that she might be lesbian. They say this all while the Witch listens from afar. As she listens in shock of their gossip, the reader is also made aware that Maguire’s take on the classic fairytale is no children’s book. He is takes an in depth approach of The Wizard of Oz completely from an alternative perspective with virtually no representation of the original without keen observation of a darker, if not more mature, perspective. It also leads the book into the mystery of how the witch came to be her infamous self.
When Melina gives birth to Elphaba (the witch), it is a horrific day due to her awkward genetics. In turn Melina’s Nanny is contacted to help. She interrogates Melina only to find she most likely was raped by an elf explaining Elphaba’s green skin, and then when Melina suggests to that she should drown Elphaba in a lake, and the Nanny notes that she pities the lake that would have to take the baby in. This is a very significant part, because up to this point the Nanny has been depicted as the most compassionate character in the book. The very fact that even the Nanny becomes so disgusted by the Elphaba that she would pity death’s requirement to accommodate the child over sympathizing with Elphaba’s plight shows that there truly is no place in the Land of Oz for her. Then as Nanny ponders what could have happened for Melina’s child to turn out this way she notes to herself “Perhaps, though Nanny, little green Elphaba chose her own sex, and her own color, and to hell with her parents (Maguire, p. 31).
” This is a very significant quote because it is the first time in the novel where the notion that Ephaba might be a heroin, or a rebel against the status quo, is mentioned. By Elphaba potentially choosing to oppose the social norms and go against the grain, she forces the dark prejudices of “the wonderful world” of Oz to come out (Bridges, p52).The obligation women feel to be child bearers, raise families, and to be communal agents for the maintenance of a peaceful society are all derived from the ideals promoted through television, radio, film and in magazines. This concept of child bearing being a burden is touched upon numerous times throughout the novel in the conversations between the Nanny and Melina. At one point after noting how onece women become smart they stop having babies in refereeing to the hard life baby Elphaba will face Nanny says, “woe is the natural end of life, yet we go on having babies (Maguire, p8).” This brings the book into maternal perspective and the plight of child rearing in Western society.
The demand for women to be attractive in Western culture is prevalent and real, while a man just as easily can feel attractive with a potbelly and a balled head. The gender roles placed on women are far more harmful than they seem. Women are expected to have communal traits whereas men are expected to be agentic. Communal traits are things that maintain strong relationships like being nurturing or compassionate, and polite.
Men are generally expected to be assertive and competitive (White, pg 58). When these gender roles are violated society tends to discriminate. This can be seen in the novel, when the midwifes are put back by the sharpness of Elphaba’s teeth and the aggressiveness with which she does everything from her motions, to eating her food, to even at one point biting off the finger of a midwife nursing her. In the work place, when a woman is especially assertive she is often referred to as a bitch or masculine because others believe she is “not very feminine” but if a man were to do the same he would simply be seen as a go-getter (White, pg 59).The blatant contrast between Elphaba and her sister becomes noticeable when Maguire describes the way the more attractive of the two girls experienced popularity in college, he says, “She reasoned that because she was beautiful she was significant, though what she signified, and to whom, was not clear to her yet ( P. 65)” Due to societies reaction to her beauty she is treated , for reasons out of her control, as though she is special, and yet she has no clue what is expected of her. This unsaid praise of beauty for the women in Oz is what promotes Ephaba’s sister to be loved and what leads to Ephaba being despised and eventually destroyed. This is a Western society norm, and it obviously puts women at a serious disadvantage professionally, because in order for her to achieve success as defined by society she must maintain relationships and not sacrifice them for advances in her career.
As a result, women hold lower positions, don’t get paid as much as men, and don’t get as many promotions. This prejudice is the core cause to mental health problems for women, as well as an inherent trait of western society.One major problem in society that is mentally affecting women is this culture of thinness. There is an immense amount of pressure placed on women to be attractive and thin through the media and the stick-thin models regularly gracing magazine covers. As a result, women are more likely to develop eating disorders. Anorexia, an eating disorder that involves drastic fasting, and Bulimia, which consists of binge eating followed by any compensatory behavior, are virtually nonexistent in men (White, pg 62).
Both of these disorders lead to serious health problems but anorexia ultimately leads to death by starvation. It is thought that these disorders are caused by a perceived lack of control in their lives; which is balanced by these women having complete control over their looks. Discrimination against unattractive or overweight women is an unspoken prejudice.Maguire touches on this in the novel when referring to baby Epheba when he says, “A green child will be an open invitation for scorn and abuse (Maguir, p. 48).” This shows how closely relative the world of Oz is to western culture, and it is thinking like this that makes women more likely to seek therapy (Judith, 52).
There is an over-diagnosis of women and an under-diagnosis of men. General discrimination towards women is that communal traits aren’t as valued as physical strength, which can lead to depression. House work creates sense of never having leisure time, it provides no emotional reward and an isolation factor.
Emphasis on physical appearance, body image eating disorders, lack of control over appearance leads to depression. Gender roles, since women are expected to be communal their relationships can lead to depression because there is more pressure on them to have good relationships, so when the relationships are unsuccessful, they tend to blame themselves.In sum, the appeal garnered for Maguire’s classic take on The Wizard of Oz stems from his ability to reshape every perspective ever formed about the Wicked Witch of the West. He provides the reader with insight into the Witch’s upbringing and the scrutiny she endured for her sharp teeth in a land where talking animals are discriminated against. This is very intuitive in that often when evil characters are depicted in film and books they are given hideous features to make them less appealing to the reader or audience, but Maguire is smart to point out how the Witch had absolutely no control over her appearance. She is born barely female with a greenish tint to her skin in a world that deemed her better off dead than alive. The understanding of the Witch’s wickedness in Maguire’s book is that as opposed being born evil, she was born ugly and it was this bad hand dealt that caused the world around her to make her respond with heinous behavior.
By Maguire publishing his take on this classic tale, he presents a perspective from a often overlooked and objectified point of view, making his a work an invaluable contribution classic literature as well as feminist texts.