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Something Wicked This Way Comes | Motifs



The motif of temperature sometimes relates to the symbolism of the seasons—cold winter and warm summer, for example—but it is also used in other ways. The most common is to use warmth and heat to describe characters' darker desires. The warmth the lightning-rod salesman uses to melt the ice block of the "most beautiful woman in the world" is a sign of his giving in to lust (Part 1, Chapter 10). Jim Nightshade's mother says "warm blood" is the story of all their sorrows (Part 1, Chapter 16). She presumably refers to her ex-husband's transgressions, which the novel does not thoroughly describe. But knowing she was abused, the reader can infer these are likely anger, violence, and/or infidelity. Will Halloway feels a prickle of fever when he reads the handbill advertising the "most beautiful woman in the world" (Part 1, Chapter 8) and Jim's desire to get to the carnival is also described as a "fever" (Part 1, Chapter 16).


The seasons affect the tone and meaning of the novel, both literally (the story is set in fall) and in how they correspond to the stages of life. The cycle of the seasons begins with spring—birth. Summer follows, and its youth, vitality, and energy mark childhood and the earliest glimmerings of adolescence. Fall begins to cool, and represents the time of adulthood, in which the many darker aspects of the world must be confronted. The novel takes place in October, a month at the height of autumn. Autumn is a time when a person increasingly fears death. It is a time when, youthful innocence lost, a person is pummeled by life's hurts, disappointments, regrets, temptations, and failures. Winter represents death. In the novel, Charles Halloway calls the carnival folk "autumn people" because they have become stuck in the autumn of life, unable to face the coming winter.


The motif of the senses—especially references to seeing, smelling, feeling, and hearing—is connected to the novel's title, which comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth. In Act 4, Scene 1, a witch says, "By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes." Sensing the coming of wickedness, both with the five physical senses and with a sort of "sixth sense" such as hair standing on end or a feeling of certainty, is prevalent in the novel. The lightning-rod salesman senses a storm—the carnival—coming. The townsfolk most susceptible to the temptations of the carnival hear the sound of its calliope music and smell its cotton candy most keenly. Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway both sense the Dust Witch's balloon as it passes overhead. The prominence of eyes—human eyes, tattooed eyes—is another way this motif surfaces.


Bradbury uses the motif of breathing throughout the novel. References to inhaling and exhaling abound. The freaks inhale and exhale all together to help bring Mr. Electrico (Mr. Cooger) to life. The Dust Witch inhales and exhales to make her balloon go up and down. Trains are said to exhale "their last pale breaths over the horizon" (Part 1, Chapter 12). This motif supports the themes of time and of growing up and growing old because breathing is one way we experience time passing, moment to moment, from birth to death.

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