Something Wicked This Way Comes | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Something Wicked This Way Comes | Part 2, Chapters 39–40 : Pursuits | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 39

Charles Halloway tells the boys that the carnival comes to town periodically to harvest "Unconnected fools." He says that sometime in human history, humans realized "our hour is short, eternity is long" and so they began to feel "pity and mercy." He says humans are the only animals that laugh and cry, and that love is their "common cause ... against the night." Then he tells them the carnival people feed off of the fears and pain of others: "The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain." He doesn't know these things, he says. Rather, he feels, smells, and tastes them: "How do I know this? I don't! I feel it. I taste it. It was like old leaves burning on the wind two nights ago. It was a smell like mortuary flowers. I hear that music."

Part 2, Chapter 40

Charles Halloway continues to explain as the boys ask questions. He speculates that the carnival has learned to live off the unrest of souls that suffer from old sins, agonies, longings, and desires: "the carnival survives, living off the poison of the sins we do each other, and the ferment of our most terrible regrets." He suggests the carnival isn't death or the devil but instead "uses Death as a threat." He points out that, even though people who ride the carousel get what they think they want, they are miserable after they are changed because their bodies and minds don't match any more, and they are separated from all their friends and relatives. This drives them mad, and their madness provides more food for the carnival.

As they talk, they suddenly hear someone quietly open the door of the library and enter. Mr. Halloway tells the boys to hide.


All the main themes of the novel come together nicely in Chapters 39 and 40. Mr. Halloway asserts that an awareness of time—and the small bit of it humans are each given—prompted the development of human care for one another: for mercy, pity, and even love. Mercy, pity, and love are part of human goodness and are inextricable from a sense of smallness in comparison to eternity. This sense might be called humility. The nature of wickedness is to reject this sense of smallness—to refuse to accept time, the shortness of a human life, the progress from youth to age and then to death. Those whom the carnival tempts and ensnares are those who are dissatisfied with their lives and who cannot accept the passage of time or things as they are. They are filled with desire for things to be some other way. This recalls the way that "autumn people" are stuck in one season, rather than joining the cycle of renewal the seasons bring.

Goodness also springs from a sense of connectedness with other humans. Pity and mercy—and maybe love—come from a sense of common humanity, of being all in the same boat. Wickedness separates people from one another. The carnival, Mr. Halloway says, goes after those who are "unconnected." Then it disconnects them further.

Finally, the nature of wickedness is to frighten people with the prospect of death, feed off this fear, then tempt them. When they give in to temptation, however, they are ensnared further. Miss Foley is used as the example. The carnival targets her because she is afraid of growing old and dying. It feeds off her fear and agony, while at the same time leveraging these feelings to get her on the carousel. The result is that she is further isolated and lonelier than before. So, this provides more "food" for the carnival.

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