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Something Wicked This Way Comes | Themes


The Passage of Time

The passage of time is a significant theme in the novel. Bradbury carefully begins the novel at a specific time—October 23—and documents the passage of time by constant references. The town clock is a significant feature of the landscape, and its chiming can be heard at several points throughout the novel. Characters often note the time in their thoughts, and attach significance to these times. For example, the fact the carnival arrives at 3:00 a.m. is considered to be significant; Charles Halloway thinks it is a "special" hour because women and children sleep well then, while men of middle age "know that hour well" because "You're the nearest to dead you'll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death!" (Part 1, Chapter 14).

The passage of time is explored in every increment. The hours chimed by the town clock are one increment. The changing seasons are another unit of time referenced in the novel. The smallest increments of time become important: Jim Nightshade, born just one minute after midnight on Halloween, is more open to temptation than Will Halloway, born just a minute before midnight. Even inhaling and exhaling, part of the novel's wind and breathing motif, is a way of marking the passage of moments in one's lifetime. In contrast is the timelessness of eternity. Eternity—impossibly long—is what makes one person's life seem so brief: "our hour is short, eternity is long" (Part 2, Chapter 39). This contrast serves to heighten the importance of the passage of time.

Growing Up and Growing Old

Closely tied to the theme of time is the theme of growing up and growing old. As time passes, a person first grows from childhood to adulthood, then into middle age and on to old age. Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are both on the verge of adulthood and are beginning to realize there are parts of adult life they have been unaware of. These include most prominently sex—the "Theater" Jim wants to visit in Part 1, Chapter 6 is a house where the boys saw people having sex through the window one night—but also the sadness of broken relationships, regrets for past actions and inactions, and the like. Though both boys are about the same age (births separated by mere minutes), Jim is "older" in experience because he "he looked at the world and could not look away" while Will would "always look just beyond, over or to one side" (Part 1, Chapter 9). Charles Halloway and Miss Foley, on the other hand, are in middle age, with old age looming. The challenge for them is facing their own aging process and the prospect of death.

Dissatisfaction and Acceptance

Dissatisfaction is at the heart of much of the carnival's power. Jim Nightshade wants to be older so he can get away from his mother and embark on his adult life, and this leaves him open to the temptation of the carousel. The boyhood friendship of Will Halloway and Jim is threatened by Jim's desire to grow up too quickly. Wanting to be young prevents Charles Halloway from bonding with his son and leaves him open to the temptation of the carousel. Wanting to be young also corrupts Miss Foley. Wanting "the most beautiful woman in the world" corrupts Tom Fury, the lightning-rod salesman who becomes the Dwarf. Acceptance of one's self—and of the hilariously short lifetime allotted to humans—proves to be the antidote. When Charles Halloway stops fearing his own aging, injury, and mortality, he is struck by how funny life is. He accepts himself and his vulnerabilities. This acceptance—symbolized by his laughter and smile—can be used as a weapon to defeat the carnival. The carnival feeds on the agony of dissatisfaction and the fear of death. Acceptance, or contentment, is shown to be the only way to overcome both of these corrupting influences.

Goodness versus Wickedness

The theme of goodness versus wickedness is introduced in the title of the novel:

Something Wicked This Way Comes. The carnival is the wicked thing that comes. But what is wicked about it? It takes advantage of people's sadness and sinfulness to tempt them to give in to their dissatisfactions and lusts. Then it allows its victims to be transformed into grotesque shapes according to each one's sins. Goodness—the innocent goodness of Will Halloway and the wise goodness of his father—means making continual choices to do good and resist temptation. It means being satisfied with the way things are, rather than longing and chasing after the way they used to be or might be in the future.

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