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Wicked | Study Guide

Gregory Maguire

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Wicked | Book 1, Chapter 3 : Munchkinlanders (The Birth of a Witch) | Summary

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Summary

Frex delivers a sermon to the people of Rush Margins, cautioning them against being seduced by the pretty shiny apparatus of the Time Dragon's clock. One of the village residents, Bfee, argues they deserve an opportunity to prove their own morality by facing the spiritual test of watching the clock's show. Before Frex can respond, the Clock of the Time Dragon rolls into view, accompanied by a dwarf and a group of "young thugs." Frex protests the clock isn't a clock at all, with its hand stuck at one minute before midnight. Frex reminds the crowd that the clock "measures the time of the soul ... always a minute short of judgment." He asks them if their souls are prepared for judgment for engaging in idolatry.

Frex's sermon is interrupted by the clock whirring into action and sending out a yapping dog puppet with hair like Frex's. Then the dwarf engages the crowd, promising them a "miracle play" that "sees before and beyond and within the truth" of their lives. The performance features a pious minister with curly hair like Frex, who encourages simple living and personal generosity. Meanwhile, at home, the minister's wife conceals a store of gemstones and gold in her bosom. The minister puppet is speared with an iron stake, roasted, and served to his flock as food. Frex continues to rail against the performance, telling the crowd how the clock "panders to [their] basest instincts. The crowd ignores Frex's words and turns against him, beating him to the ground and sending a mob after Melena.

Back at home, Melena is in the throes of childbirth while the midwives who have come to assist her speak to a young woman who has come to warn them of the angry mob coming their way. The midwives move Melena in a hay cart and evade the mob by steering into a graveyard and hiding inside a crawlspace in the Clock of the Time Dragon's wagon. There, Melena gives birth to a green-skinned baby. Before they clean the infant, they can't determine its sex, thinking at first it is a boy. After they clean the baby, they determine it is a girl, but the midwives debate killing her because of her color and odor. The baby bites off the tip of a midwife's finger, and the women leave mother and child in the crawlspace.

Analysis

As the people of Rush Margins respond to the Clock of the Time Dragon, the clock's influence contrasts sharply with Frex's cautions against it. Conventional morality and appeals to the audience's basic goodness are easy to ignore in the face of such glittering entertainment. Bfee's attempts to convince Frex the people of Rush Margins deserve an opportunity to prove their goodness by resisting the clock's charms ring especially hollow. His appeals are not the words of a man who genuinely believes in the decency of his townspeople. They are exposed as the words of a man already seduced by the prospect of what the clock might show, trying to rationalize the base desire to peer into the lives of their fellows, to judge and punish their behavior.

Frex scolds the audience members for giving in to their basest instincts, but the Clock of the Time Dragon has power over these simple farmers precisely because it gives them an opportunity to indulge their basest instincts. Their lives are tedious, marked by labor and fear of drought. Frex's strict moralizing discourages their interest, because his religion offers nothing to break the monotony. The Clock of the Time Dragon has power over its audiences because it gives them what they want to see, and it allows the powerless peasants and farmers in the audience to exercise power over hapless members of the community. The performance in Rush Margins incites the crowd against Frex and Melena, each of whom is an appealing target. Frex is constantly trying to control their behavior, which is perhaps for their own spiritual good, but his sermons allow little room for fun. The townspeople already resent Melena, a daughter of a wealthy family who doesn't fit in with their rustic ways. They are all too happy to have the clock confirm their suspicions and give them an excuse to act on their resentments. Their lack of compunction about attacking a woman in the throes of childbirth shows how thoroughly they have been convinced to do evil.

Elphaba's birth within the mechanisms of such a device provides one of many possible causes for her appearance and disposition. The ambiguity of her sex at birth gives rise to later rumors about her sexuality. The mistake also assigns Elphaba a sense of masculine power from the start. Her green skin and sharp teeth make her dragonlike, as if the environment in which she enters the world physically influences what she becomes. Elphaba's surliness and dangerous nature indicate she has absorbed some of the clock's tendencies—that she never has a choice about who she is going to become. Yet she remains a helpless infant, and the midwives' evil desire to drown her immediately may also contribute to the righteous anger Elphaba carries through life.

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