Wicked | Study Guide

Gregory Maguire

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Wicked | Prologue : On the Yellow Brick Road | Summary

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Wicked is divided into five named parts, or books. Of these, Books 1, 2, and 4 have named chapters; Book 4's chapters are furthered divided into numbered parts. Book 3 is divided into two unnamed sections; and Book 5 is divided into 17 numbered subsections. This study guide treats each section of Chapter 3 separately and groups the parts of Book 5 for the purpose of summary and analysis.

Summary

The Witch watches the party of travelers on the Yellow Brick Road, observing Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow from her perch on a broom high above. She listens in on their conversation about her, in which they relay various rumors about the Witch: She is insane. She is possessed by demons. She was castrated at birth after being "born hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male." She suffered abuse and neglect as a child, "deprived of a mother's love." She is "addicted to medicine for her skin condition." They speculate about her love life, saying she has been unlucky in love, or perhaps she "prefers the company of other women," or she has been spurned by a married man or is a married man. They call her "a despot" and a "dangerous tyrant," and in the next breath call her an advocate for home rule in the Vinkus. Dorothy stops the running commentary by stating the Witch must be mourning her dead sister; the Witch resents this as well as all the other speculation. She sees her sister's shoes on Dorothy's feet, but before she can make a move a storm moves in, driving the group farther along the road and the Witch into the shelter of a willow tree. She decides to wait for another opportunity to take the shoes, hoping the storm will end and take the danger of water with it.

Analysis

The prologue immediately connects Wicked's story to the source material, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is structurally important to remind the reader of the novel's iconic source material from the outset, so the Prologue takes place near the end of Elphaba's story; the books serve as the flashback explaining how Elphaba ends up riding a broom, unseen, over Dorothy's party. The Prologue also highlights the importance of perspective in understanding good and evil. Dorothy and her friends are the heroes of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but the Prologue sets up the Witch as the main character of Wicked, and the famous travelers on the Yellow Brick Road become antagonists. The rumors they describe provide insight into how the Witch has evolved into an incarnation of evil through rumor and hearsay. These rumors are often conflicting and self-contradictory, just as Elphaba's character is complex and often self-contradictory. On the surface, she can't be both a tyrant and a champion of the Vinkus region's independence from Oz, but later events will reveal the grain of truth in this contradiction as they reveal the grains of truth in many of the other rumors. Elphaba is not abused as a child, but she has a distant relationship with her parents. Hints appear on a few occasions in the narrative that render her biological sex ambiguous. She has been unlucky in love as the result of an affair with a married man. She lives for many years exclusively in the company of other women, but there is little evidence that she "prefers" their company and no evidence she is romantically interested in women. The perception of Elphaba as "wicked" is shaped by half-truths and distortions.

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