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Wicked | Symbols

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Water

Water is the essence of most life on Earth and in Oz, and it becomes a symbol of life and death in Wicked. The drought that plagues Munchkinland through most of the novel takes life from the environment. The drought creates a shortage of food, which leads to poverty, which plays a role in the political instability that allows Munchkinland to secede from Oz and Nessarose to assume absolute power over the region. The absence of water equals an absence of life.

Elphaba's relationship to water defines her disconnect from other people, so water comes to represent her isolation. Her aversion to water is never explained but may be related to her skin color. Elphaba's aversion to water causes her to dress in a somewhat witchlike manner: she covers herself with a cloak, boots, gloves, and hat even in the lightest rain, even in summer, to keep water away. These clothes form a barrier between Elphaba and the world. Elphaba's aversion to water also causes her friends to speculate about her bathing habits. She has a terrible fear of lakes and sees the ocean in her worst nightmares. Most importantly, Elphaba cannot cry, either because her body does not produce water or because the tears cause her physical pain. In moments of extreme emotion, when tears might be appropriate, Elphaba cannot express her feelings even if she wants to, which leads her friends, especially Glinda, to believe she doesn't care about them. In the end, water kills Elphaba; when Dorothy douses her, she dissolves. The element that gives life to all other things takes life away from Elphaba, demonstrating her ultimate separation from other humans.

Silver Shoes

When Nessarose is in college, Frex sends her a beautiful pair of shoes, iridescent and covered with silver glass beads he makes himself using techniques his beloved friend Turtle Heart taught him. These shoes will come to possess layers of meaning. They first represent Frex's love for his daughter and for Turtle Heart; his labor to create the shoes are an expression of that love. Because Elphaba is aware her father prefers Nessarose to her, the shoes also symbolize Elphaba's jealousy of her sister and her yearning for Frex's love and acceptance. After Glinda enchants the shoes, they allow Nessarose to walk without assistance even though she lacks arms for balance; thus they symbolize her independence. Nessarose's independence allows her to exert oppressive power over Munchkinland, so the Munchkinlanders come to see the shoes as a symbol of oppression. After Nessarose dies, the shoes carry the potential to create civil unrest in Munchklinland, so Glinda sends them away with Dorothy, who sees them as a symbol of protection.

Books

Elphaba spends the bulk of her adult life in the company of books, which represent the power of knowledge and understanding and the potential to topple a despot—but only the potential. Each time Elphaba uses books to try to defeat the Wizard, she ultimately fails. In university at Shiz, Elphaba and her friends use books to help Dr. Dillamond with his research into Animal sentience. Elphaba hopes the research will persuade the Wizard to roll back his restrictions on the Animals and treat them as equal members of society. She is unsuccessful in this pursuit and becomes an underground radical engaging in terrorist-style resistance in the Emerald City. She keeps a pile of books by her bed there, connecting her reading and quest for knowledge with her quest to defeat the Wizard. When she finds the Grimmerie, said to be a book of all knowledge in an alternate world to Oz, she consults it for spells to help her defeat the Wizard. Later she offers to give the Wizard the Grimmerie to save Nor's life, hoping the book will allow her to at least win Fiyero's daughter back from him. The Wizard refuses to trade Nor but wants the Grimmerie all the same.

Mirror

When Elphaba is a child, Turtle Heart makes her a round looking glass on the day he meets her. She finds the object fascinating and she soon discovers she can see events in the mirror. On the night the Wizard comes to power and topples the royal Ozma family, Elphaba sees it happening in the glass as she sits under a dock and stares into its depths. Therefore, when Elphaba is young, the looking glass symbolizes the future. Later, when Elphaba joins the resistance in the Emerald City, the looking glass hangs on her wall. It is lost when Elphaba is discovered and Fiyero is killed, left behind in the apartment Elphaba is forced to abandon. She gets it back on the night the Clock of the Time Dragon reveals her biological father is the Wizard. When the looking glass comes back to her, it symbolizes Elphaba's past and her connection to it.

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