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Wicked | Themes


Good and Evil

Wicked is based on the premise that good and evil are, to some degree, matters of perspective. The Wicked Witch of the West is a classic villain of American literature, but in the Wizard of Oz, she is a one-dimensional villain. When given a name and a backstory that explains her motivations, Elphaba emerges as a flawed woman whose sense of social justice has been shaped by a lifetime facing the prejudices of her peers and the brutality of the Ozian government. As a child she watches the Wizard's forces kill Quadlings in search of profit. As a young woman she watches the Wizard imprison and kill Animals and any others who dare oppose him. The evils Elphaba fights are those perpetrated against those who don't fit in because Elphaba doesn't fit in either. She is green, irritable, and often indifferent to the people around her because she focuses too much on the big picture.

Elphaba's actions cause unintentional harm in some instances. Her involvement in political resistance gets her lover, Fiyero, killed. Her decision to visit her sister after Munchkinland secedes from Oz gets Fiyero's family imprisoned and killed. Later in the novel, Elphaba does harm more directly. She kills Fiyero's son Manek, but only because he is a bully who tries to kill Fiyero's other—secret—son, Liir. She tries repeatedly to kill Madame Morrible, but only because Madame Morrible kills a kind and productive Animal professor and then attempts to manipulate Elphaba and her friends into the Wizard's service. Because Elphaba is different from other people, and because she openly opposes the Wizard, the Wizard paints Elphaba as evil, so that is what the public knows about her. They see her destructive actions and her prickly persona, not her desire for justice and protection of the weak. However, because so many of her well-intended acts do go wrong, Elphaba comes to embrace her image as the Wicked Witch. If opposition to the Wizard makes her wicked or evil, Elphaba is happy to accept that description.


Power corrupts those who have it, twisting their intentions and leading them to do harm, because those who have power will go to great lengths to keep it, especially if they have been powerless previously. Elphaba's sister Nessarose comes into power as the Eminent Thropp, the traditional leader of Munchkinland. Elphaba is supposed to assume this position, but her disappearance after college leaves the Eminence to Nessarose. During her time at Shiz University, Nessarose is an essentially kind young woman whose physical disfigurement—a lack of arms—causes her to rely on others for care. Her religious devotion makes her somewhat judgmental and moralistic, but she is essentially pleasant. Once she assumes power over Munchkinland and her sparkling shoes give her the power to walk independently, Nessarose's religious devotion becomes fanaticism, and she uses her judgment and moralizing to rule Munchkinland with a severe if erratic fist, doling out curses based on whim and impulse.

Similarly, a vision of the Wizard's life before coming to Oz reveals him as a powerless man, emerging sadly from a shopfront bearing a sign reading "No Irish Need Apply." The vision implies the Wizard couldn't find work or success in America because of his nationality. Beaten down by prejudice in the United States, when he comes to Oz and assumes power there, he abuses it immediately. Even before he becomes the Wizard, he encounters Elphaba's mother, Melena, and uses the power of his "Miracle Elixir" in a bottle to render her unconscious and take sexual advantage of her. After he takes control of Oz, he uses his power to perpetrate the same prejudice and abuse he faced in America.


The novel's family bonds are complicated, and blood relationships do not equal affection or connection. When Elphaba is born, her parents do not touch her for the first three weeks of her life because they are repulsed by her green skin and sharp teeth. Only when Nanny arrives does Elphaba begin to receive any care. Nanny is a part of Melena's family because at some point she was hired to care for the Thropp children. When she cares for Elphaba and later, Nessarose, and even later, Liir, she seems to do so because the Thropp family has become her own family. There is no evidence she receives payment for her services.

Turtle Heart's place in Frex and Melena's family also reflects how families are created rather than born. Frex and Melena essentially take Turtle Heart as a third spouse in their marriage, and the product of this union is Nessarose. Throughout her life, Nessarose is Frex's favorite. There is a good chance he is not her biological father, but this possibility makes him love her more, because her uncertain parentage allows her to be both his and Turtle Heart's daughter.

Even with Nanny's influence, Elphaba never fully connects with her parents. She is always keenly aware her father favors Nessarose and her mother would have preferred a son. Elphaba finds two surrogate families in her life. The first is her group of friends, her "charmed circle" at college, including Nessarose and Nanny but also nonrelatives Glinda, Boq, Avaric, Tibbett, Crope, Pfannee, Shenshen, and Fiyero. Boq and Glinda, in particular, become like siblings to Elphaba. In some ways Elphaba is closer to Glinda than she is to Nessarose because the two of them can talk and debate as equals, whereas Elphaba always feels responsible for Nessarose. Boq becomes like a brother to Elphaba as they work together on Dr. Dillamond's research.

Elphaba finds a similar familial connection with Sarima and her sisters and children. Elphaba and Sarima interact and talk more intimately than Sarima does with her biological sisters. The two even feel comfortable discussing and criticizing each other's children, and Sarima's children call Elphaba "Auntie." Elphaba has a comfortable life with Sarima's family at Kiamo Ko because they give her space and let her be herself, something no other family has ever offered Elphaba. At the same time, Elphaba is totally disconnected from her own son, Liir, in a manner that echoes Melena and Frex's detachment from her.


Wicked implies lives may be controlled by destiny rather than free will, but ultimately leaves the question ambiguous. This ambiguity stems from a pivotal scene in which Madame Morrible tries to recruit Elphaba, Glinda, and Nessarose into working for the Wizard as his Adepts or representatives in their respective areas of Oz. She binds the three women with a spell that prevents them from talking or even thinking clearly about this proposal after the meeting. Elphaba resists the spell sufficiently to escape, but as she, Glinda, and Nessarose grow up and establish dominion over three different areas of Oz, she wonders if their lives have unfolded according to Madame Morrible's design anyway. Elphaba never gets an answer to her question, because if Madame Morrible does orchestrate their lives, she does so in a way designed to avoid detection.

Another figure who may have control over Elphaba's destiny is the mysterious Yackle, who first appears to sell Nanny pills for Melena to prevent her second child from being green. Yackle appears again in Shiz as the manager of the notorious Philosophy Club. Elphaba learns of Yackle's presence in these situations only years later, but she meets Yackle directly as the Mother Maunt of the convent Elphaba enters after Fiyero's death. She later sees an ancient drawing in the Grimmerie of a creature who resembles Yackle, labeled Yackal Snarling. Yackle may be an agent of destiny, a timeless force controlling everyone's lives, or a force highlighting the interconnectedness of all things. As with Madame Morrible, the full scale of Yackle's influence remains ambiguous within Oz, just as it is impossible to know whether we are controlled by destiny in our reality.

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