LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

“Are people really born Wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”

on March 14, 2013 11:17am

Wicked

The children’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, is timeless and the subject of constant revivals that test the ability of the book’s star power by revamping the story line to appeal to a different generation. As a student who grew up in the theatre, my love for the Wizard of Oz did not come when I was a child reading this book, but when the Broadway musical Wicked came to stage. I was officially spellbound by the story of Elphaba, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, the girl who as a result of her mother’s mistake, took on a greenish hue and was ostracized for looking different. Her whole life all she wanted was to feel normal, which speaks to many young women who are growing into themselves and just want to fit in. While I will save you from the full plot, the bottom line is that the Wicked Witch of the West was no longer portrayed as an evil witch, but as a misunderstood woman who lost the love of her life in a tragic ending that resulted in her subsequent lack of faith for the power of good.

The Wicked Witch of the West is the most hated character in Baum’s story, especially as she relentlessly tried to kill Dorothy and her friends, and ultimately made them hostages in her country. I believe that the play was attempting to shed a different and more empathetic view on this character. The reason why this play is continuing to tour today and still considered a huge success is not only because it is visually and aesthetically pleasing to the audience, but also because people want to see the good in Elphaba, to understand why she became the way she is, and to justify her evil nature. In Wicked, Elphaba is the victim, a green girl who simply wants to be normal, and ultimately as her attempts at love and happiness kept failing, resorts to evil because she saw no point in trying to be good when all it did was create more pain. Unlike Baum’s book, the musical incorporates themes that are more tailored towards adults, but regardless, it is extremely relatable for those who are having difficulty accepting failure and loving themselves for who they are, rather than what the they think they need to become. This is not to say that anyone who loses love and cannot fit in must become an evil villain, but it does help others conceptualize that wickedness is not always such a clear-cut category, for more often than not, judgment is a result of misunderstanding.

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One response to ““Are people really born Wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”

  1. Aaron Pirkkala says:

    Although I cannot sufficiently answer your question stated in the title, “‘Are people really born Wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?'” — I can, however, use details about the Wicked Witch as found in The Wonderful World of Oz in order to get a clearer depiction of her character, which ultimately aids in the answering of your question.

    Indeed, it is safe to say that the Wicked Witch of the West is, in fact, wicked — the most obvious observation of this being that the very word “wicked” is featured as part of her infamous name.

    As you noted above, the storyline in the Broadway musical, Wicked, is one that ultimately has the audience showing sympathy for the Wicked Witch, in which you wrote that she is “a misunderstood woman who lost the love of her life in a tragic ending that resulted in her subsequent lack of faith for the power of good.” I think that it’s inevitable for a person to have sympathy for a literary/musical character — no matter their evils — if the script and storyline are perfected and conditioned as to provoke such feelings from the audience. However, one must again be reminded of those evils (the Wicked Witch’s evils) once more (especially after watching Wicked) because it is not excusable to have “made the Winkies her slaves” (62), “gave” her slaves “sharp spears, telling them to go to the strangers [Dorothy and her friends] and destroy them” (61), and also ordering “the King Crow” to “‘Fly at once to the strangers; peck out their eyes and tear them to pieces'” (60). Furthermore, she sends out 40 wolves and a swarm of bees after Dorothy and her friends — as well as a sky full of flying monkeys.

    Note that Baum uses the word “destroy” in replacement for “kill” or “murder,” most likely in order to suppress what violence occurs in the book, for the intended audience is young children. Nevertheless, phrases such as “sharp spears” and “peck out their eyes and tear them to pieces” are gruesome images on their own, thus giving children enough evidence to judge or label the Wicked Witch of the West as, in fact, wicked.

    Thus, I present a question as an answer to your question.
    Question: “‘Are people really born Wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?'”
    Answer: Is there ever a valid reason (excuse) for one to act upon their wickedness?
    Answer (restated): Do a person’s mishaps and misfortunes justify their acts of evil — and even murder?

    My answer to my own answer to your question is simple: NO! The witch may be wicked, but for her to attempt murder or even enslave an entire people is downright immoral and inexcusable. Sure, a Broadway musical such as Wicked will, if professionally constructed, achieve a reaction of sympathy (for the Wicked Witch) from the audience. But, if at the end of that same musical a photograph of a slaughtered Dorothy is seen soaking in her own blood, surrounded by her dead friends — simply because the Witch’s murder attempt had succeeded…

    …well, we’ll leave that for the audience to decide.

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