Something Wicked This Way Comes
Themes, Motifs, Symbols
Something Wicked This Way Comes considers the various aspects of acceptance. Bradbury suggests that the ability to accept oneself is not simply a trait that people have; it is a quality that people must develop. Charles Halloway is not a happy man, but that is not really all that important. What is important is that at the beginning of the book he does not accept himself. His fifty-four years drag on him, and he is not sure of himself as a father. But at the critical moment in the book, when the Witch is about to stop his heart, he suddenly looks up and realizes that there is no need to be afraid of what he is or is not. Charles Halloway understands that he is simply a man who must go about his life and he finally comprehends that we cannot change what we are—but we can become comfortable with it and go from there. Once he accepts himself he laughs the Witch out of the library and then, sure in his heart, he moves on to the carnival where he quickly dispatches the Witch, the Mirror Maze, and Mr. Dark. His acceptance allows him to see the carnival for what it is, something that feeds off of people who are unhappy with who they are.
Similarly, Jim has to accept who he is. He spends most of the book chasing something that will destroy him simply because he does not want to stop chasing. Jim needs to ride on the carousel because he wanted to when he first thought about it and he cannot stand the thought that he will be stopped from doing something that he wants to do. This is not egotism on Jim's part; he simply does not want his freedom curbed. But he has to learn that being a human being means you do not have unlimited freedom. Will sacrifices much to help Jim, and Jim needs to learn what it means to have friends. It appears by the end of the book that Jim accepts himself and knows that what he desired all along, to ride on the carousel, would not be good for him.
The idea of common cause is put forth by Charles Halloway as his reason for why people are kind to each other. When you believe that you have something in common with someone else then you are willing to do things that you would not otherwise be willing to do. But Halloway's notion goes deeper than that, since he argues that all people share one fundamental commonality: specifically, we are all going to die. If we use that commonality to allow us to gain some sort of common ground with which to view everyone around us then the world will be a better place. Charles Halloway sees that common cause is the root of extending a relationship to another human being and he thinks that if all human beings had at least a minimal understanding of each other then evil would fall on hard times. For evil like that of the carnival preys upon those who are isolated and feel that no one understands their desires or cares about them. But if people saw everyone as players in the same game there would not be such isolated ones, and they would have something to go to besides the bright but empty allure of the carnival.
Age is also an important theme in this novel. Charles Halloway learns that what matters is not the number of years that one has been alive but the feeling that one has, the love for life that one exhibits. If you are young at heart and desire only to run like a younger boy then you may do so, even at age fifty-four. At the same time, Mr. Cooger and the carousel shows us that physical age cannot be trusted; it is mental age that is important. The only age that matters is whether the mind is young or old, quick or slow. Jim does not understand this point early in the novel, only learning it at the very end. It does not matter if your body is twenty-five years old and your mind is only 13. You will still be a thirteen year old. And even the number of years you have lived does not necessarily reflect your mental or physical age. Jim, at thirteen, has twenty years of looking at the world. Will has only six. But then Will probably has more years pondering things than Jim does. Viewing age from so many different perspectives in some degree dissolves the concept of age.
For most of Something Wicked This Way Comes, magic is what Mr. Dark and his evil associates use. Yet magic becomes something much deeper than that. When Will's father kills the Witch with a smile, it becomes clear that magic is a part of life. It is a part of each of the book's major themes. There is a magic that comes with acceptance of self, and this is the magic that Charles Halloway uses to defeat the carnival. This magic comes from an inability to be deceived about what one really desires. There is also a magic that stems from common cause, and this is the magic of a community. A community that is truly intertwined may protect its members from evil because when someone desires something that may lead to their downfall there will be someone else there to help them. Finally, there is magic in age, specifically located in the carousel, but more generally in the fact that whatever age one feels oneself to be is a better approximation of one's real age than the number of years one has been alive.
Belief is a part of what makes magic real. When you do not believe in the magic it does not work. If you do not think that laughing will make things better, then odds are it will not. When Mr. Halloway stops believing in the power of the Witch, she loses her power. Halloway's laugh is a testament to how ridiculous her supposed powers are. People's beliefs carry tremendous power with them, and when you believe in something fervently it may have greater effects upon you then when you do not believe in it at all. The Mirror Maze loses all of its power over Mr. Halloway when he no longer believes that it is himself he is seeing.
The carnival as evil
Throughout the book the carnival is associated with nothing but bad deeds and awful events. It is a place of evil run by evil people. The carnival is not a part of the town, so its evil is something beyond the normal evil in man. In fact, its evil may be viewed as the evil that threatens to destroy towns. The carnival is the evil that drives people apart and unites them through fear and manipulation, rather than through freedom and caring. The carnival is the evil that threatens to make all people selfish and greedy, and it must be combated in order to ensure that there will always be communities of people living together in harmony.
Young boys run where they will and act upon passing fancies. So, in Something Wicked This Way Comes, does life. Things occur unexpectedly and pop up out of nowhere, just like the young boys who run everywhere and can be anywhere at any given moment. The unpredictability of young boys is matched only by that of life. Part of the reason that Jim and Will may have been the ones to figure out the carnival is that, while they did not anticipate it, they move with it. They see it arrive and see it end, because they move fast enough and far enough to see many things. The other people in the town are a step behind, and they are no match for the carnival. Will's father, on the other hand, gets in touch with his youthful side just in time to put and end to the carnival. The three run together at the end of the book, just as life in Green Town turns a new page.
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