I'm rereading Wicked and absorbing so much more this time around. The first time I read it was when I was 16, immature, and had an undeveloped mind. I'm so deliciously scandalized by the way the book highlights atypical sexual preferences, the gray areas of morality and values, and conflicting views of worldly issues and otherworldly theories alike. It's a really fantastic fictional take on real life.
In Chapter 7 of Part V (The Murder and its Afterlife), Elphaba (otherwise known as the Wicked Witch of the West) is in locked in a passionate, wine-fueled debate during a dinner party on what Evil actually is. Some suggestions offered were:
- Evil isn't doing bad things, it's feeling bad about them afterward. There is no absolute value to behavior.
- It's merely an affliction of the psyche, like vanity or greed (and vanity and greed can produce some pretty astounding results in human affairs, not all of them reprehensible).
- It's an absence of good. The nature of the world is to be calm, and enhance and support life, and evil is an absence of the inclination of matter to be at peace.
- Evil is an early or primitive stage of moral development. All children are fiends by nature. The criminals among us are only those who didn't progress.
- It's a presence, not an absence. Evil is an incarnated character, an incubus or a succubus. It's an other. It's not an us.
- Evil isn't a thing, it's not a person, it's an attribute like beauty.
- It's a power, like wind.
- It's an infection.
- It's metaphysical, essentially: the corruptibility of creation.
- It's not of air and eternity, it's of earth; it's physical, a disjointedness between our bodies and our souls. Evil is inanely corporeal, humans causing one another pain, no more, no less.
- Evil is moral at its heart--the selection of vice over virtue; you can pretend not to know, you can rationalize, but you know it in your conscience.
- Evil is an act, not an appetite. How many haven't wanted to slash the throat of some boor across the dining room table? Everyone has the appetite. If you give in to it, it, that act is evil. The appetite is normal.
I thought this was an interesting topic to mull over. I don't think good and evil have concrete definitions. For the sake of relatability, imagine a feral (excuse the term haha) human growing up completely alone from birth. If knowledge of good and evil is innate and inborn, then would this person just know that to kill someone for fun is "evil"? Would this person know that giving what you have to those less fortunate than you is "good", and would this act make this person be filled with feelings of joy, like it does for most of us? I think what we classify under good and evil is shaped by the society/world we were born into. Presently, our world is an overall relatively unified place in terms of morals and values; we've come a long way. Generally speaking, everyone believes the same sorts of things are right and wrong, respectively. But these labels, "right" and "wrong", "good" and "bad"—I don't think they're real things. I can personally think killing someone for fun is evil—I do think killing someone for fun is evil, but that's not the point; let's try to see this with an open mind—but is it actually evil? Is it actually bad? And never mind laws, rules, and religion. Someone may retort with, "It hurts someone, so it is bad." But I don't think that fact makes the action any more bad than the fact that someone feeling happy about killing another person makes the action any more good. Good and bad aren't real, they are made-up ideals that exist only for as long as the society that created them exists.
What are your thoughts? What is the meaning of evil to you?
This chapter in Wicked ended with Elphaba offering her point of view:
"The real thing about evil," said the Witch at the doorway, "isn't any of what you said. You figure out one side of it—the human side, say—and the eternal side goes into shadow. Or vice versa. It's like the old saw: What does a dragon in its shell look like? Well no one can ever tell, for as soon as you break the shell to see, the dragon is no longer in its shell. The real disaster of this inquiry is that it is the nature of evil to be secret."