Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wicked Assumptions

Assumption: anything accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof

In March, while in New York, I saw the Broadway play, Wicked. Back in my hotel room that night at the Park Central on 7th Avenue, I ruminated over the complexities of this Ozian play, adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. As I thought about poor Elphaba, the notorious WWW, I couldn’t get Kermit the Frog’s melancholic dirge out of my head: It’s Not Easy Being Green...

I loved everything about Wicked, especially the “innuendo, outuendo” word play built upon the rich anti-philosophical musings of Galinda, the “I happen to be genuinely self-absorbed and deeply shallow!” Good Witch of the North: "Magic wands, need they have a point?" But underneath the deeply shallow layers of humor, civil rights, and animal cruelty, I stumbled upon my very own “bizarre and unexpected twister of fate”—a confirmation of a theme that I have been formulating over the past several months after a series of odd relationship blows. My theme revolves around the problem of assumption and the fallout that can occur from the mindless action of making both rational and irrational assumptions.

First of all, I have an innate aversion to the word. Assumption. It starts with the prefix, ass-, which reminds me of other unpleasant words: assail, assault, assassination. As an avid friend collector, (try 1,101 on my steadily growing facebook page), I make every effort to steer clear of making assumptions about people. If I’m perplexed over someone’s actions or appearance, I search for facts first, ignoring the temptation to lump everything into one big hairy assumption and jump to my own most-likely misguided conclusions. Concerning the two or three people in my life who have recently assailed me with their misguided assumptions, all I can say is that I wish they had gotten their facts straightened out before lashing out against me. It hurt quite a bit in each of these non-related incidents, but as vexed as I felt, I could not conjure enough anger within me to retaliate. This is probably because my rendition of Kermit’s song has always been It’s not easy being mean.

For Elphaba, her green complexion sets others off when they see her. People assume she’s been cursed and treat her accordingly. Because of this wicked assumption, Elphaba’s dedication to helping the helpless goes unnoticed. She has taken care of her wheelchair-bound sister, Nessarose, all her life. She also cares deeply about the mistreatment of animals to the extent that she is sure the Wizard of Oz can solve the problem. "After all," Elphaba says, "that's why we have a Wizard."

When she becomes outraged over a frightened lion cub in a cage, Elphaba casts a spell that causes everyone except her one admirer Fiyero to gyrate out of control. Elphaba and Fiyero then steal the cub and set it free in the woods. Then she casts a winged spell on a host of caged monkeys, only to discover that Oz is not a wizard after all, and that the flying monkeys will be used as spies to further oppress the rest of the animals.

Even Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, turns against her after Elphaba saves a munchkin named Boq by turning him into the Tin Man. Boq assumes that Elphaba turned him into the Tin Man because she’s evil. The lion cub that Elphaba and Fiyero freed at Shiz becomes the Cowardly Lion, and everyone assumes his cowardice is Elphaba’s fault because "…if she had let him fight his own battles when he was young, he wouldn't be a coward today."

After these assumptions begin to haunt her, Elphaba tries to cast a spell to save Fiyero's life but thinking she has failed again, she sings “No Good Deed” and succumbs to her wicked status.

Ultimately, when the Scarecrow is revealed to be Fiyero, transformed by Elphaba's spell, Elphaba fakes her death, which must be kept secret even from her finally trusted friend, Galinda-turned-Glinda, to protect her. Glinda mourns her green friend's death but the citizens of Oz celebrate it, while Elphaba and Fiyero secretly leave Oz forever.

L. Frank Baum would have marveled over the way Broadway has funneled his classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, into an interpretive whirlwind of true friendship, one that surpasses color and the wicked assumptions that have destroyed one green girl too many.

At least Kermit’s a frog, I thought to myself as I drifted off to sleep that night in New York. He’s supposed to be green…


  1. Very good read! The third paragraph struck me the most...

  2. this post brings back memories of that play. the play taught me not to judge people by its outside but to look deep inside of the person and see what type of person they are. i agree with Shawn S, the third paragraph also struck and spoke to me the most. shoots.

  3. But... but... you've told the entire plot!

    I too loved the play and the book that preceded it, as well as all the Baum books before that. The clever word play goes back to Baum. The political causes too.

    The assumptions we make... well. I teach a Le Guin story at the beginning of every class that has something to say about how our assumptions can lead us astray.

  4. @ Jan P. : "The Stone Boy," perchance? @Debbie: Makes me really want to see the play, and definitely read the book. I guess re: others' mistaken assumptions about us, have to revert to what may be the fiercest challenge in the St. Francis prayer..."not so much [seek]to be understood as to understand." Auweee...

  5. So glad you're writing in your blog again! Makes me really want to see the play as well (which may become less likely for as while as our boy is coming home!). Still hoping for that writers' group; with stuff like this to look forward to, it would be a blast! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on such a timely issue!

  6. Brilliant blog! Glad you are back too.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the play. Did your translation of the play help you in forgiving those in your life that are misled by assumptions?

  7. Great analysis of "Wicked". I loved that play too! Yes, Elphaba was quite misunderstood. Many people were misled by assumptions. It was sad how she had to succumb to assumptions and fake her own death as the evil witch to be free. She wasn't able to be true to herself. :)

  8. Wow! I was completely enthralled with this. I love how it felt very personal and real. I always understand the "lesson" from Wicked but now I look at it a little different and appreciate it even more.

  9. I've been told that the true meaning of "Assume" is ASS! out of U and Me!!

  10. I listened to Wicked on CD while driving to and from the MFA residency last year. It was incredible, so imaginative, and full of intelligence. I'll never think of the Wicked Old Witch the same!
    You're so right about assumptions, they make an ass out of us, invariably.

  11. I love your commentary on the word assumption, its prefix, and all the other unpleasant words that share the same. I walked out of this play dazzled. You actually walked out with words! Good for you, Deb.

  12. there's a Adventures in Odessey episode about assumptions- too often we judge by eyes and ears and don't listen enough. Thanks for your blog- i enjoy reading them!