Time, Decay, Fragmentation, Separation
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a horror story, and Bradbury uses many images and metaphors for time as an agent of decay, fragmentation, and separation. The two main metaphors for time are the Mirror Maze and the Carousel. The Mirror Maze is one of the sideshows of the carnival where people walk through a hall of mirrors and see so many of their reflections they do not know who or where they are. Such carnival mazes are meant to disorient, but this is a sort of supernatural maze where the lookers get so confused and depressed, they are never normal again. Miss Foley sees how insubstantial she is as she ages away into nothingness. People can also be mirrors, as Jim and Mr. Hallowayare for Will. Will sees Jim as a mirror of his darker urges, and he sees Mr. Halloway as his older self: “Dad, Dad, thought Will, why, why, he looks . . . like me in a smashed mirror!” (Chapter 2, p. 12). Aging is described in many places as a distorting or crushing or grinding. Sin is described as visible on people’s faces that are “smashed like small windows by life that hit without warning, ran, hid, came back and hit again” (Chapter 5, p.19).
Cooger and Dark use the maze to tempt people to want to ride on the carousel to become younger or older. Miss Foley becomes a lost little girl on it, while Cooger ages a hundred years. The Carousel plays Chopin’s Funeral March, so when the music is forward, the person ages, and when the music is played backwards, the person becomes young. To become younger, Mr. Cooger leaped on “the back-whirling universe . . . an endless circling night toward unfound and never to be discovered destinations” (Chapter 18, p. 56). Clocks, hours, and months are also used symbolically. A woman is a warm clock; books describing evil laid on a table become a clock without hands; 3:00 a.m. is the hour of evil; and October is the time of evil in the year.
The Carnival that arrives secretly at 3:00 a.m. with the Ringmaster, Mr. Dark, or the Illustrated Man, are the main symbols of evil in the story. Their supernatural character is suggested in that they show up in this town every thirty or forty years, and they have powers to grant dark wishes for people. The tattoos on Mr. Dark are the souls he has captured. When he flexes his muscles his slaves dance. His arm is “like a cobra weaving, weaving, bobbing to strike” (Chapter 18, p. 53). Eventually, he draws the pictures of Jim and Will in each palm, and when he squeezes his palms, they feel pain. The freaks are also symbolic of the sinful slave train following him. There is a Skeleton Man, a Dwarf (recently the lightning-rod salesman), and the Dust Witch who tells fortunes and suffocates and paralyzes people. She comes in a big balloon “green as slime, printed with titan pictures of winged scorpions, ancient phoenixes, smokes, fires, clouded weathers” (Chapter 30, p. 109). These freaks have camera eyes that spy on the townspeople. The lightning-rod salesman had foretold the arrival of this carnival as a storm, and it has the quality of blowing in and out like a storm of destruction. He has earned this fate by seeing and believing in the “storm like a great beast with terrible teeth [that] cannot be denied” (Chapter 1, p. 1). Other metaphors associated with the evil circus are ice, shadow, and dark. The alluring most beautiful woman in the world is an emptiness in ice meant to tempt men. Shadows and darkness are alive. Jim Nightshade, for instance, is a boy of shadow who knows shadow and is attracted to Mr. Dark and what he can learn from him.
Though the book tries to bring out a response of terror, Bradbury also retains the mood of ecstatic boyhood adventure from Dandelion Wine in places to show that goodness is really more powerful than evil. The boys are like brothers, carving whistles, racing each other to the bridge, escaping windows by night, and having secret signals. Their safe havens are their parents, their houses, and the library. Books represent knowledge, accumulated wisdom and information to help humans understand and cope with life. Mr. Halloway, as the protective parent, knows what is in the books and can teach it to the boys. Though he may be physically unable to protect them (Mr. Dark breaks his hand and the Dust Witch almost stops his heart), his spiritual power, from his knowledge, experience, and good heart, are enough to defeat evil and protect Jim and Will. The innocence of boys is shown in the remembrance of their summer adventures gathering peaches or exploring the fields around town, in their curiosity and amazement, and willingness to break rules and boundaries, to learn the lessons of experience. Parents seem to have special power in this nostalgic look at small town life in America. Mothers and fathers are not dissected for their failings as in contemporary literature, but are rather archetypes of goodness and guidance.