Friday, March 16, 2012

Feminism within Roald Dahls Childrens Book, The Witches

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Like all of Roald Dahls books, The Witches is a highly entertaining and humorously sarcastic look at many of the fears and realities that children face. As the title indicates, this particular Dahl story is about witches. From this simple understanding we know that the tale is about women, for only women are witches, males are warlocks. With that perspective in mind the following paper examines how one could look at Dahls story from a feminist perspective.

The Witches

It should be noted, first and foremost, that while can argue many different perspectives in an examination of this story, the perspective being offered is one that indicates Dahls book is a very negative look at feminism and at women in general, providing a somewhat derogatory understanding of who women are.

In understanding how Dahls work seems negatively directed at women we first look at the fact that women have, perhaps throughout history, been negatively classed as a witch if they voice their opinions or make a stand of some kind. Good women were called ladies and were never considered witches. And, in all honesty, there is only one good woman in Dahls book. That woman is not just any woman but a grandmother. In this respect we can argue that the grandmother symbolizes the ideal female who is neither pretty nor truly opinionated. She is nurturing for she takes care of her grandson and loves him. That is her life and she is not sexual, pretty, or threatening in any way. She is the ideal female, in the opinion of the stereotypical and ignorant male.

We are then left with all the other women in the book, all of whom are angry vicious witches. In the following we gain an introduction into who these women are, and they are far from nurturing and positive

In fairy tales witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs. That is why they are so hard to catch (Dahl ).

This simple introduction leads us to know that we would never be able to recognize a witch, for she does everything just like everyone else. She works and dresses like any other woman. We do not ever see these other women, but we assume they are mothers and good women like grandmothers. This is further emphasized in the following, which provides us an incredibly negative look at women A real witch hates children with a red-hot sizzling hatred that is more sizzling and red-hot than any hatred which you could possibly imagine.......Even if she is working as a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman or driving around in a fancy car (and she could be doing any of these things), her mind will always be plotting and scheming and churning and burning and whizzing and phizzing with murderous bloodthirsty thoughts (Dahl 7).

Considering that the women we see are all witches, save the grandmother, we are led to assume that all these women we see who do not have children hate children and all they stand for. They are vicious and cruel creatures that look like everyone else and who act like everyone else. But, when we get them behind closed doors their evil comes forth as they ultimately try to destroy children.

Symbolically we can argue that what we are seeing is a picture of feminists who argue that women should not be obligated to have children. Feminists have often been seen in a negative light because society assumes they should have children. These witches are those evil women who do not want children. A woman who does not want children is presumed to be very unnatural and in this novel, so unnatural that she is an evil witch that wishes to destroy children.

This also symbolizes how much of a threat such women can be. They look like everyone else, but we better watch out because these independent women are actually incredibly evil. They are successful and appear to be perfectly fine, but they do not have children. This is a sign to a man that a woman is either a lesbian or a feminist in many ways. In Dahls novel we see this very powerful possibility for there is something wrong with these women who have no children.

Dahls novel just takes it one step further and indicates that any such woman is clearly an affront to nature itself. They are evil and they are dangerous creatures. They plot to rid the world of children, and thus symbolically are trying to change the course of a society in which women love children and nurture children.

In further understanding this particular perspective we note that the grandmother is more than a simple nurturing woman, she is also a witch hunter, indicating that any good woman would want to rid the world of women who did not want children The Witches, the main character is seven years old. His Norwegian grandmother, a retired witchophile, becomes his guardian upon the death of his parents...He....enlists the help of his indomitable grandmother to stop the witches evil plot to kill all of the children in England (Royer). In this we can clearly see how the grandmother is guilty of indicating women without children are evil.

We also note that the winners of the battle are a boy and a grandmother who hates witches, or women without children. This presents us with the power of men, for the boy is essentially the mastermind and power in the story. And, the grandmother is certainly on his side wishing to propagate the notion that women should always love children.

It becomes obvious that the story of The Witches offers many negative looks at women who are less than ordinary. And, interestingly enough, Dahl has often been criticized for such approaches Dahl has been accused of sexism by feminists in England, and has been criticized for his negative portrayal of witches by witches societies in the United States. These critics point to statements such as the following in making their case against Dahl But the fact remains that all witches are women (Royer). Many argue that the witch, such as Dahls witches are seen as a celebration of and a reaction against the power of the female imagination, female sexuality, and feminist politics (Bewitched by Witches). One individual, in response to Dahls derogatory attitude towards witches, and thus women as well, states While The Witches presents the same old stereotypes about our kindred, i.e. dwelling on the idea that Witches are evil persons determined to kill children, Dahl has eliminated the !

notion that Witches are ugly, old hags. The resulting message is preposterous (New Moon Rising).


In the end we see that the perspective of women in Dahls book is not a pleasant nor by any means a positive perspective. However, it should also be noted that Dahls books are primarily works that address the distrust for the adult world. Dahls works have always insisted that the children are perhaps wiser than adults, and that they should truly examine the world around them through their own lenses, not through the lenses of those who are in authority. As such one could take another argument in regards to the feminist perspective in this particular work, perhaps arguing that the witches are nothing more than representative of controlling forces and women, such as his grandmother, symbolize the wisdom and strength of women in general in helping children fight against unjust authority.


Bewitched by Witches. Retrieved 7 December, 00 from http//

New Moon Rising. An Open Letter to the Pagan/Wiccan Community. Retrieved 7 December, 00 from http//

Royer, Sharon E.. Roald Dahl and Sociology 101. The Alan Review, Fall 18, v6 n1. Retrieved 7 December, 00 from http//

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