I believe that it is the simplicity of the book as a whole that tells us of the Witch’s role within it. The novel as a whole has a relatively simple plot on the surface, of a young girl who is whisked away from home and must go on a journey, to find the person who can help her and along the way she meets new friends and has to face a certain adversary and trails.
Now from this relatively short, stark description we can see that, in the original novel at least, the Wicked Witch of the West’s role was simply one of a narrative plot device to keep the story moving along and interesting, as without an adversary for Dorothy to face, her journey would simply be too easy.
Her character, role and meaning becomes more complex but also more meaningful and I feel that she finds a solid place in the story.
However, I feel that in order to start talking about who the Wicked Witch of the West is in this film adaptation, I believe that we have to talk about the role of a character not in the original book, and that is Mrs. Gulch. In this film adaptation, the real-world counterparts to the characters in Oz are just as important as their actions in Oz.
Now, take into account the actions of Mrs. Gulch at the start of the film, she frightens Dorothy by threatening to take her beloved Toto away from her and even goes as far to say that she wants the dog to be destroyed. Now to a little form girl in Kansas, this woman must be the first real example she has of evil, or at least of a cruel person who is seemingly completely against her. Her appearance could also attribute to this as she is shown to have a wart and a pointed nose and chin.
Now it is interesting that this cruel woman is the one who becomes the real world counterpart to the Wicked Witch of the West, which is shown in the film through the actors ‘doubling’ their roles. I believe that this shows that, even if Oz is a real place rather than just a figment of Dorothy’s imagination, the character’s in Oz are affected by Dorothy’s perception of their real-life counterparts.
In the film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the audience sees the action from Dorothy’s point of view and it is Dorothy’s actions and perceptions which affect the story for the audience. So, when Dorothy is confronted with this green witch (bearing in mind that Dorothy already believes that simply the word witch has negative connotations), who frightens her by blaming her for something, which Dorothy believes to be an ‘accident’, she is going to be reminded of the events back in Kansas where she was being blamed by the frightening Mrs. Gulch for something Dorothy deems to be an accident and no fault of her own.
This may appear to be an ‘obvious’ point to anyone who sees the scene of Mrs. Gulch transforming into the witch during the cyclone, however it is interesting that the appearance of the Witch and Mrs. Gulch are so similar to the point of the same warts and pointed features, through Dorothy’s eyes at least.
This was also stated by Hannah Waddingham while showing the process of how she gets into character for playing both Mrs. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaption of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Waddingham points out that Mrs. Gulch is the "root of why Dorothy is so terrified of the witch" and she describes the Witch as Dorothy’s “heightened' fear." The link between the two in this adaptation can even be seen in the costumes as the feather on Mrs.Gulch’s hat is the same as the feathers that make up the Wicked Witch of the West’s dress.
Now because the audience only see the witch through Dorothy’s eyes, it can be easy to forget that we don’t know if that is exactly how she acts or exactly how she looks, we are seeing Dorothy’s past experiences transferred onto the antagonist's character, in a way for Dorothy to understand that her goals go against that of the Witch.
Her appearance in this film has gone on to underpin the reputation and actions of witches for many years to come, as the pointy featured, wart faced, crooked hag who has a cackling voice. Even the colour of her skin is an outward sign of her jealous nature and intentions.
But that is only her appearance on the surface, and it is mainly the surface of her appearance which is altered by Dorothy’s perceptions and in the next instalment of this series I will be talking about how we may find the woman and character beneath this outward appearance, focusing on how the Wicked Years series of novels and the musical adaptation that followed, have allowed us a certain insight into who the Wicked Witch of the West really is.