Sophie is liberated by the Witch of the Waste’s curse, as it removed her from her assigned “failure” role to finding her own agency; “It was odd. As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said. She found that a great relief” (Jones 66). The self-imposed title of “failure” is displayed by the Witch of the Waste’s spell on Sophie, the spell being Sophie’s primary obstacle to overcome, hoping to find meaning in her “failure.”
When Sophie is transformed into a crone her reaction is not typical of a fairy tale heroine, saying, “Don’t worry old thing…this is much more like you really are” (Jones 33), as she examined herself in the mirror. When Sophie Hatter is transformed into a crone, bravely leaves Market Chirping regardless of advanced age, with more vitality as a crone than as an 18-year-old, the character instructs readers to question and resist social assumptions in the development of individual identity.
Even though it’s the Witch of the Waste who places the curse, if the book is read backwards it is hinted that Sophie is partly responsible since her exceptional timidity began when she told her reflection she is “[l]ike an old crone” (Jones 19). Comparatively in most fiction where a child magically becomes an adult, they learn about sobering adult responsibility and constraints, but for Sophie it is the reverse because she finds freedom in shedding childhood.
Sophie learns that Howl is not actually “heartless” but that he has given it to Calcifer to keep him alive. Howl is a well-mannered, well-intentioned, kind man who undercharges those who can’t pay, takes in those that have nowhere else to go such as orphan Michael and Old Crone Sophie, and mourns his mother-figure and magic teacher Mrs. Penstemmon when The Witch of the Waste kill her. Unlike Sophie, Howl sees himself as his own master, decider of his own fate, and unafraid of what society thinks of him. Despite his roguishness, glibness, and clever mind anti-hero Howl avoids confrontation, such as leaving Michael and Calcifer to deal with the fall out of never loving a girl long enough for her to see past his faults. Only when he can manipulate his own cowardice is Howl able to be brave.
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