Should Wizard Hit Mommy?


John Updike

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Should Wizard Hit Mommy? Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on John Updike's Should Wizard Hit Mommy?. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of John Updike

John Updike was raised by working-class parents in Berks County, Pennsylvania. He attended Harvard College, where he won the Scholastic Art and Writing award and was a frequent contributor to the Harvard Lampoon literary review. There he met and married his first wife, Mary Pennington, with whom he had four children. After graduating Suma Cum Laude, he attended the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford University with ambitions to become a cartoonist, but he ultimately moved back to the United States and began a career at The New Yorker, during which time he published hundreds of his own short stories and poems in the magazine before becoming an independent novelist. Drawing on his humble, protestant upbringing, Updike’s body of work concerns “the American small town, Protestant middle class.” He is best known for his “Rabbit” series, which chronicled several decades in the life of an American middle class man (Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom), and for which he won two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction. Updike published more than a twenty novels and numerous short story collections throughout his life. He died from lung cancer in 2009, at the age of seventy-six.
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Historical Context of Should Wizard Hit Mommy?

Though this story was written at the end of the 1950s, understanding the decade that preceded its publication is important to understanding the story. Following the end of World War Two and the passage of the GI Bill (which gave houses and paying jobs to returning veterans) many young American couples moved out of urban centers and into the suburbs to start families. As the impetus to settle grew, so too did the idea of the “ideal American family” which was reinforced by a golden age of advertising that targeted young wives in particular, presenting people with an unattainable image of domestic bliss. The pressures of domestic life were pushed to the background during the Cold War, during which Americans lived in constant fear of nuclear warfare. In “Should Wizard Hit Mommy?” John Updike is reflecting the pressure of family life. Although living the American dream was supposed to bring people happiness, it was often stifling and unfulfilling in reality, placing a strain on couples like Jack and Clare, who have no outlet to express or address their growing unhappiness.

Other Books Related to Should Wizard Hit Mommy?

Updike’s work is compared most often to the work of John Cheever. The two men built parallel careers out of writing about the often dark and complex realities lurking beneath the placid surface of suburban, middle-class life in America from the perspectives of men. Cheever’s most famous short story, “The Swimmer,” is an allegorical tale that, like “Should Wizard Hit Mommy,” deals with one man’s disenchantment with his picturesque life in the suburbs. In terms of Updike’s own work, his “Rabbit” series (which includes Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich among others) is the most famous example of Updike’s enduring and revered style. Indeed, critics have compared his protagonist, Rabbit Angstrom, to other male literary heroes like Jay Gatsby and Holden Caulfield because of Updike’s willingness to portray the basest parts of masculine desire in characters of unusual intelligence.
Key Facts about Should Wizard Hit Mommy?
  • Full Title: Should Wizard Hit Mommy
  • When Written: 1959
  • Where Written: New York
  • When Published: June 13, 1959
  • Literary Period: Modern American Fiction
  • Genre: Short story; semi-autobiographical fiction
  • Setting: Jack and Clare’s family home  
  • Climax: Jo insists that the wizard should refuse to restore Roger Skunk’s terrible smell and should hit Roger’s mother instead
  • Antagonist: Jack feels a deep resentment stemming from his obligations to his family. While his family members themselves are not antagonists, Jack’s sense of costly self-sacrifice and confinement in an unhappy home life antagonize him throughout the story.
  • Point of View: Third person limited; Updike writes in third person through Jack’s eyes

Extra Credit for Should Wizard Hit Mommy?

Two-Time Winner. John Updike won two Pulitzer prizes for fiction for his Rabbit series. He is one of only three writers to do so, joining Willian Faulkner and Booth Tarkington. 

The Feminist Problem. Though universally esteemed for his work, feminist scholars, writers and literary critics challenged Updike for his limited portrayals of female characters in his work and the overt and often violent misogyny of his central male characters. Updike referred to these critics as his “feminist detractors” and did not apologize for his perspectives.

His Greatest Critic. In addition to being a prolific writer of fiction, Updike was also a noted literary and art critic. In a published list of his personal rules for literary criticism, Updike cautions, “Try to understand what the author wishes to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.”