“Should Wizard Hit Mommy?” deals with the question of what it means to fit in, and the price one pays for fulfilling one’s duties and conforming to others’ expectations. While Jo (and Roger Skunk) want desperately to fit in, Jack hates conforming to the expectations of domestic life, and wants desperately to escape them. However, while Jo believes Roger will be able to simply change his life with a wave of a wizard’s wand, Jack knows that certain things cannot be changed and that, much like Roger Skunk cannot escape his own smell, Jack cannot escape his own home life.
Jack becomes engrossed in the tale of Roger Skunk because it reminds him of his own childhood being bullied and ostracized. However, he ultimately wants to teach Jo a lesson that every person has innate characteristics and responsibilities that they have to accept and cannot change. Jo is unable to grasp this concept as a four-year-old, and, as a result, believes Roger Skunk’s mother is cruel for not allowing him to have the thing he wants most: the acceptance of his peers. Jack is “remembering certain humiliations of his own childhood” as he enthusiastically describes the way Roger Skunk’s fellow animals would taunt him. These details make Jack feel vindicated, but they only make Jo more upset. In fact, Jo is beside herself when she hears that that Roger Skunk’s mother will not allow him to smell like roses. “But Daddy,” she cries, “then he said about all the other little animals run away.” For Jo, the concept of not being liked by her peers is truly terrible and she cannot understand why the skunk’s mother doesn’t feel the same way. Confused by Jo’s anger, Jack attempts to teach her that a skunk’s smell is part of who he is, and that his love for his mother is greater than his desire to fit in by changing his smell. Jack explains that Roger “loved his mommy more than he loved aaaaalll the other animals. And she knew what was right.”
Much like Roger Skunk’s scent, Jack views his domestic and familial duties to be something that he cannot change or give up, however negatively they make him feel. For example, family plays a key role in the stories that Jack tells Jo. Roger always starts the day at home with his mother and comes back home “just in time to hear the train whistle that brought his daddy home from Boston.” This detail suggests that Jack is telling a story that mimics Jo’s daily routine (in which, presumably, Jo also stays at home with her mother and Jack returns in time for dinner each evening). Much like the routine of story time, Jack is becoming more and more fatigued with the burdens and responsibilities of family life. Indeed, whenever he is confronted with a familial duty within the story, Jack reports becoming tired or unhappy. He explains that “his head felt empty” of more stories to tell Jo, but the prospect of putting her to sleep and helping Clare repaint their living room makes him equally unhappy. Like his trusty story form, Jack views his life as a routine that is a “cage,” slowly choking out his joy in life. However, just as he explains to Jo that Roger Skunk accepts his scent out of love for and trust in his mother, Jack understands that he cannot leave his life out of obligation to Clare and his (growing) family.
Jack’s deep unhappiness with his life comes to a head at the end of the story when he finally goes downstairs to help Clare. Without Roger Skunk’s narrative to mask his resentment towards his wife, it becomes clear that he feels trapped in a life that he is unable to make magically disappear. Despite knowing that he should be helping his immensely pregnant wife move furniture, Jack sits down “with utter weariness, watching his wife labor.” This suggests that Jack considers telling his daughter a story to be a greater burden than his wife’s very real physical exertion. This sense of weariness stems from the fact that Jack feels trapped within his life. Describing the interior of Jack’s family home, Updike writes: “The woodwork, a cage of moldings and rails and baseboards all around them, was half old tan and half new ivory and he felt caught in an ugly middle position, and though he as well felt his wife’s presence in the cage with him, he did not want to speak with her, work with her, touch her, anything.”
Faced with the arrival of a new child and the expansion of a family that he already feels to be constraining, Jack feels himself caught in limbo. Much like his half-painted living room, he has one foot in his old life and one foot in the possibility of a future with a bigger family and even more responsibilities weighing him down. This state of unhappiness influences the story that Jack tells his young daughter, who only wants her protagonist to fit in and be happy and comfortable. However, because Jack feels trapped by his own duties as a husband and father, he is unable to provide a happy ending that he feels he will never experience himself. In this way, Updike suggests that by conforming to the expectations of family life, men must prioritize their duties above their individual desires. Just like Roger Skunk gives up his chance at fitting in because his mother does not like his new scent, Updike suggests that Jack compromised his individuality and happiness when he became a husband and father.
Duty, Conformity, and Fitting In ThemeTracker
Duty, Conformity, and Fitting In Quotes in Should Wizard Hit Mommy?
Sitting on the bed beside her, Jack felt the covers tug as her legs switched tensely. He was pleased with this moment—he was telling her something true, something she must know—and had no wish to hurry on. But downstairs a chair scraped, and he realized he must get down to help Clare paint the living room woodwork.
The wizard's voice was one of Jack's own favorite effects; he did it by scrunching up his face and somehow whining through his eyes, which felt for the interval rheumy. He felt being an old man suited him.
“No,” Jo said, and put her hand out to touch his lips, yet even in her agitation did not quite dare to stop the source of truth.