Updike’s story addresses the ways in which children lose their innocence as they grow up, trading an unquestioning sense of wonder for a desire to understand the world around them more fully—often by challenging what they have been told, or by breaking the rules. In “Should Wizard Hit Mommy,” Jack’s fundamental problem with Jo is that he is no longer able to control her and command her attention in the way he used to. As Jo grows up, she has started questioning Jack’s narratives instead of blindly accepting them. This process of growth and rebellion scares Jack not only because it points to a failure in his ability as a storyteller, but because he views growing up as a journey away from the escape of fiction and magic towards the constraints of duties and family life. By trying to maintain control of the story, therefore, Jack also tries to prolong his daughter’s innocence and reconnect with his own.
For Jack, the main sign that Jo has begun to grow up is her desire to question everything he tells her. This habit upsets Jack because it indicates that she is beginning to craft her own ideas and beliefs, which he will no longer be able to control. The fact that Jo suggests that Roger be a skunk makes Jack think that “they must be talking about skunks at nursery school.” This shows that Jack is aware that his daughter is bringing outside knowledge into his storytelling space—and it does not seem to be the first time she has done this. When Jo asks Jack if magic is “real,” he explains that “this was a new phase, just this last month, a reality phase. When he told her that spiders eat bugs, she turned to her mother and asked, ‘do they really?’” For Jack, Jo’s focus on reality is at odds with his desire to craft a reality for her through storytelling, a job that requires complete confidence from his audience. However, Jo continues to have more questions as the story goes along. When Jack brings up the Wizard, for example, Jo immediately wants to know if the Wizard is going to die and is not calmed when Jack tells her that “wizards don’t die.”
Jo’s preoccupation with truthful storytelling means that she is also consistently challenging Jack’s attempts to craft a story that exists beyond the confines of reality, and to reconnect with his own sense of childlike innocence as well as hers. For example, Jack sticks to the same basic structure every time he tells his daughter a story because it is unchallenging and promises a happy ending, even though this is decidedly unrealistic. Although Jack finds the story form “fatiguing,” it is also completely free from conflict: every problem is presented with the solution in hand. For instance, the formula dictates that the wizard always demands, as payment, a greater number of pennies than Roger has, while “in the same breath directing the animal to the place where the extra pennies could be found.” For her part, Jo has reached the point where she will not accept such an easy resolution. When she sees that Roger Skunk and his Mother fundamentally disagree on his smell, she is unhappy with her father’s simple resolution. In Jo’s version of the story, “the wizard hit [the mother] on the head and did not change the little skunk back.” Jack is unsettled by Jo’s suggestion because it removes the innocence of the story that he is trying to tell, and replaces it with a tale of conflict that mirrors the kind that Jack experiences in his life. While Jack views his storytelling as an opportunity to escape the stresses of his reality, Jo’s perception of her parents’ flawed relationship is making her unable to countenance a happy ending.
Jack’s displeasure with Jo’s reaction to the Roger Skunk story is primarily about control. For him, Jo growing up means that she will no longer blindly accept the things he says as true, but will instead reach her own conclusions and fight for her own beliefs, even when they directly contradict her father’s. By challenging and appearing uninterested by his story, Jack believes Jo is acting just like her mother—a reality he neither likes nor accepts. When Jo gets bored with his narrative, for example, Jack explains that he “didn’t like when women took anything for granted.” This observation indicates that Jack views his daughter’s disinterest as an adult quality, replacing a sense of wonder with boredom and cynicism. Ultimately, however, Jack cannot get around Jo’s cynicism. Jo flatly refuses to accept Jack’s story because it does not end in the way she wants, and the characters are not behaving in a way that she thinks is truthful or correct. She even goes so far as to tell Jack how she wants the story to go the following night: “Tomorrow I want you to tell me a story that the wizard took that magic wand and hit that mommy.” This exchange represents a turning point for Jack in his relationship with his daughter. Not only is she no longer engrossed by his stories, but she is now writing her own stories, and Jack lacks the willpower to reassert his own desires or challenge his daughter’s desires about how the story should end.
Jo’s strongly-worded declaration at the end of the story shows that the nature of her relationship to her father has fundamentally changed. Whereas story time used to function as a space where both she and her father could embrace their imaginations and sense of innocence, it is now an arena where a perpetual power struggle plays out—in which both seem to be processing very real aspects of their family dynamic. By the end of the story, Jack views his relationship with his wife and daughter to be roughly the same. In both he views himself as being beleaguered, fatigued, taken for granted, and—most importantly—out of control of the plot. Jack’s preoccupation with the signs of Jo’s growth (both physical and emotional) highlight the ways in which he is fixated on her personal growth, as she becomes more wayward and less innocent. As far as Jack is concerned, innocence means a willingness to accept everything that is told to you without issue. Therefore, Jo’s loss of innocence is equivalent not only to Jack’s loss of control over her, but to his realization that one day, she may exert control over him in the same way that Clare does.
Growing Up and Loss of Innocence ThemeTracker
Growing Up and Loss of Innocence Quotes in Should Wizard Hit Mommy?
The little girl (not so little anymore; the bumps her feet made under the covers were halfway down the bed, their big double bed that they let her be in for naps and when she was sick) had at last arranged herself, and from the way her fat face deep in the pillow shone in the sunlight sifting through the drawn shades, it did not seem fantastic that something magic would occur, and she would take her nap like an infant of two.
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.
“Are magic spells real?” This was a new phase, just this last month, a reality phase. When he told her spiders eat bugs, she turned to her mother and asked, “Do they really?” and when Clare told her God was in the sky and all around them, she turned to her father, and insisted, with a sly yet eager smile, “Is He really?”
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.
“That was a stupid mommy.”
“Tomorrow, I want you to tell me the story that that wizard took that magic wand and hit that mommy”—her plump arms chopped fiercely—“right over the head.”