One of the hallmarks of John Updike’s writing is his strong masculine protagonists and commitment to the male perspective. Throughout his career, Updike chose to write through the eyes of working class American men as a way of illuminating how they saw the world. However, because he prioritizes masculinity and maleness as a desired trait, many of Updike’s male protagonists are also latent—or sometimes overt—misogynists, who take their frustrations out on the women in their lives. In “Should Wizard Hit Mommy?”, Jack’s resentment of his wife, Clare, is just one expression of a greater animosity he feels toward his family and home for the ways in which he has sacrificed for them, while they have only further boxed him in. He also projects this animosity onto his young daughter, Jo, whom he views as another woman who seeks to contradict and abuse him.
Throughout the story, Jack is preoccupied with outlining the ways in which he fulfils his roles as “man of the house”: completing his duties to his family even when it is difficult and unpleasant for him to do so. For example, Jack makes it clear immediately that he has grown to find Saturday story time tiresome, even though it is a duty he must continue to perform. He says that telling the same story “was especially fatiguing on Saturday, because Jo never fell asleep in naps anymore.” He continues however, because he views it as a commitment and one of his duties as her father. In a similar vein, Jack notes that he should be helping Claire move furniture downstairs. “She shouldn’t be moving heavy things,” he explains “she was six-months pregnant.” Here, Jack again calls attention to the tedious drudgery of his duties as a husband and father. At the story’s end, Jack watches Claire move furniture, too fatigued—and resentful—to help her.
Jack channels this same resentment towards Jo, viewing her dislike of the Roger Skunk story as another attempt by a woman to confine and undermine him. He reacts to Clare and Jo’s behavior in the same way even though one is an adult woman and one is a child. Both his wife and daughter make him feel negatively toward women in general. For example, when Jo begins to fuss when she doesn’t like the trajectory of Jack’s story, he gets incredibly frustrated. “Jack didn’t like women when they took anything for granted,” Updike writes; “he liked them apprehensive, hanging on his words.” This may seem a disproportionately harsh reaction to have to a four-year-old’s loss of interest during story time, but Jack repeatedly goes out of his way while telling Jo the story to make her feel trepidation or discomfort, and becomes instantly angry when she does not seem thrilled by the story she is hearing. For example, when Jo makes a sad face “without a touch of sincerity,” Jack is irked, seeing it as an attempt on his daughter’s part to undermine his storytelling. Jo’s disinterest also indicates that she has learned the structure of Jack’s story, and she repeatedly indicates that she feels she could take control of the narrative herself. Jack sees this loss of narrative control as another attempt by a woman to undermine him. In addition, Jo’s extreme anger at Roger Skunk’s mother for making Roger return to his former smell suggests that Jack’s ire at women (and specifically Clare) is something that he probably does not keep well-hidden, and has informed the way Jo thinks about her parents’ roles in her own life as well as in the story. Indeed, both Jo’s fierce exclamations that the skunk’s mother is “a stupid mommy,” and her conviction that Roger’s mother deserves to be physically punished for her transgression, suggest that she has potentially been exposed to both verbal and physical violence directed against her own mother.
This assumption is supported by the way that Jack overreacts when Jo’s behavior reminds him of Clare. For example, Jack continually points to evidence of Jo’s physical growth, referring to Jo’s “tall body” (an odd descriptor for a four-year-old) “fat face,” and “pudgy little arms,” which indicate a level of animosity and disgust that are out of place for a father to feel towards his own young daughter. However, Jack also often comments on Jo’s features or expression in situations where Jo reminds him of Clare. He explains that Jo’s eyes are “her mother’s blue,” and that Jo’s “wide, noiseless grin” reminds him of “his wife feigning pleasure at cocktail parties.” This complicates Jack’s animosity towards Jo and her body because it indicates that Jack grows to resent Jo more as she ages simply because she is turning into a miniature version of his wife. Coupled with her newfound desire to contradict his stories, Jack is increasingly unable to distinguish between the two women in his life, and takes out his feelings of animosity towards Clare on Jo.
Many literary critics, especially throughout the feminist movement, critiqued John Updike for misogynistic depictions of women and overtly sexist perspectives in his central male characters. Updike refuted what he called his “feminist detractors,” but there is no doubt that his highly-personal, masculine narratives concern men who see themselves as having been sapped of by their virility by domestic life. Jack is no exception; by lumping Clare and Jo together as women (despite their many obvious differences as people) and fixating on the ways in which he believes they seek to undermine his authority and power, Jack reveals his own overt misogyny toward his female family members, as well as his distrust of and dislike for women in general. Importantly, his misplaced frustration towards—and seeming disgust for—Jo stems from his fear that she will soon grow into a woman like Clare, and therefore continue to malign and abuse him.
Marriage, Family, and Misogyny ThemeTracker
Marriage, Family, and Misogyny 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.
Jack didn't like women when they took anything for granted; he liked them apprehensive, hanging on his words.
“That was a stupid mommy.”