Chapter 5 Should Wizard Hit Mommy?
By- John Updike

 

About the Author

John Hoyer Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009), an American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic, and literary critic was one of only three writers to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. John Updike published more than twenty novels, more than a dozen short-story collections, as well as poetry, art and literary criticism and children's books during his career.

​Introduction

The story revolves around Jack, a father to two kids- Joanne (Jo) and Bobby. His wife Clare is carrying their third child. Jack had a habit of telling his daughter, Jo a story every evening and on Saturday afternoon naps. This time when he was telling her a story, she interrupts him and asks him questions whenever she feels that things that are being told are not right. So jack now finds himself in a fix and doesn't know how to resolve Jo’s questions. Parents feel that

1. children should do or think exactly what they are told.

2. They should believe whatever they are told by their parents.

But is this the right attitude? This moral question is raised by the story and left for the reader to decide what should be done.

 Theme

The story raises a moral issue if the parents should always decide what the children should do or let the children do what they like to do. Children dream and live in their own magical world. They are devoid of despise, ugliness, and petty differences. They are pure at heart. This story raises a moral question at this point, “Should Wizard hit Mommy?” Jo feels that he must. Jack says that it would be wrong because a mommy is always right. She should be loved and respected.

 

Characters

  1. Joanne: a four year old girl, lovingly called as ‘Jo’.

  2. Jack: Father of Joanne

  3. Clare: Wife of Jack, mother of Joanne.

  4. Skunk: a baby creature with a bad smell.

  5. Mother Skunk: Mother of baby Skunk.

  6. Owl: a wise creature that solves the problems.

  7. Wizard: A magician.

 

Summary

Jack was the father of two little kids – Jo and Bobby. His wife Clare was carrying their third child. Jack would tell a story to his daughter Jo out of his head in the evenings and for Saturday naps. This custom of story-telling began when Jo was two–year-old and it was continuing for the last two years. Each new story only differed a bit from the basic tale. There always was a small creature, usually named Roger, for example, Roger Fish, Roger Squirrel, Roger Chipmunk etc. He always had some problem and he would go to the wise old owl. The owl would tell him to go to the Wizard, who would perform a magic spell that solved the problem. The Wizard in turn would demand in payment a number of pennies greater than the number Roger creature had. But at the same time he would direct the animal to a place where the extra pennies could be found. Then Roger would become so happy that he played many games with other creatures. Roger then would go home to his mother just in time to hear the train whistle that brought his daddy home from Boston. Jack then would describe their supper, and the story was over.

Jack found this story-telling session especially tiring on Saturday, because Jo never fell asleep in naps any more. One Saturday Jack asked Jo about whom the story should be today. Roger Skunk, she said firmly. A new animal; they must talk about Skunk at nursery school. Jack started the story of the tiny creature Skunk, who lived in the dark deep woods. His name was Roger Skunk and he smelled very bad. He smelled so bad that other animals of the jungle would not play with him. They would run away and Roger Skunk would stand there all alone.

Roger Skunk went to the wise old owl and told his problem. The owl asked the Skunk why he did not see the Wizard. Then he went to the Wizard and told that he smelled very bad and all the little animals used to run away from him. The wise owl had told wizard that he could help in that manner. The Wizard took his magic wand and asked Roger Skunk what he wanted to smell like. Roger Skunk told him that he would like to smell like roses. The Wizard chanted and Roger Skunk started smelling like roses. The Wizard asked Roger Skunk to pay seven pennies. Roger Skunk said that he had four pennies only and he began to cry. The Wizard directed Roger to go to the nearby magic well and he would find three pennies there. Roger Skunk took out three pennies from the well and gave them to the Wizard. Now all the other animals gathered around him because he smelled so good. They played various games and laughed. It began to get dark so they all ran home to their mummies. Jo thought that the story was all over.

When Roger Skunk went home his mummy said that the smell was awful. She asked who made him smell like that. Roger Skunk said that the Wizard did so. She said that they were going right back to that Wizard. He said that all the other animals would run away with his bad smell. But his mummy said she did not care. He should smell the way a little Skunk should have smelled. So she took Roger with her and went to the Wizard. When the wizard opened door, she hit him with her umbrella and explained how the wizard’s magic infuriated her. The wizard spelled another magic and Roger smelled as foul as he did earlier. But she was displeased with this new ending and wanted her father to make the wizard hit Roger’s mommy. But Jack was not ready to make any change as he thought Joe should accept him without questioning. Jo protested but Jack said that it was daddy’s story. He said then Roger Skunk and her mummy went home. They had supper and when Roger Skunk was in bed, Mommy Skunk came up and hugged him and said she loved him very much. He told her that the story ends there.

Jo asked her daddy if the other animals ran away from Roger Skunk. Jack said no, they finally got used to the way Roger Skunk was and did not mind it at all. Jo commented that she was a stupid mummy. He asked her to have a long nap as her brother Bobby was also sleeping. Jo told him that she wanted him to tell her the story the next day that Wizard took that magic wand and hit that mummy, right over the head. Jack said that it was not the story. The point is that the little Skunk loved his mummy more than he loved all the other little animals. Moreover, she knew what was right. But Jo insisted that tomorrow he should say that the Wizard hit that mummy. Jack said that he would see and asked her to sleep.

He closed the door and went downstairs. Clare was striking the chair rail with a dipped brush. Above him footsteps vibrated. These were Jo’s footsteps. He threatened to beat her and then the footsteps slowed down. Clare observed that it was a long story. He simply said “the poor kid”. He watched his wife working hard on the wood-work. She was doing painting work. Thus the writer displays adult authority on one hand and the child’s inquisitiveness on the other.

Gist of the Lesson

  • The chapter captures a very sensitive reaction of a small girl to an important aspect of the story that her father narrates to her.

  • The story reveals the worldview of a little child to a difficult moral question that shows her mental or psychological richness.

  • Jo is a little girl of four years. She is engaged in a story session with her father.

  • Jack, the father used to tell her a story every evening and especially for Saturday naps jo feels herself involved with the characters and the happenings.

  • The story always had an animal with a problem. The old owl advises him to visit the wizard who would solve the problem.

  • Skunk’s problem- he smelt bad, visited the wizard who changed it to the smell of roses.

  • Skunk’s mother was unhappy with it and took him back to the wizard. She hit the wizard and asked him to restore the original smell. She wanted her son to keep his identity of a skunk and wanted his friends to accept him for himself. So the wizard changes him back to smell like a skunk.

  • After hearing the story of Roger Skunk Jo was not happy with the ending.

  • She wants her father to change the ending. She wants the wizard to hit the mother back and let Roger be which her father was not ready to do to establish his authority. This raises a difficult moral question whether parents possess the right to impose their will on their children.

  • Her father finds it difficult to answer her question.

Symbols And Allegory

Jack's Old Shirt

The old shirt of Jack’s which Clare wears during her maternity time she paints while he is upstairs telling bedtime stories is symbolic of the shifting gender roles which are likely to make a man like Jack raised within the traditional nuclear family uncomfortable. It is another act of rebellion against that traditional, conservative worldview which Jack has grown dependent upon and serves to become part of the prison in which he is suddenly finding himself caged within.

 

The Golden Book

Jo seems unusually distracted during this particular story and that sense of distraction has the effect of angering Jack even as he wants to get through the story fast so he can help his wife with the painting. This distraction is symbolized by the Golden Book which slips from the bed at one point. Coincident with this single appearance of the Golden Book is Jack’s assertion that “Daddy’s telling the story.” All these elements invest the Golden Book as a symbol of the four year old growing up with the implicit message that this beloved ritual is about to start drawing to an end. Jo is only about a year or two away from reading stories herself at which point Jack will become obsolete at storytime.

Furniture Being Moved

The persistent sound of furniture scraping across the floor from downstairs as the pregnant Clare is moving it for the purpose of repainting the room becomes another symbol of how Jack’s traditional view of masculinity is being threatened by generational changes. His response is always that he should be down there helping, but he never stops brings the story to abrupt end to pursue his role as husband.

The Skunk's Debut

Jack has been engaging in his storytelling ritual for nearly two years now and this is the first time that Jo has ever requested that Roger be a skunk. The symbolic meaning here is related to the choice of animal itself, but rather Jack’s assumptions behind the choice. He attributes the origin of this brand new element into what is otherwise a rather rigidly constructed template of his own making to the influence of something that is also apparently new: his daughter attending nursery school. The skunk thus becomes another symbol of the maturation of his daughter and her rebellion against his control which we have learned is of vital important to him since he prefers it when the girls in his life are “hanging on his words” and not taking anything for granted.

 

Question and Answer

1. What was Roger Skunk’s problem?

Because of Roger Skunk’s foul smell  none of the other little creatures played with him. He used to face a lot of humiliations from other tiny animals. They used to call him “Roger Stinky Skunk” and they ran away from him. Roger was left alone every time.

 

2. How did the wizard manage to help the Skunk?

The wizard took out his magic wand and asked Roger Skunk what he wanted to smell like. When Roger said that he wanted to smell like roses, the wizard chanted some magic words and fulfilled Roger Skunk’s wish. He was happy that all the other little animals played with him, now that he did not smell bad.

 

3. What had upset Jo about the Skunk’s story?

While Roger Skunk was very happy about his own transformation, his mother felt that her baby should smell like a little Skunk and not like roses. So, she took Roger Skunk back to the wizard and hit the wizard over his head with an umbrella. She told him to make Roger Skunk smell bad again. Jo was worried that now that Roger Skunk smells bad again, no animal would play with him. She wanted the wizard to hit mommy back and refuse to change Roger Skunk.

 

4. How did Roger Skunk find the extra pennies?

 

The wizard asked Roger Skunk to go to the end of the lane and turn around three times and look down the magic well and there he would find three pennies. Roger followed the instructions, collected the money and handed it over to the wizard as the price for fulfilling his wish.

 

5. Why was Roger Skunk’s mommy not happy with the change?

 

Roger Skunk was eager to change his foul smell into a pleasant one. So, he went to the wizard and asked him to make him smell like roses. This change made his acceptable to his friends but his mommy felt that he smelt awful. According to her, a skunk should smell like a skunk and not like roses. Also, she loved him for what he was and did not want him to change even a bit.

 

6. Why does Jack insist that the end of the story was justified?

 

Jo felt bad for the skunk for not having any friends and wanted him to smell like roses as only then other animals would play with him. She did not want the skunk to be humiliated and rejected for his foul smell. But Jack wanted to tell Jo “something true, something she must know”. He was adding autobiographical details to the story and wished to teach Jo to accept herself as she is. He had been taught by his mother to be comfortable in his own skin and that is exactly what he wished to pass on to his daughter. He refused to change the end of the story as he insisted that the skunk’s mommy loved him more than all the other animals and accepted him for what he was.

 

7. What similarity did Jack find with the skunk?

 

Roger Skunk was humiliated by all other animals because he smelled really bad. None of the little creatures would play with him and he was boycotted by his peers. Roger Skunk used to cry as he felt lonely and embarrassed. Jack had faced similar kind of situations in his childhood. He also defended Roger’s Skunk’s mother as if he was defending his own mother.

 

8. What story did Jo want to hear the next day?

 

Jo wanted to hear the same story with a different end where the wizard hit the mommy back with his magic wand. She wanted a happy ending in which Roger Skunk would get to play with his friends.

 

Long answer type questions

  1. Should Wizard hit Mommy?

Whenever a story features a title that is a question presenting two opposing choices, chances are that the answer is not going to be a simple one. The most famous example of this, probably, is a story titled “The Lady or the Tiger?” in which the reader is left to ponder the question as it relates to which door a character should choose to open. Behind one is a woman whom will become a young man’s bride, behind the other is a tiger. The author informs the reader which of the two doors the young man opens, but leaves unanswered the titular question: we don’t learn whether he was greeted by the lady or the tiger.

The story sounds simple; so simple that reading a summary of it as presented above makes it sound more like a gimmick than an actual plot. And so it would be if the summary above were adequate. In reality, the real question that the story presents is not whether the door opened to reveal a tiger or a woman because the decision of which door the young man should open was not made by him. You will have to read that story yourself to get the details because the point being made here is that answering the question “Should wizard hit mommy?” is equally complex and goes much deeper than asking merely should the wizard strike Mommy Skunk with his magic wand so that she will accept her son smelling like roses instead of smelling like a skunk. Way too much is going on in the story to present it here, but suffice to say that one should take into consideration everything going on before trying to answer the question posed by the title. Even better: don’t try to answer it. If the author really want the reader to know the answer to the question, he would made the answer the title, such as “Why Wizard Should Hit Mommy!” The very fact that the title is a question is a hint from the author to the reader that the point is not to arrive at an answer. The point is to arrive at a logical explanation for both possible answers.

 

2.What signs indicate that Jack’s irritation with his daughter is manifested by a fear that his bedtime story ritual may soon be coming to an end?

The narrator indicates that Jack is feeling a little burned out of coming up with stories after two years, that the intended effect of inducing slumber in Jo is fading and that he is especially fatigued on some days. And yet, it is Jack and not Joanne who is responsible for extending the story to the point that the first thing his wife says when he reappears is “That was a long story.” Jack somewhat scornfully assumes that the idea of making Roger a skunk for the first time ever is an idea she picked up since she started nursery school with the implicit message being that he is unhappy with this outside intrusion into the ritual he created. Jack’s response to the Golden Book slipping from his daughter’s bed is instantly to remind her “Daddy’s telling the story.” The incident in which Jack sees in his daughter’s reaction a mirror of his wife’s faking interest at cocktail parties seems strangely out of place and almost forced unless it is connected to these other clues. Joanne’s fidgeting, interruptions and rebellion all serve as indicators that she is growing up and growing older. The request for that Roger be a skunk and the fact that she had been looking through a Golden Book all serve as reminders that she is not far away at all from being able to read herself, thus opening up a universe of stories she’s never heard and further cementing that Jack’s stories are fundamentally the same every time.

 

 3.Is Roger Skunk supposed to represent Jack?

Generally speaking, most criticism accepts as a given that Jack is describing his own childhood in his story about Roger Skunk. The reference to Jack’s own childhood humiliation when describing how the woodland creatures respond to Roger’s bad odor is the most obvious link here, but it is safe to assume that Jack’s mother was aggressively controlling just like Mommy Skunk. So the connection makes sense. There is, however, a problem with simplifying Jack’s story into allegory. The title “Should Wizard Hit Mommy?” carries an implicit double meaning that seems to be also asking “Should Jack Hit Clare.” Or, if not Clare, certainly somebody. At the same time, Jack also seems to be identifying with Mommy Skunk and not just to the degree that he is defending the actions of his own mother. Jack’s insistence that Mommy Skunk “knew what was right” can unquestionably be applied to his own perspective on parenting. Needless to say, the investment of absolute wisdom within the owl makes it clear that this recurring character is also a manifestation of Jack’s ego. So, rather than limiting Jack’s representation in his story to Roger (whatever animal form he may take) it is really more appropriate to suggest that he has made all the characters a projection of himself. 

3:- What is the moral issue that the story raises?
 

Although "Should wizard Hit Mommy"? reads like a typical bed time story elders tell little children, it does raise a moral question - Should parents always decide what is best for their children and should children always obey their parents unquestioningly ?. Roger Skunk is a very obedient child but he feels very sad and upset because he smells so awful that nobody wants to befriend him and play with him. One day he gets a chance to get his bad small replaced with the small of roses. He feels excited about the change for everyone likes his new smell and readily agrees to play with him. However Roger's mother does not like the change. For her Roger was better off with his original smell. So, she makes the wizard restore Skunk's original smell. Roger meekly accepts his mother's decision and other children get used to Roger's awful smell and don't complain about it anymore. But the narrow world view of the little girl, Jo likes to spell out the slogan of equality for all. She believes in the axiom 'Tit for Tat'. She feels that mother is wrong in getting her son's original smell back and wants her to be spanked by the wizard for her mistake. Her father, who has modeled Skunks story on his own story, strongly defends the mother Skunks decision. Thus the author through this story raises a moral question on how much authority parents should exercise in teaching their children what is wrong, what is right, what they should do and what not. Since there is no single correct answer to the question, he leaves it for the readers to answer it on the basis of their beliefs, cultures and values. Another question that the story seems to raise is — Should we, like Roger Skunk's mother believe in accepting ourselves as nature has made us without being unduly bothered about what others would think of us.

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