In the evenings and for Saturday naps like today's, Jack told his daughter Jo a story out of his head. This custom, begun when she was two, was itself now nearly two years old, and his head felt empty.
This quote, taken from the first two lines of the story, demonstrates how Jack is tired of enacting the same routine day-in, day-out with his family in the suburbs. He used to delight in telling these stories to Jo, but after two years, their structure has become dull, and he feels hollowed out by it.
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 Claire paint the living-room woodwork.
In this quote, Updike presents a collision of fantasy and reality, or, more specifically, an intrusion of reality—Jack's obligation to help his wife paint their living room—into Jack's fantasy world of his own invention, in which he has a rapt audience. But, as the story progresses, even Jack's refuge of the bedtime story to his daughter is corrupted, in his eyes, by the habits and expressions his daughter has supposedly inherited from her mother.
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?" and when Claire told her that 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?"
Updike's description of Jo's "reality phase" emphasizes the transition she is experiencing in this story, during which she begins to question the statements and notions her parents have thus far presented as pure truths. Jo is learning that her parents are imperfect and that some of the things they say, they are not even sure if they believe. By persistently questioning, Jo is able to expose cracks in the logic and soundness of the message of Jack's story, even if not for herself, then certainly for the reader.
He paused as a rapt expression widened out from his daughter's nostril wings, forcing her eyebrows up and her lower lip down in an expression of mute exclamation, an expression in which Jack was startled to recognize his wife feigning pleasure at cocktail parties.
This quote describes a moment in which Jack realizes that his daughter, Jo, is not as interested in his story as he previously thought, and the way he realizes this is by recognizing a face his wife puts on at parties to humor the people around her. Jack doesn't like this feeling of being humored, especially by a four-year-old. The moment inspires feelings of spite in Jack, both for his wife and their daughter, whom Jack is now certain has picked up this sly method of feigning interest from his wife, Claire.
"Then did the other little ani-mals run away?"
"No, because eventually they got used to the way he was and did not mind it at all. Or did not mind it very much."
Here, what Jack perhaps imagined would be a clean and clear conclusion to his improvised fable is muddled by his daughter's efforts to interrogate and undermine the logic of the tale's unexpected fourth act. Even though Jack told the story to present the moral that people shouldn't respond to bullying by changing who they fundamentally are, Jo asks the important practical follow-up question of whether Roger continued to be ostracized after his mother forced Wizard to return his odor. Jack is forced, then, to recognize that Roger Skunk likely remained the target of bullying for some time, and that his neat solution failed to address the practical considerations of Roger Skunk's childhood, with which Jo is far more concerned.
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.
This quote comes from the final line of the story, in which Updike compares Jack and Claire's living-room to a cage of their own making. Despite the fact that Jack and Claire are stuck together in this cage, Jack doesn't want to communicate with her in any way. This last line emphasizes the story's subjectivity regarding Jack versus its objectivity regarding Claire, because although we know how Jack feels in this moment, we can only infer Claire's feelings.
Should Wizard Hit Mommy? Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Should Wizard Hit Mommy? is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.