Thursday, 27 July 2017

John Updike's, 'Should Wizard Hit Mommy?' is about a clash of worldviews

John Updike's Should Wizard Hit Mommy is an important short story that deals with the important theme of Generation Gap as something that is caused by a clash of worldviews. A story that deals with the family as a base unit, it suggests that family is an important support structure, and this is an important message for children. Friends who run away because you don't conform to their ideals, in this case, the foul smell of Roger Skunk, don't deserve to be called friends. By the end of the day, Roger Skunk has to return home to his mother and father, and it is his mother who asks him why he smells so awful!
Jack wants to tell her through the story of Roger Skunk that one should not change how nature has made one to be, that too for the sake of friends who run away. He views the lessons of life with through the lens of experience. He wants to convey to his daughter that it is OK to be who you are, it is alright to be your authentic self, in due course of time, your friends will accept you as you are. He wants to tell her that parents know what is best for their children because they love their children a lot. He wants to convey to her the message that there are no instant solutions to the problems in life and that in fact, magic is not a solution because it does not work, after all, if magic had been effective, why did the wizard not use his magic to tidy his own house?
Jo, however, doesn't accept her father's perspective because she thinks differently from him. She believes that there are instant solutions for the problems in life like changing the smell of a skunk into the smell of roses. After all, from her point of view, Roger Skunk's friends accept him and they play all day. By the end of the day, however, (and Jack introduces a twist in the tale) Roger Skunk's mother thinks Roger Skunk's Rose Scent is awful. Jo had not anticipated such a complication. She doesn't like such an ending because it challenges her world view.
John Updike does not give the story an ending. He leaves the story open ended. Jo will not accept her father's point of view, and Jack will not accept his daughter's point of view. They have arrived at a stalemate. Generation gap results from a clash of world views and perspectives between two people belonging to different age groups. The younger person thinks the elder person to be a preacher, someone who really doesn't know about the world. The child, in this case, doesn't respect her father's wisdom. The elder person, on the other hand, is not ready accept that the younger person has every right to think differently. The father doesn't realise that his daughter is growing up, and having a distinct perspective is the sign of growing up. 
Should Wizard Hit Mommy describes the process of growing up in a child. The poem Childhood by Markus Natten very clearly describes that cognitive development taking place in Jo in the following lines:

          When did my childhood go?
          Was it when I found my mind was really mine,
          To use whichever way I choose,
          Producing thoughts that were not those of other people
          But my own, and mine alone.

The extract from the poem, Childhood clearly addresses the issue of growing up, and it suggests that children will often have a point of view that differs from that of their parents. It is however alright for children to have a different point of view!
This doesn't necessarily mean that children don't respect or consider their parent's point of view, rather, it is about developing a culture of trust, understanding, and tolerance and respect for divergent views. Jack's message is not morally wrong, but then the way it is conveyed is wrong. Jack doesn't like being interrupted, he likes women to be 'apprehensive, hanging on his words'. He has a rather bossy kind of attitude towards others, and this is evident in the way he rebukes and warns his daughter each time she tries to divert the story towards her point of view. Finally when Jo gets perplexed and states ' "But the other little amum..."' (after Jack tells her that "Roger skunk did not smell of roses anymore.") He rebukes her, "Joanne. It's Daddy's story. Shall Daddy not tell you any more stories?" ' The first two sentences are very short! The first is just one word, and the second is just four words such as a Boss would use while instructing his workers in very strict terms.
What makes matters really bad is that both of them, Jack and his daughter Jo are not ready to accept or respect the right of each to express his own or her own point of view. They are so rigid in their stance, they just cannot listen to the other speak!
Elizabeth Jennings very succinctly describes how a clash of world views leads up to a breakdown in relations between a father and his son in the poem Father to Son:

        We speak like strangers, there's no sign
        Of understanding in the air.

        We each put out an empty hand,
        Longing for something to forgive.

The only solution is to develop an atmosphere of trust, understanding and respect for each other in the family. A Boss at work can simply not behave like a Boss at home. In the same way, a child should give her parents respect because they love her and know what is best for her!


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