This story has two issues running through it. One is the parent child equation. Jack wants to tell his daughter the story in a particular manner, the conclusion being that parents know what is best for their children. ‘Should W hit M?’ raises the issue, ‘Are parents always right’? Jo wants Roger Skunk to have the security of belonging to a group. To her, being accepted as part of the peer group is the most important thing. But Jack wants Roger Skunk to listen to his mother, though it means smelling bad again.
The other thread that weaves in and out of the story is Jack’s discomfort with the independence that his wife and daughter have started showing. Jack is not a feminist and doesn’t believe in it either. Whether in the story or real life, he would like to maintain the status quo – children should listen to their parents; his daughter and his wife are likeable when ‘hanging on his words’ (Pg 53).
This attitude of Jack is what makes him feel ‘caught in an ugly middle position’. He loves his family but is unhappy because of their independent thinking. Jo has started asking questions, and her gestures, demands and even the way she smiles show that she is growing up and acquiring a personality of her own.
His pregnant wife is busy painting furniture. To Jack the woodwork seems like a ‘cage’–he feels trapped in a life that he is not at ease with. And though his wife is ‘in the cage with him’, her independence makes him feel unwanted. He feels no bond with her, no desire.
The ‘half old tan and half new ivory’ (last para of story) is a metaphor for his life – new feminist changes in the old family structure.
This is a story that has a number of layers and meanings to it. I am sure that some of you at least will re-read this story at various stages of your life, and see new meaning in it with every reading.