Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499
In The Magic Finger, a number of overlapping concerns are addressed and valid questions are raised about significant social issues: Should hunting be allowed to occur merely for the pleasure of the hunters? Should an eight-year-old child possess, and use, a gun? What happens to animal families when one or more members are slaughtered for sport? Do humans have a greater right to attack animals than animals do to attack humans?
Although narrated in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, Dahl’s book presents a provocative look at the issue of hunting from the perspectives of a bold young female activist and the hunters’ prey—in this case, the wild ducks themselves. Thoughtful readers will be challenged to reevaluate their own thoughts on the issue because, despite the humor of the story, the question of whether hunting is morally acceptable demands attention. Dahl’s viewpoint is clear throughout the lighthearted text, at times thinly disguised in the voice of the female narrator: “It doesn’t seem right to me that men and boys should kill animals just for the fun they get out of it.” At other times, it is the dialogue between the hunters and the hunted that hints at an underlying bias of the book.“No! No! No!” called out Mr. and Mrs. Gregg, both together. “Don’t shoot! Please don’t shoot!” “Why not?” said one of the ducks. . . . “You are always shooting at us. . . . Yesterday you shot my children. . . . You shot all six of my children.”
Sensitive readers will be drawn into the story and the lives of the wild ducks. Other young readers, however, may be deterred by the concept of humans being hunted, especially when the guns are pointed at the children. Dahl seems to thrive on controversy and goes to daring extremes to get his message across.
A more minor theme of the book seems to be one of survival. The Gregg family’s lives are thrown into confusion and initial panic when they are forced to live as birds. Rather than giving in to despair, however, they work together to adapt to a new way of life and find it not altogether disagreeable. Each of them, at some point, takes on the role of encourager: Mr. Gregg, in directing the building of a nest; William, in commenting on the nest’s warmth; Philip, in noting the fun of living in a nest; and Mrs. Gregg, in calming the children with positive words and loving hugs. Each, ungrudgingly, assumes a part of the work load, and each listens and accepts the thoughtful suggestions of others in adjusting to their strange new environment. As a result, the family is able to survive a difficult, stormy night in their new treetop abode. Strangely enough, the ducks appear to adjust more easily to their new surroundings than do their human counterparts and adapt quickly to cooking, eating, and living inside the house. The key to survival, in each case, lies in a combination of acceptance, resourcefulness, and cooperation.