Max is the main character and the only human portrayed. He chases the family dog early in the narrative, and interacts with the wild things throughout, but no other people appear. Max is the embodiment of chaos and mischief. Max, alone, shows himself to be independent and bold. When his room transforms into a forest, he does not panic but embraces the change. He is resourceful: when a private boat appears, he sails away in it. He is brave: when the wild things roar and gnash their teeth, he does not run away but tames them instead. Mischievous as he is, Max is still a boy with a family. He loves playing with the wild things, but becomes tired and lonely and somehow smells his mother's cooking from across the imagined sea. Max becomes homesick and sails home. When he gets there, the relaxed smile on his face clearly indicates he recognizes his mother loves him after all, suggesting his wolf suit hides a warm if troubled heart.
Sendak never defines the wild things or the realm in which they exist. However, Sendak provides rich visual and textual descriptions. The wild things blend human and animal characteristics. They have fur, claws, large pointed teeth, and oversized eyes. Many have horns, and some also have scales. Most of them have clawed feet, though one has webbed feet, and the feet of another are huge and very human. Although savage in appearance, they can reason in a childlike way. Like Max they are very passionate and move quickly from one emotional state to another. Since they are symbols of Max's frustration and rage, interacting with the wild things allows him to tame what Sendak calls those "ungovernable and dangerous forces" and dispels his anger toward his mother, who, he feels, has badly mistreated or misunderstood him at the start of the story.
Max's mother is a potent off-screen presence in the narrative. She is there as the voice of frightening authority and of parental love. Near the story's beginning she calls him "WILD THING!" and sends him to his room without supper. This is a demonstration that Max's naughty behavior has consequences. Near the close of the narrative, she relents on giving Max his supper. The tantalizing aroma of that hot meal—and his loneliness—lure him to give up the throne of the wild things and return to "where someone loved him best of all."