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Course Hero. "Where the Wild Things Are Study Guide." November 16, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2018.


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Where the Wild Things Are | Quotes


The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief ... he was sent to bed without eating anything.


Many children's books open slowly, starting with a stable domestic situation and disturbing it. Sendak takes another approach. He opens in medias res (in the middle of things). He provides no context for Max. Readers don't learn where Max lives, what his family is like, or other details. Instead readers immediately learn about Max wearing his "wolf suit" and making mischief. This opening sets up Where the Wild Things Are as an active, chaotic narrative. The idea of the wolf suit also suggests this is an identity Max takes on; it perhaps represents his descent into frustration and anger. Readers don't see Max on any other day, so they don't know if he is mischievous then (though they might strongly suspect it), but they know he is when he wears his wolf suit.



Max's mother

Readers don't yet know what wild things are, or where they will be located. Max's mother is exasperated with his ongoing mischief, and her reaction is to call him a wild thing. Sendak's use of capital letters for the speech indicates she is shouting. This could be just an explosion of anger, but it also communicates something important: the first place the wild things can be found is in the home.




Max responds to his mother labeling him a wild thing by threatening to eat her up. Setting the speech in capital letters indicates he too is shouting. This is perfectly in character for a boy in a wolf suit. Sendak has already shown Max chasing the family dog with a fork (suggesting he might eat it), and in one scene, a teddy bear hangs suspended from one arm, like an animal caught in a trap. Eating is more than just wildness in this narrative. Sendak will later show the wild things claiming they love Max and saying they'll eat him up so he can't leave. This juxtaposition of declared love and threatened violence has its roots in Sendak's childhood. He often reflected on his aunts and uncles enthusiastically hugging him and pinching his cheeks while proclaiming they could "eat [him] up" while they were at his house for oversized meals and consumption of food.


That ... night in Max's room a forest grew ... until ... the walls became the world.


Until this point readers could see Max's adventures as common childhood high spirits: for all that he is louder and fiercer than many kids, his actions are possible in the real world. At this point Max's imagination begins to take over from reality, and the quality of the narrative changes, crossing into the realm of fantasy.

Sendak offers no explanation for the sprouting of Max's bedroom forest. This line is a fine example of Sendak's prose style. The statement is a simple and literal description—even if Sendak is describing an impossible event. The forest keeps growing until there are vines hanging from the ceiling and the fantasy crosses from straightforward description to poetry: "the walls became the world all around."


He sailed ... through night and day ... over a year to where the wild things are.


In Where the Wild Things Are time does not follow a standard path. Instead Sendak evokes the child's uneven, wobbling understanding of time, in which different units of measurement blur together. This line also indicates how fluid Max's fantasy realm is: he doesn't just sail through space; he sails through time in his child's imagination.


They roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth ... and showed their terrible claws.


When Max arrives at the place where the wild things are, this is how they greet him. This line spreads across the entire page. Every word in the line is one syllable except for "terrible." This accents "terrible." Sendak uses repetition (roar/roar, terrible/terrible, their/their) and alliteration (terrible teeth) to further emphasize the line.

Sendak continues the same language pattern from page 17: all single-syllable words except "terrible." He continues the alliteration (roared/rolled), underscoring the lines' unity.

The fierce display and appearance of the wild things emphasize the power of the emotions they represent: frustration, anxiety, and anger. Until Max recognizes them for what they are and realizes he can control them, the wild things are quite frightening, as they were to Sendak as a child.


Max ... tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.


Max uses his magic to tame the wild things and become their king.

The magic trick Max uses is staring without blinking. When Sendak was a child, his father told him that if he stared long enough out the window without blinking, he'd be able to see an angel. Sendak here uses that act of looking without interruption to tame the wild things. Since the wild things represent Max's "wild" emotions—anger, frustration, and anxiety—his staring them down represents his recognizing and taking control of his emotions.


And now ... let the wild rumpus start!


This is the ultimate departure from Max's experience early in the story. When Max had caused mischief, his mother yelled at him and sent him to bed without supper. When the wild things try to cause mischief, Max subdues them and then leads them into even greater mischief. This line and the succeeding six pages of visuals allude to emotions that Sendak believes "are an ordinary part of children's lives—fear, anger, hate and frustration." Sendak believed children could use their imaginations to give free rein to these emotions in a fantasy setting, while keeping them under control in the real world they have to inhabit the rest of their lives.

The six colorful, wordless pages demonstrate Sendak's strategy for having illustrations advance and embody the plot rather than just decorating the text. There is nothing decorative about Sendak's art, which dominates the very limited text.


Now stop!


Max's command is sudden and arbitrary, since he had initiated the wild rumpus and taken full part in it.

This command also echoes Max's earlier interaction with his mother. In both cases, an authority figure shouts at mischievous individuals and sends them to bed without supper. In the first case Max had been under his mother's control, while in this case he assumes the upper hand.

In taking control of the wild things, Max learns to take control of his own wild side.


Then all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat.


Now that Max has gained control of his emotions—the wild things—he is vulnerable to homesickness and to recognizing the value of his family's domestic world.

This line is also another example of the fluid nature of time and space in Max's fantasy world. The fact that Max can at once be in the land where the wild things live and also smell his mother's cooking emphasizes the entire story takes place in Max's world, where his emotional connection is what matters.


He gave up being king of where the wild things are.


Max had to overcome the wild things' resistance to become their king: they had greeted him with roaring, raised claws, and gnashing teeth. Max had to use magic to tame them and become king.

By contrast he steps down without fuss. Having gained control over his wild emotions, Max is ready to go home.


Oh please don't go—we'll eat you up—we love you so!

Wild things

This is another instance where the latter portion of Sendak's story echoes the first portion. When Max's mother calls Max a wild thing, he responds with what at that time sounds like a threat, saying he'll eat her up. Here when Max decides to leave, the wild things say they'll eat him up. Sendak recognizes the implied affection in the "eat you up" declaration. The wild things are free to express their love, while Max had felt constrained and voiced only a threat.


Max ... sailed ... into the night of his very own room.


Max apparently arrives home on the same night he had left, and the imaginary nature of his journey supports this supposition. Oddly, however, when he left his room a crescent moon was shining in the window, yet when he returns the moon is full. In reality these moon phases would be several days apart. This suggests extended time passed in the world where he began, even as his supper being still hot suggests minimal time has passed. Within these contradictions, the different journeys Max experiences are all valid.


He found his supper waiting for him and it was still hot.


This line communicates three things. First, although Max has "sailed away" for almost a year, then sailed home again, in the world of adults so little time has passed that his supper is still hot. Second, the line reasserts order. Max's room is no longer a forest; it has transformed back into an orderly space. Third, the line represents mutual redemption. Although Max's mother punished him for his actions, her anger faded quickly, and she has demonstrated her love by leaving a "still hot" supper in his room.

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