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Where the Wild Things Are | Symbols

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Wolf Suit

Max's wolf suit is a representation of his unruly emotions—frustration, anger, anxiety, and fear. It is at the same time fierce in its display of claws and impotent, as it is also a pair of children's pajamas.

Sendak's images of the wolf suit are striking. It is not clearly or obviously a wolf. The ears are pointed like a cat's ears. While the suit has a very fluffy tail, the suit itself is smooth, closer to the fur of a short-haired cat than a wolf. It also has four whiskers sticking out of the cheeks on each side. Wolves don't have whiskers like this, but cats do. These details suggest the suit may be an adapted cat costume from Halloween pajamas. Other details are more ambiguous: the suit's paws show long and curving claws.

The first time readers encounter Max, he is wearing his wolf suit and using an outsize hammer to pound a huge nail into the wall. He also chases the family dog while wielding a large fork. It is likely Max recognizes his behavior as unacceptable even before his mother reprimands and punishes him. When wearing his wolf suit he may feel empowered to create mischief, as someone in a superhero costume may feel encouraged to commit bold deeds. That the wolf is a pack animal may relate to Max's association with the wild things. In becoming their king, he is essentially their pack leader, even as he is a little boy in his pajamas.

As his interactions with the wild things allow Max to process his frustration, anger, and anxiety, he feels calm enough to travel back to the real world.

Food

Food and eating play important roles in Where the Wild Things Are. When Max chases the dog through the house with a fork, he carries it less like a utensil and more like a weapon. As Max's mother reprimands him, he shouts, "I'LL EAT YOU UP!" Here Max is threatening his mother, but also showing the frequent psychological connection between strong emotions and eating. When his mother punishes Max, the punishment includes being denied supper. This denial by a prime parental figure can be equated to a denial of love.

When Max is in the land of the wild things he decides to leave because he smells "good things to eat," and this is important enough for him to decide to give up being king and sail home. The wild things beg him to stay, saying "we'll eat you up—we love you so!" again correlating emotional attachment with food. Sendak underscores this connection in the narrative's final pages, when Max arrives home to find "his supper waiting for him and it was still hot." His mother's choice to feed him demonstrates that punishment, like wildness and mischief, is a temporary thing. Love and food return in the end because he was not nourished in the land of the wild things.

Crown

Max's crown is a symbol of the authority granted to him as king of the wild things. They present it to him when he has tamed them with his magic trick of staring into their eyes. Its sharp golden spikes closely resemble the horns, teeth, and claws of the wild things themselves and project his power over his much larger subjects.

Removing his crown signals Max has renounced his rulership of the wild things. He's no longer wearing it when he boards his boat for the journey home.

Questions for Symbols

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