Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are asks the questions of identity and of ones place within their household through the implications of hunger. Max declares himself to be a wild thing through his actions thus removing himself from the place of comfort in his mother’s house (the father is curiously absent). After leading the Wild Things on a wild rumpus Max begins to miss home, he begins to miss himself and so against the wishes of the Wild Things who threaten to eat him and thus to ensure their “king” remains through the process of corporeal ingestion he leaves. The world of the Wild Things threatens to devour Max so that he will remain. This seems rather unusual yet it does have its precedence in the ancient ritual enactment of the sacrificed King who is put to death (literally or symbolically depending on the point of view) in order to ensure tribes continuity. see Frazier’s the Golden Bough. Where the Wild Things are is a keen exploration of out of control hunger reduced in simplicity (but not in potency) for children between the ages of 4 and 8.
Hunger is conveyed in two separate but equally important ways. First Max threatens to eat his mother up resulting in banishment upstairs to his bedroom. This threat places him outside the safe and familiar protections of society and close to the company of many of fairy tales most frightening figures, the cannibalistic ogres ranging from Baba Yaga to Bluebeard. It also implies one of mankind’s most ancient taboos cannibalism because Max contrary to his costume is not a Wild thing at all but a human boy. The banishment serves to force max into a confrontation with that part of his ego that is wild. At first it appears that this ego will win out. Max escapes into a fantasy world where he is the King of the Wild Things. But in time he rediscovers his humanity and begins to miss his place within the family household. What is the source of Max’s hunger? It is not gluttony because it does not seek to sate a physical appetite. It is more akin to avarice, the sort of greed that seeks to bring all things into one’s self through consumption. Unlike Max the Wild things possess hunger that is both gluttonous (note that each has excessively large mouths) and avaricious (note their hook clawed hands). These are creatures designed to possess and consume and are close cousins to the fairy tale ogres who devour their wives and children with such gleeful abandon. The Wild Things greed and gluttony are manifestations of a desire to be in total control just as Kronos (the first of what will in time become the fairy tale ogres) sought total control of the cosmos through the eating of his own children. Whether Maurice Sendak realized it or not he created a storybook for children infused with one of man-kinds oldest and most frightening mythical motifs.
Max is saved only by rejecting the Wild Things hunger and returning to his home. Unlike Baba Yaga, Bluebeard, Kronos and their kin Max does not allow his hunger to consume him. The story ends on a note of redemptive grace. Max returns to his bedroom to find his supper waiting and it was still hot.