Study Guide

Where the Wild Things Are Tone

By Maurice Sendak


Eerie, Unnerving…and a Little Bit Existential

With its twilight setting, illustrations of dimly lit rooms, and sparse text, we immediately feel a bit unsettled by this story. Max, who is up to some serious mischief, appears menacing in his wolf suit, especially as he terrorizes the family dog with a piece of cutlery. And when the forest begins to grow in Max's room, things get downright eerie.

This feeling that we're on a mysterious adventure with supernatural undertones continues right on through the wild rumpus on the island. But then, as Max begins to feel alone and longs to be home, we have a sense of despondency as he struggles with his place in the world. Does he belong among the wild things? Or does he belong at home, with his mom and his dinner?

Eventually, Max chooses to leave the island, and when he arrives back in his room, the contented smile on his face lets us know he is relieved to be back where he is safe, warm, and well-fed. But we have to wonder: how long will it be before Max finds himself tussling with big issues again? Though he's home and his dinner is still hot, the echo of his adventure and his struggle to find his place continue to linger.

This somber tone perfectly captures Maurice Sendak's take on childhood. He hated stories that pandered to children, with characters that were simplistic, well-behaved, and easily understood. According to Sendak, "Too many parents and too many writers of children's books don't respect the fact that kids know a great deal and suffer a great deal." So Where the Wild Things Are focuses on the struggles and uncertainty of childhood, which is what gives it a tone that is eerie, unnerving, and a little bit existential.  href="https:>