Taming The Inner Wild Child Essay

1586 words - 7 pages

The relationship between text and picture is explored in depth in Perry Nodelman’s Words About Pictures, in which he asserts that a successful picture book uses the two media to “make each other more specific” (Nodelman, 243). Pictures, which Nodelman argues convey information more directly and universally than words, can both extend the text through the “contrapuntal arrangement of mutual correction” (Nodelman, 243). Nodelman suggests that the differences in rhythm and message of text and picture compel reinterpretation by the reader, who is constantly using one medium to better comprehend what is conveyed in the other, and reconciling the two to obtain a complete understanding of the book. ...view middle of the document...

For example, when the wild things arrive to greet Max, their arms are raised with claws in clear view, recalling to mind a scene prior where Max’s arms are similarly raised as he chases a dog with fork held aloft. Even more strikingly, when the wild things employ the phrase “we’ll eat you up” near the end of the story, we are reminded of a similar scenario at the beginning of the story. This beginning sequence involves Max’s mother scolding him by calling him “WILD THING!” to which Max responds “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” (Sendak). The backwards rhythm that Sendak establishes constantly draws the reader to compare the wild things to Max’s own actions, and realize that this realm of wild-ness comes from inside him. This rhythm also serves to keep us attentive to what has already transpired, as well as anticipate “call-backs” to what is currently happening.
However, it is the differences between these parallels that provide the greatest insight into Max’s emotional growth. These differences are most evident in Sendak’s intricate illustrations, and especially in his portrayal of Max’s facial and bodily expressions. When Max is first sent to his room, his face and body position reveal his anger and discontentment toward his mother for having sent him to his room. This image of an “angry Max” is later replicated; however, instead of his annoyance being directed towards an authority figure, it is now directed towards the childish wild things. This shift in Max’s behavior highlights an important shift in his identity. No longer under the control of his mother, or any authority figure for that matter, and surrounded by creatures whose behavior is even more infantile than his own, Max assumes the role of power, claiming the title of king. The parallelism between these two scenarios emphasizes the inversion of roles that Max undergoes.
This shift between Max’s child and parent roles is also seen in character arrangement in the text. Whereas Nodelman focuses primarily on the position of text in relation to picture, and while Sendak most definitely capitalizes on this aspect as well, Sendak focuses also on the position of Max within the illustration. The book indeed starts with every illustration centered on Max and his actions. That Max is placed in the center suggests the self-centered view of a child, the same perspective which causes Max to seek his own pleasure at the expense of others. However, as the book progresses and as Max takes on a more parental role (as opposed to childlike one), he shifts to the left side of the illustrations. Max’s arrival at the home of the wild things initiates his shift off-center in the pictures, as the wild things take center stage and dominate. The following sequence of illustrations, which continuously place Max to the side, reflects Max’s assumption of a parental role over the wild things – he now realizes his role in relation to other characters. However, the “wild rumpus” signals a return to the norm, as Max reverts to...

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