An overlooked yet central developmental theme of Maurice Sendak's major works is that of resilience. Resilience reflects a child's capacity to transform otherwise crippling traumatic circumstances into his (or her) very means of survival, growth, and positive maturation. An implicit credo of these works is the adage: “What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.”
The embedded rhetoric of three of Sendak's most important books “argues” that it is by means of a poetic function, of creative imagining, and ultimately through art itself, that children may overcome the traumatic circumstances omnipresent during development. The most traumatic circumstances—according to Sendak—are the rages children
Earlier versions of this paper were presented to the Muriel Gardiner Program in Psychoanalysis and the Humanities at Yale University September 20, 2007; the Scientific Meeting of the Long Island Psychoanalytic Society, December 3, 2007; the 958th Scientific Meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, December 11, 2007; and to Grand Rounds, Department of Psychiatry, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, March 25, 2008. Material from this version was presented Dartmouth College's panel on Maurice Sendak, May 2, 2008, on the occasion of a major gift to its Library of Sendakiana.
The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 63, ed. Robert A. King, Samuel Abrams, A. Scott Dowling, and Paul M. Brinich (Yale University Press, copyright © 2008 by Robert A. King, Samuel Abrams, A. Scott Dowling, and Paul M. Brinich.
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feel toward the very persons whom they love and depend upon, rages that threaten to disorganize themselves and disrupt vital sustaining relationships. Sendak has said that he is obsessed with one and only one question: “How do children survive?” His answer, engagingly expressed in his trilogy of Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There, is that children survive by their exercise of creative imagination, of reverie, dream, poetry, music, and exquisite visual representation. Art was Sendak's means of “recovery” from his own childhood; his published works represent his gift to all children.