I had absolutely no idea what to write about, so I asked my colleague, Emily (hi, Emily) who suggested – in jest, one would assume – that I wrote about The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Now, I’m not one to turn down a challenge.
I bring you: Seven possible readings of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
- Anti-Liberalism: The Very Hungry Caterpillar explores the relationship between a naïve young Caterpillar and a self-indulgent society. The story opens with the use of violent language, “POP”, creating the tension that will build throughout the story. It cannot be coincidental that “POP” is also the name of a Rice Krispie character, who represents the dangers of over-consumption. The caterpillar immediately enters a downward spiral of what could be considered an eating disorder. The caterpillar, however, is not happy with just food. Is it a coincidence by the end of the week many of the items he has eaten, such as “a lollipop,” “a piece of cherry pie” and “a pickle,” are sexualised words in Western society? Or is the book in fact loaded with innuendo, and do they represent the modern, over-sexualised and materialistic world? Finally, the caterpillar realises he has eaten too much. He makes amends with the world – but, will society, in the over-liberal state we’re currently in?
- A Metaphor for the Human Condition: The caterpillar undergoes a journey from egg to butterfly, symbolising the human development. Under the pressures of modern society, the caterpillar is faced with many different options, and expected to make life changing decisions in very little time. The caterpillar seems a bit frantic, trying all these foods in hopes of finding the right one. He tries many different options, and then he transforms – after a little time and a lot of effort – into a butterfly. One must question: is the over-eating really indulgence, or is it something everyone must go through in order to learn from their mistakes and develop into an adult? Without all that excessive eating, the caterpillar would never have been ready to develop to a beautiful butterfly.
- A Capitalist Reading: Much of the food consumed is not natural, but are consumer products. A capitalist society runs on the dependency of a consumer’s belief that through consumer products we will reach some sort of perfection: just as the caterpillar has done. The author clearly wanted to recruit some mini-consumers while they were young.
- A Christian Reading: The author makes a point of telling the reader that the Caterpillar popped from his egg on a Sunday. This is, of course, the Sabbath, traditionally a day of rest and prayer. The religious symbolism continues when we are told that the caterpillar, on Monday, begins his gluttonous binge with a red apple, conjuring images of the Garden of Eden, Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden and a loss of innocence. Rather than simply having one bite of the apple, the Caterpillar “eats through” the entire apple. The story is a message that straying from the path of righteousness can lead you further and further down to road of sin.
- A Feminist Reading: The Caterpillar is introduced to the reader “in the light of the moon,”. The moon has an association with insanity and irrationality, (the words lunacy and loony are derived from luna, the Latin name for the moon), and also with the female form, which is somewhat at the beck and call of the moon’s whims. Throughout the story, the moon continues its cycle, while the caterpillar becomes gluttonous and self-destructive. Finally, the moon reaches the end of its phase and the caterpillar becomes feminine and beautiful. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a metaphor for the expectation for women to be ideal at all times, and, when otherwise, the assumption that the reason is simply hormonal and therefore irrelevant.
- A Marxist Reading: The language of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is biased towards the butterfly. Words such as ‘tiny’ and ‘fat’ are used to describe the caterpillar, while the butterfly is described as ‘beautiful’. On top of this, the butterfly never works, while the caterpillar that is always doing something; namely, eating. For the butterfly to exist, the caterpillar must work. For the upper classes to exist, the working classes must work.
- A Queer Reading: Consider the food the caterpillar eats: it is not traditional food for a caterpillar. Other caterpillars may judge him; yet he doesn’t care. He continues to eat food they will think him strange for eating. He, in the end, comes out with the upper hand, having become a butterfly. He followed his intuitions, wasn’t influenced by societal norms or peer pressure, and was rewarded for it.
Obviously, non of the above readings will be picked up by the reader, usually because their age is in single figures, but what did the author have in mind when he wrote it?
I used to consider what the author had in mind to be the “one true reading” of a book or novel; but is it? Who’s to say that how I interpret a book is any worse than what the author intended? On top of this, with Freudian interpretations of authorship, someone can say something while subconsciously saying something else. We really have no control over what we say.
While the above readings are not meant to be taken seriously, they do show that you can manipulate any text to suit your needs.