The Backpage Literary Review: The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Arne Grette, Backpage Editor

Hitler’s armies rolling through Europe. A bumbling green caterpillar eating everything in sight. No connection, right? Think again, sheeple.
It takes a refined literary critic to be able to see past the surface-level story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, recognizing it as the work of historical allegory it truly is.
See, in 1938, Germany was very hungry. After being bankrupted by the Treaty of Versailles, its people and economy needed room to grow. The economic conditions and political anger in Germany at the time provided the perfect opportunity for a new caterpillar in town, and so a group of radicals laid an ideological egg to be hatched.
As Eric Carle puts it, in the 1930’s, “out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” The “hunger” alluded to by Carle illustrates the Nazi concept of Lebensraum, the idea that Germany needed to expand for land and resources in order to reach its peak potential as the new world order.
Here is where Carle begins to provide a timeline of events in Nazi Germany’s conquest. “On Monday, he ate through on apple,” referring to the nutritious annexation of neighboring Austria.
But, as Carle details by continuing the analogy of Nazi Germany as a Caterpillar, “he was still hungry.”
The timeline continues. The metaphorical caterpillar eats ravenously through “two pears” (two successive parts of Czechoslovakia), “three plums” (Poland, Denmark, and Norway), “four strawberries” (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France) and on and on, connecting a specific fruit to each country to explain its strategic value to the Nazis.
But by now, the German empire had grown too large (“a big, fat caterpillar,” as Carle puts it). It’s growth was unsustainable. He describes Germany’s retreat in order to defend Berlin as that Hitler “built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks.”
Carle asserts that it was the right decision for Germany to retreat and surrender, noting that what emerged from the “cocoon” of Nazi Germany’s retreat was “a beautiful butterfly”, a peaceful symbol contrasting the years of war and destruction prior.