Since 1949, two animated adversaries have been locked in a vicious game. The premise is simple: one is a hungry but hapless predator, the other is his cheeky, fast-moving prey. This simplicity is not only the possible key to the cartoon's enduring relevance in pop culture - it also leaves plenty of room for some fascinating Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner fan theories.
These two characters are an integral part of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies universe, along with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, and other iconic cartoon characters. In every one of the duo's episodes, Wile E. Coyote attempts to catch the Roadrunner, often using a variety of ACME inventions and products, which nearly always backfire on him. Wile E.'s failures are traditionally met with a bemused "meep meep" chirp from the Roadrunner before the unfortunate coyote meets a sticky end, usually by falling off a cliff or getting smashed by an anvil. Only once has Wile E. managed to successfully catch the bird, in 1980's "Soup or Sonic," which aired as part of the "Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out All Over" special.
Due to the repetitive nature of the series, many fans have hypothesized about Wile E.'s unlucky quest, with some even claiming the cartoon's snappy timing and apparent lack of permanent consequences are a cover for a much darker - and even hellish - reality. Is the show just a simple exercise in comedic repetition, or is there something more sinister beneath its happy-go-lucky exterior?
Wile E. Coyote is in Hell. Wile E. is stuck in a blasted, scorched desert landscape eternally taunted by his heart's desire being always present, but always out of reach. In Greek mythology, Tantalus was tormented in Tartarus by being placed in a river that would recede whenever he stooped to drink, and [there were] branches with fruit that would rise whenever he reached up. Tantalus never had to deal with being rocketed into a cliff face, or having the fruit branch bleat out a heartless 'meep meep' before leaving his grasp. Wile is clearly condemned to an eternal cycle of desire/false hope/... painful disappointment by cold, uncaring forces (those at Warner Bros.).
If Wile E. Coyote is really trapped in eternal damnation, where does the episode in which he actually catches the Roadrunner fit? Redditor /u/PoTaToeChips wonders if this achievement signals the end of Wile E.'s punishment: "He holds up a sign saying, 'What now?' Was his soul redeemed?"
"Not redeemed," a former Redditor replies. "It's to prove that he's been broken by his time in Hell, that he's been there so long and been worn down so far that he no longer understands the 'why' of his actions, and is driven instead by the sick compulsion only a maniac is capable of."
What if the same coyote isn't getting crushed by anvils and plummeting off cliffs, only to be miraculously resurrected at the start of each new episode? Rachel Brennan, writing for Cracked, makes the case that the real Wile E. is only rarely on screen:
As Bugs Bunny can attest, Wile E. Coyote is a special, genius coyote. He talks, carries business cards, and runs a company. So why is it we never hear him speak a word while careening around the desert on roller skates while strapped to a rocket? Because we've never seen him in the desert at all. We are actually watching his army of slightly dunderheaded clones test out ACME products before they go to market... Wile E. Coyote is the owner of ACME. Don't believe it? Well deal with it, because A Coyote Made Everything.
The simplest explanation would be that they are part of the punishment. Perhaps in addition to gluttony, or in place of it, Wile E. Coyote is quite arrogant. In life, he thought he could do anything, build any machine that would work perfectly, succeed at any venture he put his mind to. Now, in [Hell], he is doomed to failure at all he tries, even trying to eat. He is given access to just about any device his heart desires through the ACME catalogs, but his designs fail in simple and spectacular ways. This is predestined. But Wile E., in his arrogance, ignores the failure and tries something else, forever persistent, perhaps forever hungry, but always doomed to suffer failure and frustration.