Although there is much controversy surrounding Lewis Carroll’s relationships with and feelings towards little girls, it is a simple fact that his works “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through The Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” have been widely revered for their comedic and imaginative natures. His photography, however, (which is often under his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) while technically and aesthetically masterful, is more criticized and certainly less widely appreciated than his writing. At first glance, it can seem as if Carroll’s different mediums convey in him dual personalities and objectives, even in terms of a single muse; Alice’s stories are whimsical and playful accounts of a young “maiden[‘s]” adventures, while the photographs of her are often seen as eroticized images depicting a vulnerable child in sometimes downright compromising positions, with the purpose of serving a perverse male gaze. This misconception cannot be maintained at a closer glance, because upon examining certain scenes and motifs in the Alice texts, it is clear that Alice Liddell’s written counterpart is every bit as eroticized as her photographic form. The scene in which Alice’s body is stretched and she encounters a pigeon begs the question of whether Alice is a little girl or a serpent, whether she is innocence or temptation, or if they are the “same thing after all” (Schanoes). Using evidence from his journals, poetry, and mainly his Alice texts and photographs, it can be argued that for Carroll, innocence was temptation, and they were the same thing, after all. Although it is not clear whether his purpose was to sexualize Alice in the photos he took of her, Lewis Carroll does so in a somewhat blatant manner. In one photograph, Alice can be seen centered among what appears to be shrubbery, with unidentifiable white drapery falls off of her shoulder to reveal her left nipple (Carroll 280). Her hand is on her hip as she looks tauntingly at the viewer, and leaves the viewer wondering why exactly she is depicted in such a way (Kincaid 275). In a similar photograph, Alice’s body is covered entirely, again she is wearing white, and if possible, it seems more provocative than the one previously mentioned. Perhaps this difference, in spite of the difficulty posed by being fully clothed, is due to the even more impish and knowing smirk than in the other photograph (Carroll 279). Indeed, the knowing smile is likely evidence of “enticing knowledge of her own reserve” allowing her to “elude even her own photographs” (Kincaid 276). Many of these photographs posed by Alice do display coyness and reserve, but certain others have what seems like crassly overt sexuality. For instance, in another photo, Alice dons a similar large white dress, which seems to be buttoned entirely up the collar. She is with her two sisters, wearing identical dresses, and Lorina is feeding her cherries. Alice is standing very upright, with her back slightly arched and her mouth opened (Carroll 282). The camera seems to linger on the position of her head and the profile of her face, which seems notably erotic as her sister dangles cherries in the air. Such an image can only lend notions to seemingly more innocent and chaste images of Alice- (such as one where she is fully clothed, sitting on a bench and wearing a headdress, faced away from the camera, and not casting a lingering gaze) of satirical or pretended innocence, rather than actual. However, Alice was very young and was very likely a typical little girl, and not an erotic deviant, as photos would have one believe. The provocative nature of these photographs is a direct result of Carroll’s keen skillful eye in posing Alice, directing her motions and expressions, and capturing her in a sexual light; his fantasies came alive through the camera. In later accounts of her memories of Carroll, an adult Alice Liddell recounts watching him develop photographs by saying “Besides, the dark room was so mysterious, and we felt that any adventures might happen there” (Carroll 278). Although reading any implications of Carroll’s in this circumstance would be presumptuous, there is certainly an ominous air to what Alice recounts as an adult, which she does not acknowledge. The admission of this acknowledgement at least demonstrates a lack of “enticing knowledge” on her part of “her own reserve” and quite possibly demonstrates naievete, which all counter the erotic nature of her appearance in the photographs. Therefore, it is artfully constructed or especially captured by Carroll. Lending credence to the view that the photographic Alice and the textual Alice are not similarly sexualized, are the other inherent visual differences in both representations of Alice. The real-life Alice Liddell, as shown in photographs, had short brown hair and dark eyes, as straight across bangs. Hairstyle and color may not initially seem to be an important factor, but it is one of the main ways in which Tenniel’s drawings of Alice are distinct, and there is a clearly large difference, in this capacity, between the Alices. The Alice portrayed in Wonderland and through the looking-glass has long blonde flowing hair, and it is pushed back to reveal her entire forehead. The hairstyles are nearly as opposite as they could be, and another important physical distinction is in their eyes, Clearly a drawing will be less accurate than a photograph, but Tenniel’s depiction of Alice’s eyes shows them as large, widely open, and almost considerably more curious and less mischievous than those of the real person in pictures. Again, Carroll must have pulled the strings, and brought about exactly what he desired as an end product of the photographs, but with this in mind, one wonders why the fictional Alice has these physical distinctions if the non-fictional Alice does not. If the real Alice’s image can be so manipulated, then the fictional Alice is a clearly fraught construct of Carroll’s, and with much deliberation. Carroll himself has said that he would like his books to be read “gently and lovingly,” similar to the manner in which they were written (Kincaid 218). Therefore, one can easily understand why Carroll created his vision of Alice in such a way, because since the child is “artificial,” then there is no reason that it wouldn’t be to one’s particular liking, and according to Kincaid, gentleness can be made to the order” (Kincaid 219). Since gentleness and modesty were characteristics which Carroll especially esteemed, he created an Alice in this image; by taking the Alice he so admired and fine-tuning any qualities which may have undermined her “gentleness” or purity, Carroll created an Alice to be adored by the masses. Along with this, his constructed Alice can be considered a blank slate; she is small, young, impressionable, fair-skinned, light-haired, has wide circular eyes, and is “aesthetically indistinct” (Bruhm and Hurley). These “gentle” and indistinct qualities serve to further eroticize Alice, though they may seem, on the contrary, to emanate innocence. This version of Alice, more than anything else, may be Carroll’s form of a psychological construct, of his own desires, or those anticipated desires of the reader. The washed complexion and hair and the eyes, which, inconsistent with her character, convey no expression, are all ways in which Carroll can make Alice erotic, through creating blankness (Bruhm and Hurley). Such light features are not innately more enticing, but rather, they signify nothing and therefore “[do] not interfere with projections” (Bruhm and Hurley). Just as importantly, the epitome of an erotic child, which is any reader’s template to project their own preferences and desires, also tends to be sporadically foolish in certain instances, and bourgeois in background. It is for this very reason that Carroll posed Alice in usually all white for her photographs. He clearly could not change her physical appearance, and adored her the way she was, so he would not have wanted to; to ensure her alluring appearance, though, while simultaneously keeping her modest, Carroll almost exclusively captured her in white. Controlling her outfit color was the most Carroll could do to make his Alice as blank as possible, and therefore, appeal to as many gazes as possible. In creating an image of a child so malleable and so susceptible to outer projection, Carroll also created a child quite exploitable. He pokes fun at this idea, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when Alice finds the bottle that says “DRINK ME” (Carroll 56). Sarcastically, Carroll calls her “wise little Alice” when she looks for a sign marked poison. While the humor in this scene can be appreciated, there is something very unsettling about it. Although the liquid merely changes her size, the potential for danger upon drinking from an unknown bottle, especially contrasted with Alice’s false sense of security when she does not find the word poison, demonstrates the ease with which Alice could be endangered, and possibly exploited, even sexually. This humor is rather dark, as Alice could be put into imminent danger, but in light of the fact that she is not and that Carroll has direct control over this, the humor is a manifestation of his own mixed feelings of latent adoration, sexual frustration, desire for Alice, and slight resentment that he cannot have her in the way he would like. Along with these feelings, and to more completely portray Alice in the light of the “erotic child,” Carroll writes Alice as passive, and often denies her of her feelings, such as anger, indignation, hunger and loneliness (Garland). Carroll liked children to be modest, polite, and not excessive in any way, particularly in hunger. A very well-known quirk of Carroll is that he was repulsed by a ravenous appetite, which explains the character of the Duchess, and also the Red Queen, and why both characters were so contemptible (Garland). To go along with their odious depictions, Carroll was very fond of little girls, but tended to dislike women, and therefore their transition into women. Speaking of the much-admired child Alice Liddell, Carroll wrote in a journal entry “Alice seems changed a good deal and hardly for the better—probably going through the usual awkward stage of transition” (Carroll 246). As a result, grown women were written as unlikable characters, and are connected with gluttony and large appetites (Garland). Therefore, it stands to reason that Alice would be pitted against many of these women. In so doing, Carroll indirectly demonstrates his belief in the sexual superiority and superior desirability of girls to women. Alice has composure, manners, and is illustrated to appear pretty, while the few women in both Alice texts tend to be hideous. The way in which Carroll stifles any ugliness, excessiveness, or undesirable feelings in the fictional Alice—and in so doing, manages to somewhat stifle her voice, rob her of agency and objectify her entirely—is believed to be desperate manipulation by Carroll, due to his anxieties about Alice maturing into adolescence (Garland). Another instance in which Alice is taken completely out of control is when she is very small and speaking to the caterpillar. Alice is an extremely shrunken size at this point, and is feeling quite vulnerable, as evidenced when the caterpillar asks who she is and she responds with: “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present”…”I ca’n’t explain myself. I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself, you see (Carroll 84).” When the caterpillar finally answers how she can grow larger, and he tells her to take a bite out of one side of the mushroom, she cannot hear him and he does not specify what side. This leaves Alice just as confused as before, if not more, and she must do something, because she cannot remain so small. This part is especially interesting, because the caterpillar’s behavior seems to be intentional. He seems to want to be evasive towards Alice, possibly to leave her in a lurch, because he seems somewhat bothered by her naiveté or her present insecurity. The caterpillar’s responses to Alice can be read as ambivalent. While he seems less foolish and (maybe) wiser than the rest of the mad creatures in Wonderland, he is also doubtlessly argumentative and desires to leave Alice powerless. However, the powerlessness which he bestows upon Alice is very possibly his singular faith in her maturation. However, if this is so, then it is just as crucial to note that the caterpillar has only a small role—perhaps important—but not recurrent. Most importantly, Alice leaves the caterpillar still relatively vulnerable and powerless, which is how Carroll likes to keep her most of the time in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When there are deviations of any form (such as when Alice holds on to some control), the reader feels Carroll grappling with his own feelings, coming to terms with Alice’s inevitable eventual “transition” and relinquishing his control. There is a subtle power struggle between fictional Alice and Carroll, in which Carroll comes out on top, by making Wonderland and the looking-glass elaborate dreams. In a different and more narrowly sexualized scene, Alice relinquishes all control and is victim of her strange circumstance. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she cannot see in any direction because it is dark, so she can only wonder what will happen. She anticipates, but has no idea what will become of her at the bottom of the fall (Carroll 52). Alice falling through this hole is a parallel with her going through a birth canal, and being reborn into a woman. Wonderland (although the reader does not know it yet, and nor does Alice) is full of heightened consciousness and realization for Alice, after long periods of confusion. Therefore, the “fall” brings her into a place of more wisdom and knowingness; since this fall is a part of her dream, it represents her going through her own body in order to arrive “on the other end” or in a different form, with the hole alluding to her sexual awakening. The actuality of the fall through the hole being characterized foremost by lack of control points to the lack of control she has over her own sexual identity. This lack of control of her sexuality (including her body, her desires, and her assertiveness against unwanted advances) springs up again in a more conventional yet unsettling way, further on in her adventures in Wonderland. When Alice and the Duchess are walking together after croquet, the Duchess curiously keeps putting her chin on Alice’s shoulder (Carroll 122). Carroll clearly makes this scene strangely repulsive, even though the sexuality aspect is not extremely stark. However, the mood of the scene is set up in such a way that makes the reader shiver with disgust and confusion, especially when the Duchess claims that Alice must be “wondering why [she doesn’t] put [her] arm round [Alice’s] waist” (Carroll 124). As the footnote states, the Duchess very clearly has the face of a grotesque man and continuously invades Alice’s space, wanting to perform an “experiment.” Alice, with her manners intact—that Carroll resolves to preserve even in the face of exploitation and extreme discomfort—as to not be too assertive or strong-minded, reaches for an excuse, and is only saved by the sudden appearance of the Queen (125). Alice’s narrow escapes of many undesirable occurrences leave the reader feeling anxious for her potential danger or exploitation, because of her meekness and sexual appeal.The book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is fraught with Carroll’s reactions to and anxieties over Alice’s impending womanhood. Carroll himself is manifested through the pigeon, when he fearfully accuses Alice of being a serpent. First the pigeon is afraid of Alice, which transforms into a sort of anger and disbelief of what she says and her motives. Similarly, Carroll likely asked himself the question: “Is this Alice Liddell a tool for temptation?” In so asking, he likely considered her to be a deceitful and slippery force, conscious of her powers over him, and with the ability to break him down, or hurt him—(in this case, emotionally). He is also afraid of his feelings for her, and he likely attributes some of the blame to her, for being “serpent-like.” Quite possibly, this is how the allusion came about, eventually leading to the bigger question: Is Alice a girl or serpent? Is she innocent or cunning (temptation)? This leads the reader to decide that Alice is unconsciously cunning, through her power over Carroll. Such is why he must assert such power over his creation of her. The reader may or may not blame Carroll for sexualizing Alice, but regardless, one thing is for sure; part of the eroticism of Alice is written lovingly and not perversely at all. Her very character is erotic because she keeps the reader on their toes; although she acts somewhat passive, she does so in the way that she is always in view, but never too close, and this elusiveness invites the male gaze. Carroll’s Alice, which is probably faithful to the real-life Alice, blends a certain amount of passivity and coyness with just the right amount of stubbornness and unpredictability, that her character “Demands to be loved” and on her terms (Kincaid 274). Although there are certain ways in which Alice remains devoid of power, she is powerful and perpetuating this distance between herself and the greedy eager reader. Though the inability to close this gap may sadden some, a true child-lover such as Carroll sees the hidden blessing, that another generation and another generation of Alice and her adventures may live on, whereas if the gap were closed, it could never be reopened. It is this unexpected, convoluted and maybe perverse, relationship, between the little girl running (jovially, playfully) and the child-lover that is Carroll chasing, figuratively, that breeds such confusing but evidently strong love, that Carroll has for Alice. Such manifestations of this love are often criticized, and often times, rightfully so. Therefore, the reader can side with Alice and detest Carroll’s control over his invented character. However, although this is quite valid, it should not be ignored that the control is a result of strange but real love, and a gaping fear of loss. In Carroll’s poem that concludes Through the Looking-Glass, he shares with the reader his sense of loss once Alice goes from (white) pawn to (red) queen. It is easy to sympathize with his sense of loss, although it is not in the traditional sense, because Alice is still alive. However, he is mourning what he knows can never be again, and the imagery is full of language of finality. The stanza most indicative of his intense feeling of loss is “Still she haunts me phantomwise, Alice moving under skies” (Carroll 223). Carroll likens the older Alice to a ghost, but implies that he dreams about her in the line “Never seen by waking eyes.” These implications of night and dreams further confirm his sexual and romantic feelings toward Alice as a girl. Although this stanza is sentimental, it is also inherently erotic. Words such as “haunts” further frame Carroll as helpless to his desire and Alice as in control of her ability to seduce him. Much like the sense of eternity that his books have given to his friendship with young Alice, the last line of the poem asks “Life, what is it but a dream,” perpetuating the child Alice and perpetuating her adventures.Annotated BibliographyBruhm, Steven, and Natasha Hurley. Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2004. Print. Carroll, Lewis, and John Tenniel. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ; &, Through the Looking Glass. New York: Macmillan, 1963. Print. Garland, Carina. “Curious Appetites: Food, Desire, Gender and Subjectivity in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Texts.” Proquest. N.p., n.d. Web. Kincaid, James R. Child-loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print. Schanoes, Veroncia. “Fearless Children and Fabulous Monsters: Angela Carter, Lewis Carroll and Beastly Girls.” Proquest. N.p., n.d. Web.
Both Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows are honored and cherished children’s classics. Though the two stories were written over a hundred years ago, they are still popular and widely loved today. Questions have been raised as to why exactly these two books have turned out to be incredible classics and staple bedtime stories for children everywhere. Many believe the reason for the two stories’ success lies in the core of their meaning – the fact that they deal with basic needs and experiences of children everywhere, no matter the time period. Though the tales are very different, they have some very important likenesses that make them both timeless and relatable to children. The most principle of which is subversion. All of the characters in these two stories celebrate, as Alison Laurie states it, “Daydreaming, disobedience, answering back…[and] running away” (Lurie)¹. For example, both stories deal with the concept of a desire to escape from the ordinary, and rebellion against authority. The four main characters in Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows personify these aspects, and Alice in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland embodies different characteristics of all four.In The Wind in the Willows, the first character the reader is introduced to is Mole. He is doing spring-cleaning in his underground home, when suddenly he is seized with the urge to be aboveground, carefree and enjoying spring. Then, “he suddenly [flings] down his brush on the floor, said…“Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put his coat on.” He knew he was supposed to be taking care of his house and being responsible, but “something up above was calling him imperiously” (637). Likewise, we first meet Alice outside sitting with her sister, trying to behave, but distracted from that boring task by the appearance of a white rabbit running by. Gripped with curiosity, she finds she must run after it, and so begins her adventure. Alice, like Mole, is very cognizant of the call of escape and adventure, and is eager to follow it wherever it takes her, even if she should know better. A child can easily relate to this as he is constantly being told “what grown-ups [have] decided [he] ought to [do]” (Lurie) when he would much rather be doing something simply for fun. Also like Mole, Alice is – at times – very naïve. When Mole decides he wants adventure, he is determined to have it, even against the warnings of wise counsel. When he travels into the Wild Woods, he is sure he will be able to handle whatever he meets there, but soon finds it is all too much for him, and is terrified (652). Similarly, Alice often lets her knowledge of decency and etiquette get in the way of her common sense. For example, when she approaches the house of the duchess, she is stalled going in by her attempt to reason and be polite with an irrational footman. It would be expected that, once one realized the man did not make sense, one would enter the house himself. In Alice’s case, however, she wastes much time at the door, wanting to do things properly in a very improper world (344-45). In these instances, Moles subversion is disobedience, which initially seems to bring a bad consequence but ultimately brings about a positive occurrence – they find Badger and have more wonderfully fun adventures – such that the message is given that his disobedience was a very good thing after all. In Alice’s case, the message is put across that she should have flown in the face of what the adults at home had taught her was proper. Obviously, trying to politely deal with the footman was a waste of time and rather stupid, when it was quite apparent she need just walk in herself and not bother with the silly and pointless ritual of manners that grown-ups put such importance on.The second character introduced in The Wind in the Willows is Rat. He is a sensible creature, but lives a carefree and fun-loving life in which the “only thing….worth doing [is] messing about in boats” (638). Some parents consider this very subversive, as it condones a pleasure-filled life with little to no responsibility. This fact is also what appeals so grandly to children. Alice – like many children – also experiences an affinity for that type of life. For example, when she is on the riverbank with her sister, she is frightfully bored and tries to remedy this by sneaking peeks at her sister’s book. However, she soon finds this is no good because the book has only words and no pictures. After all, Alice concludes, “what is the use of a book without pictures?” (325). That sort of book is what Laurie describes when discussing books that taught its child readers how “to be more like respectable grown-ups.” These books often had no use or time for pictures, and certainly not pictures that did not assist entirely in reinforcing the “lessons disguised as stories” (Lurie).The next character that appears in The Wind in the Willows is Toad. He is very much like a child in the sense that he is incredibly impulsive and self-indulgent. Unfortunately, these characteristics often lead to self-destruction. In Toad’s case, his addiction to motorcars pulls him into a life of recklessness and crime, where he was before a dignified heir of great wealth and status. He also demonstrates great subversion in his tendency to see himself as above the law. He constantly questions authority, as he refuses to see himself as guilty and constantly finds a way out of punishment – whether from his friends (676) or from the law (687) and often proclaiming things like, “Toad again! Toad, as usual, comes out on top!” (707). Alice is also very impulsive, as demonstrated in the fact that she never fails to eat or drink any food that magically appears before her. She does this even if she recognizes that it may be poison, and remembers what she learned – presumably from a book much like the books “that hoped to teach…manners or morals or both” which Lurie discusses – that “if you drink too much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later” (327). Both Alice and Toad seem to know better, but do the potentially harmful actions anyway, serving as examples for the assertion that children have a desire and compulsion to behave subversively whether they have been taught differently or not, and this is why these books resonate with children.The last main character in The Wind in the Willows is the wise Badger. He is highly respected and his words are often heeded without question. When the animals have gathered at Rat’s house to decide what to do about Toad’s captured home, all the animals shout out ideas or fall into despair, but it is Badger, in his wise way, who reprimands Toad, putting him promptly in his place, and then calmly announces, “There are more ways of getting back a place then taking it by storm. I haven’t said my last word yet” (714). He then goes on to describe the underground tunnel that they can enter the house through, and – without argument – that is exactly what they decide to do. Though Badger is the character most resembling a grown-up in this story, he is still far from the vision of adults that children experience in some literature. He does not recommend “depend[ing] on authority for help” (Lurie), but rather that they take the situation in their own hands in order to right the matter. He also does not hold in his excitement for the coming battle, as, after the final plan is made, he joins in with his other three comrades in jumping about the room and shouting excitedly about the battle to come. Alice can also be considered a wise character. Though she does not always listen to her own advise, she often has some very good bits of wisdom that she reminds herself. She even seeks to punish herself when she feels she has acted foolishly. For example, “once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet” (327). Though she is only a young girl, Alice often quotes what seems to be lessons she has learned from the very sort of instructional books Lurie discusses, such as when she is asked to repeat different verses she has learned, and promptly assumes her reciting stance and begins. However, she is still a picture of subversion, as she usually ends up not getting the verses correctly and saying something nonsensical that would be comical and pleasing to child readers.Throughout Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, examples of subversive behavior are abundant. This is the essence of why both tales are so cherished by children even in modern times. Alice, Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger are all characters used by Carroll and Grahame to delve into different aspects of subversion that children most identify with. Though they all have very different personalities, children can relate to all of them because at their core are the subversive ideals children love to read about and let their imaginations run wild with. Lurie calls books like these “sacred texts” because of the authors’ ability to appreciate a child’s interest in tales of rebellion and an easygoing world in which the main characters have all the abilities and resources of adults but must follow none of the silly rules. That Alice personifies various attributes of all four of Grahame’s main characters is further proof that these beloved classics are so highly regarded for their appeal to children’s’ love of subversion and that they fall under Lurie’s description of the wonderful and enrapturing books of her childhood.
Jennifer Geer’s article “`All sorts of pitfalls and surprises’: Competing Views of Idealized Girlhood in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books,” discusses at length the implications of Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, on the development of the child. Through this article Geer stresses that Victorian fairy tales, and specifically Alice’s nonsensical journey through wonderland “foster the happy, loving childhood that will enable her development into a good woman and mother”(2). Though it is beyond a doubt, true, that Alice is a children’s story, the article also explains that in terms of Alice’s adult readers, the novel simply shares “innocent amusement”(2). A close reading of Alice, however, shows that the novel is much more than a simple children’s story; it can appeal to an adult audience as well. Alice’s continued futile attempts to find meaning in wonderland’s meaningless world, her eventual encounter with the nothingness that wonderland is, and her final realization of her freedom at its conclusion mark Alice as a true existential hero and proves that Alice can be read by adults as an existential novel, one which provides a drastically different interpretation than simply an appreciation of the development of a child.Throughout the course of Alice, several instances and situations she comes across during her journey illustrate her continued and failed attempts to force meaning on the absurd world of wonderland. From the instant she falls into the rabbit hole, which marks the beginning of her journey, Alice immediately begins to try to use reason to understand and give meaning to her long fall. For example, Alice begins by stating to herself, ““I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time? [ . . . ] I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down [ . . . ] but then I wonder what latitude of longitude I’ve got to?””(20). This statement marks Alice’s initial attempt to make sense of her fall, even though she is endlessly falling into a rabbit hole—something that obviously does not make any sense to begin with. As Gordon E. Bigelow states in his article, “A Primer of Existentialism,” “Reason is impotent to deal with the depths of human life,”(172), and Alice’s use of reason, namely her attempt to use latitude and longitude to “measure” her fall, prove her failure to recognize this fact as she falls (quite literally) further and further into the depths of wonderland. This failure of reasoning only marks the beginning of Alice’s attempts to impose meaning and rationality on wonderland and is also a main characteristic in marking her as an existential hero.As Alice finally finishes her descent into wonderland and continues on her journey, she makes her initial recognition that wonderland is, indeed, much different from her “above-ground” world, but Carroll’s juxtaposition of this recognition with Alice’s application of above-ground rules and logic to a world that clearly does not have any also helps in demonstrating Alice’s continued existential journey. For example, after Alice comes across the “eat me” and “drink me” food and realizes that she can use it to alter her size, which obviously is a situation she has never encountered above wonderland, she voices her recognition of this confusing world as the narrator states, “She had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way,” and also through her statement, “ “Dear, dear! How queer everything is today! [ . . . ] if I’m not the same, the next question is, “Who in the world am I?”(28). These lines show that Alice has realized that wonderland is not the same as life above ground, yet she still tries to apply her above world logic anyway—something that simply cannot work in an existential novel.Another example of this mistake occurs when Alice begins to get a glimpse of the “reality” of wonderland’s world of illogic and lack of meaning, but immediately reverts to using the meanings that she does know, saying, “ “I’ll try if I know all the things I used to know. Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen [ . . . ] Paris is the capital of Rome [ . . . ] no, that’s all wrong, I’m certain!””(28). The fact that Alice cannot even recite true facts illustrates the uselessness of above ground “truth” in wonderland, and the fact that her recitation of “meaningful” facts do nothing to help her allude to the fact that Alice is indeed battling against a world that in itself is meaningless. Though these instances are, as Greer contests in her article, amusing, and can simultaneously provide adult readers with a shared innocence and laughter at Alice’s child-like reactions to her experiences, at the same time, these innocent reactions are so prevalent throughout the novel that they can and must be interpreted as something more, specifically as the continuous construction of Alice as an existential hero through her inability to recognize her own reality and the meaninglessness of wonderland, and her continued attempt to battle through its absurd world.Another aspect of wonderland that Alice is unable to find meaning in is the actual words spoken by the inhabitants, as Alice attempts to interpret them by her above ground understanding. This lack of understanding of the inhabitants of wonderland also show Alice’s isolation from them, which is, according to Bigelow, another major characteristic of an existential hero—alienation from the world and also those in it. For example, after Alice and a variety of woodland animals get soaked by her tears, a mouse apparently discovers an ingenious way to get dry, shouting, “I’ll make you dry enough!”(34), and immediately begins to quote a story out of a history textbook, which he believes is the driest thing he knows. Alice, obviously confused by the mouse’s different interpretation of the word “dry” states, “but it doesn’t seem dry to me at all!”(34). Through this situation, Alice demonstrates her inability to understand the lexical ambiguity in the word “dry,” and attempts to understand the word the only way she knows how to. This failed interpretation of meaning not only shows the meaninglessness of Alice’s preconceived logic, but it also frustrates and angers the mouse, and thus highlights Alice’s alienation from those around her.Another example of Alice’s failure to correctly understand the vocabulary used in wonderland occurs when the mouse says to her, ““Mine is a long and sad tale””(37). Alice replies, “It is a long tail, certainly [looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail] “but why do you call it long?””(37). It is at this point where the Mouse becomes infuriated with Alice’s misunderstanding, and claims that she “insults him for talking such nonsense”(38). Though Alice claims she did not mean it, she is once again isolated from a character in wonderland, and simultaneously a victim of her inability to apply her above ground meanings to wonderland—she can’t even understand the language that she thinks she knows, which only leads to further confusion and isolation.Another major part of Alice that characterizes it as an existential novel is the variety of chaotic and absurd behaviors that the creatures of wonderland demonstrate, and Alice’s judgment of these creatures and their actions on a rational objective basis, rather than through simply accepting wonderland’s absurdity. For example, as Alice is having a conversation with the Frog-Footman, out of nowhere, a large plate comes hurtling through the air, barely missing his head. However, due to the irrationality that characterizes wonderland, the Frog-Footman is obviously accustomed to the insane happenings, and he continues speaking “exactly as if nothing had happened”(60). Alice, on the other hand, becomes increasingly frustrated by the Frog-Footman’s ridiculous actions and words and instead tries to force some kind of rational order onto the crazy happenings by dismissing the Frog not as a creature whose actions fit his world, but as “perfectly idiotic”(60).Alice’s inability to recognize the absurd world she is now a part of and futilely apply her rational logic to it also is demonstrated in the same scene when Alice comes across the Duchess who is singing, “Speak roughly to your little boy, and beat him when he sneezes: he only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases”(62). Then, as the Duchess throws the child to Alice, it morphs into a pig. But Alice, still bound by her rational thought, “felt it would be quite absurd for her to carry [the pig] any further”(64). Later on, Alice also tries to find meaning in the Duchess’s absurd actions stating, “Maybe it’s the pepper that makes people hot tempered”(80). This line continues to show Alice’s inability to accept the irrationality in wonderland and her attempt to mind meaning in it, and also sparks anger in the Duchess, who is yet another character Alice becomes isolated from as well.Alice’s encounter with the Cheshire Cat provides readers with a vocalized statement of the reality of wonderland, and yet still, Alice refuses to see and accept it and continues to search for meaning anyway. For example, Alice states to the Cheshire Cat, “I don’t want to go among mad people,” and the Cat cunningly replies, “Oh, you can’t help that . . . we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad”(65). This quote from the Cheshire Cat is a blatant statement of what wonderland consists of and gives Alice a glimpse of the meaning that she had been attempting to seek in wonderland so far, yet she still cannot grasp it at this point. This inability to grasp the Cat’s meaning is also stated in the line following his insight as the narrator says, “Alice didn’t think that proved it at all: however she went on[ . . . ]”(65). This line refers to Alice’s continued effort to speak to the cat and find meaning in his words, but it can also be understood as a representation of Alice’s inability to recognize wonderland’s absurdity as vocalized by the cat and her continued effort to “go on” through wonderland on her quest for meaning. The conclusion of Alice, and especially her experience in the garden, highlight her eventual realization of its reality and the freedom she has to act, which is a necessary component in an existential work. For example, upon Alice’s arrival into the garden she is threatened by animate cards during her croquet game and says, “They’re only cards and I needn’t be afraid of them!”(79). This line demonstrates that Alice is becoming increasingly close of the freedom that she possesses in a land of meaninglessness, but the fact that Alice only mutters this revelation to herself also shows that she still has not yet grasped the implications of a realization like this—that she holds the ultimate freedom in wonderland and can, if she chooses to, wake up and instantly end its absurdity.As the novel continues, so does Alice’s knowledge of wonderland’s meaninglessness and the power that she holds over its inhabitants because of it. For instance, as the Queen shouts yet another meaningless threat of “Off with her head!” to Alice, she replies “ “Nonsense!” very loudly and decidedly””(82). After this surprising moment of defiance, the Queen remains uncharacteristically silent and must be comforted by the King who says, “Consider my dear, she is only a child”(82). However, just when it appears as if Alice is realizing that wonderland means nothing and she indeed has the power to be rude to the Queen, she once again illustrates her ultimate failure through the lines, “Alice began to feel uneasy[ . . .] “What would become of me?””(83). Once again, Alice becomes afraid of what will happen to her for being rude to the Queen—she can’t see that she is the person who holds the ultimate power. This statement of anxiety is also another major characteristic of existentialism. According to Bigelow’s article, each of us must make moral decisions in our own lives which involve the same anguish. [ . . . ] decisions have to be made in fear and trembling[ . . . ] sometimes one must make an exception to the general law because he is (existentially) an exception, a concrete being whose existence can never be completely subsumed under any universal (176).This line helps to demonstrate that Alice’s brief recognition but immediate reversion from it through her statement of her fear illustrates that she has not quite reached the point of her final realization of her freedom, but also shows that her anxiety is a natural part of the existential “process” that she has been going through that will eventually lead to her statement of her own freedom. Through the Knave of Hearts’s meaningless trial that marks the conclusion of the novel, Alice is finally able to have, in Bigelow’s words, “The encounter with nothingness,”(176), and directly following it, is also able to realize the freedom that she possesses—a final mark of an existential hero. Though the creatures of wonderland take the Knave of Hearts’s trial very seriously, it is obvious that the trial itself has no meaning because the world that it takes place in is devoid of meaning as well. At first, Alice is excited to take part in the trial–her lack of understanding at this point still leads her to believe that it is something of extreme importance. Alice also demonstrates her application of her above world meanings to the trial as she is “pleased to find she knew the name of nearly everything there”(103), and also takes her position very seriously when she learns she has to “testify.” However, through the course of the trial, Alice becomes increasingly aware of the meaninglessness in it, and in wonderland itself. Alice’s first step in her realization that the trial is meaningless occurs when the Gryphon says to Alice, “They’re putting down their names [ . . . ] for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial”(104). Alice immediately replies, “Stupid things!”(104), showing her recognition that the jurors are indeed absurd, and upon looking at the jurors’ notepads, she is confirmed as she notices not one of them can even spell correctly.This initial growth in knowledge also sparks Alice’s physical growth as well, and as the trial continues and Alice realizes the nonsense that she is being exposed to, both her intellectual and physical growth increase. For example, as Alice is testifying, the King and the White Rabbit quarrel about the correct term to write down, which, obviously, show the irrationality that encompasses the trial. At this moment, Alice notices that the jurymen are also all writing down different words. She then says to herself, “but it doesn’t matter a bit”(112). This line can be interpreted as Alice’s realization of the meaninglessness of the trial, but also, as her physical growth, paralleling her intellectual growth, is now “two miles high”(112), this line can also allude to the fact that Alice is on the verge of her “encounter with nothingness.”The culmination of Alice’s physical and intellectual growth through the trial and her final realization that wonderland has no meaning occurs when the members of the court are once again quarreling over nonsensical information and Alice says, “If any one of them can explain it,”(she had grown so large in the last few minutes that she wasn’t a bit afraid of interrupting the king), “I’ll give him sixpence. I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it”(114). This line of Alice’s realization of the meaningless truly marks her journey as existential. Throughout the course of the novel she had desperately tried to force meaning into a world of meaninglessness, and in the end, she finally reached an epiphany that she had not necessarily set out to look for. The King’s next line also verbalizes Alice’s failed mission thus far as he says, “If there’s no meaning in it, [ . . . ] that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any”(114). This line also serves in “summing up” Alice’s long journey to find meaning in a world without any, as well as her eventual “encounter with nothingness,” that leads to her final act of the novel—an act of freedom.Throughout the course of Alice, and consequently the course of this essay, the focus has largely been on Alice’s thought process and her constant attempts to put everything she came across in terms of an objective reality that she knew. However, her final act at the end of the novel proves the freedom that she possesses and also simultaneously serves in marking the end of Alice’s existential journey. As Alice continues to argue with the King and Queen during the trial, the Queen shouts (again), “Off with your head!”(116), only this time around, Alice screams back, “Who cares for you? (she had grown to full size by this time). “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!(116). At that instant, the cards appear to “explode” around her and Alice wakes up. This final defiant shout and act of waking up is Alice’s ultimate act of free will in a land of nothingness. According to Bigelow, “each man must accept individual responsibility for his own becoming,”(177), and by Alice’s choice to defy the nonsense that the characters and wonderland itself threw at her provide the major act that marks her as the novel’s existential hero. Bigelow also states, “A man is the sum total of the acts that make up his life—no more, no less—and though the coward has made himself cowardly, it is also possible for him to change and make himself heroic”(177), and by Alice making her final act to speak out against the absurdity and meaninglessness that wonderland was composed of, and wake up from her dream, she truly proved that she was the sum of her actions. She realized that wonderland had no meaning and consequently that she could not force rationality on it, and she recognized and acted on the free will that all existential heroes possess.Though Jennifer Geer is indisputably true in her conviction that children who read Alice can learn from her development and can become enriched in their own development from childhood to adolescence and on, at the same time, Alice’s continued quest to find meaning in wonderland, and the fact that she remained unaware of her futility until the very end also parallels Alice’s adult readers “above-ground.” Alice leaves wonderland taking no meaning from it, having only learned that the land itself had no meaning to begin with. The fact that the novel ends with Alice leaving for tea and “thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been”(117), puts an entertaining and childish spin on the fact that wonderland actually was not a “wonderful” dream at all, but in reality was a nightmare in which Alice could only escape by her realization that it was absurd and meaningless and through her ability to act on her free will and reject it. Alice was simply a girl, but the complex existential quest she was on, in the end, is really something only an experienced adult can relate to, even if the journey did indeed take place at the heart of a children’s novel. Works CitedBigelow, Gordon. “A Primer of Existentialism.” College English. December, 1961: 171- 178.Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.Geer, Jennifer, ““All sorts of pitfalls and surprises’: Competing Views of Idealized Girlhood in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books.” Children’s Literature. 31 (2003): 1-24. Project MUSE. 23 March 2008. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/childrensliterature/v031/31.1geer.html
At first glance, the poem Jabberwocky – as Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, transcribed in Alice in Wonderland – appears to be pure unintelligible gibberish, a madman’s ravings about some unfathomable and inexplicable beast. It rambles about “vorpal blades” and “slithy toves”, “frumious Bandersnatches” and things that go “snicker-snack”, and not once does it apologize for its fantastical nature. Indeed, a person reading this poem aloud would doubtless be considered unfit for normal, sane society. Yet there is something about the poem “Jabberwocky” that has sparked an infatuation with the nonsensical among the young and the old alike. And why not? Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were, after all, preordained as children’s books in the first place, so it should follow then that so too was the “Jabberwocky”.Perhaps even more so than the larger epic engulfing it, this nonsensical poem has seen its influence spread across nations and across centuries. Its absurd nature helped spawn The Beatles’ perennial classic “Yellow Submarine,” much as the Fab Four’s “I am the Walrus” was inspired by Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” J.K. Rowling paid homage to it in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with Professor Dumbledore’s opening speech: “Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Carroll’s influence can even be felt often in President Bush’s speeches. But what, pray tell, is it about this specific poem, especially since there are tens of thousands of similar and, in the case of Edward Lear’s limericks, arguably better nonsense poems? Why has “Jabberwocky” persevered in the mythos of the fantastical for so long?It is for this question that three different perspectives present themselves: The “Jabberwocky” as written by a mathematician, as written by a logician, and as written by a writer.Carroll’s role as a prominent mathematician can be seen quite easily throughout the poem if, like so many other things that populate the world beneath the rabbit hole, one knows what to look for. This should come as little surprise; after all, the majority of Alice and Looking Glass reflect different mathematical shenanigans, most of which could only occur in Wonderland because of their inherent impossibilities. Nowhere in the real world could a scientist find himself dealing with a sudden inflation in size, let alone a subsequent and even more rapid descent to miniscule proportions. No one has ever found themselves confronted with an army of playing cards, and few have ever fallen down a rabbit hole the length and breadth of an underground skyscraper. And, with the exception of the recently discovered black hole phenomenon, there has never been an extra-spacial anything in which the interior of an object was larger than its exterior (Clevinger). Hopefully there haven’t been too many instances of talking rabbits. But in Wonderland, where reality and impossibility intermingle, these events can be narrated and explored in full – despite being narrated and explored by Alice, who can hardly be considered sufficiently mathematically-inclined to understand the logistical significance of the world around her. What then of the “Jabberwocky?” This is where Humpty Dumpty enters the picture. In the story, Alice comes upon this nursery rhyme entity and finds him to be quite pompous and arrogant, not even bothering to address her when speaking (at one point early on he speaks not to her, but to a tree). Then, after asking her age, the giant egg criticizes her for being seven years and six months, and not leaving off at seven years, humorously adding a dark undertone in suggesting that “With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.” Further down the way Alice, curious about Dumpty’s talent with word definitions, recites the first verse of the “Jabberwocky” poem: “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: / All mimsy were the borogoves, / And the mome raths outgrabe.” Hearing this, Humpty Dumpty launched into a detailed analysis of the poem and the definitions of the nonsense words. For example, ‘slithy’ is “lithe and slimy.” Also, “. . . ‘mimsy’ is ‘flimsy and miserable’ . . .” These words – which combine two distinct meanings into one compact package – are what Dumpty calls ‘portmanteaus’ (Carroll). This does not mean that the words are ambiguous, mind; ambiguity implies that two meanings exist, but only one is actually in use. A portmanteau, on the other hand, permits both definitions to coexist simultaneously and without conflict. This practice of streamlining words is not unique to Carroll’s visions; it has been used numerous other times, most prominently in James Joyce’s epic Finnegan’s Wake, which accommodates them by the tens of thousands, including ten hundred-letter thunderclaps. The great thing about portmanteaus is that even if a reader doesn’t have the slightest idea as to what is being said, a silent inkling of its emotional context is still available to grasp. This is how one can read through “Jabberwocky” and, without understanding a single nonsensical word, can still catch the drift of the story, perhaps even understand it all. But logically, this should not be; a person reading even the previously quoted first verse should have left shaking their heads in disbelief of the pure and utter idiocy presented to them. Yet despite all rationality, this does not happen. Somehow, the brain picks up on the inner meanings of these words, fits them into place (or rather, stretches the place to fit them in it), and ends up drawing remarkably accurate conclusions. These conclusions likely will not match up even remotely with the original author’s intent or lack thereof, but nonetheless the equation works. It is as though the details of the story are decided on by the reader’s own interpretations, but the overall story is defined by the author. The whole scenario can be likened to a “mad lib” gone horribly wrong: adjectives fit where adjectives should go, verbs where verbs should (despite being the proudest of the words, and quite temperamental), and for all intents and purposes the prose flows perfectly as proper English grammar dictates (or at least, insofar as the poetry itself will allow). Now, what does this have to do with mathematics, which has earlier been promised to somehow be linked to the topic? To answer this, a simple – yet hardly so – algebraic formula may be utilized: Two plus two equals five. This equation, a long-time favorite of freethinkers and scientists alike, essentially states that two products combined together may give rise to side effects that transforms the whole into more, or at least different, than the sum of its individual components . . . synergy takes place (Byrne). Just as two medicines combined may produce a third, unintended result, so too can words be paired to create a new, seemingly unrelated word with the added benefit of achieving a subliminal sympathy that tells the reader that, “No, you don’t know what I mean, but you do know where I aim.” Thus, the use of portmanteaus is not only in some specialized elements a substantially more efficient means of writing, it is also theoretically capable of achieving an as-yet inexperienced plane of reader-writer interaction that permits an infinite number of stories to arise from a single source. From the mathematical perspective, then, the ‘X’ variable is found within the individual mind and not in the hard ink and paper, just as many artists feel it should be. With that said, let the page now turn to the logician’s perspective. This view can be derived mainly from what seems to be an innocent exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty:”When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.””The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.””The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”What the giant egg is asking, then, is whether or not we are bound to the preexisting rules of grammar and vocabulary, and if so, what is the justification for constraining oneself to them? Dodgson himself answered these questions at length in Symbolic Logic. In opposition to the views of the group he dubbed “The Logicians,” he argued that the words in language do not actually carry a sovereignty that demands that they are the correct words as determined by some greater Entity. Instead of accepting this Grecian logic, Carroll states that, “If I find an author saying, at the beginning of his book, “Let it be understood that by the word ‘black’ I shall always mean ‘white’, and that by the word ‘white’ I shall always mean ‘black’,” I meekly accept his ruling, however injudicious I may think it.” This acceptance of words as arbitrary things, despite being arguably more correct, failed to win out in the end, but it does not deflect Carroll’s aim. The idea that a person may use a word in ways not formerly implemented is a fantastical idea, for sure, but it also opens many doors – several of which Humpty Dumpty ventures through in his dissection of “Jabberwocky.” In this poem, it is clearly not the words that are the master. This is why the diction is nigh impossible to comprehend; the same can be said for Humpty Dumpty’s speech, which rather abuses this privilege. In his article “The Philosopher’s Alice in Wonderland,” Roger W. Holmes sums up the argument nicely and succinctly: “May we . . . make our words mean whatever we choose them to mean? Do we have an obligation to past usage? In one sense words are our masters, or communication would be impossible. In another we are the masters; otherwise there could be no poetry” (Carroll). At last, the final means of relating “Jabberwocky”: from the literary perspective, with specific regards to the meaning (not, mind, the definitions) of the nonsense words used. This is similar to the logician’s perspective in that it covers the justification behind nonsensicality, but it differs in one obvious area: Whereas the earlier argument asks how old words can be used in new ways, this asks how new, invented words can be used in old ways. Obviously, words like ‘brillig’ and phrases like ‘Callooh! Calleh!’ never appeared in a dictionary (although if they did, I should like to see that dictionary for further review), so they have no basis for being rationally defined except through the use of context – which is itself as thoroughly impossible to define as the rest. Then – then look at Humpty Dumpty’s definitions. These are words had to be invented because they simply do not exist. There are no words for four o’ clock in the afternoon, so ‘brillig’ had to be made. No beast such as the Jabberwock had ever been found before the poem was written, thus the necessity for the obtuse term (On a side note, after closer inspection it has been found that ‘gyre’ is in fact a word, and its meaning is the same in the real world as it is in Alice’s Wonderland). In his autobiography On Writing, prolific author Stephen King says, “The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning. Given that, why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only cousin to the one you really wanted to use?” To use another quote, did the Bard himself commented on this subject when, in Romeo and Juliet, he quipped, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Granted, at the time Shakespeare was referencing it as a side-swipe at the Globe Theatre’s rival, the Rose Theatre (Phrase Finder) . . . but it still certainly applies here. Now apply this to “Jabberwocky.” If the bird Carroll saw was a Jubjub bird, how could he then justify calling it by another other name, even for the sake of making more sense? If he’d called it a gryphon or such, there would be none of this arbitrary confusion. Calling the vicious Jabberwock a dragon would paint a suitably vivid beast into the mind of the reader – but that is an escape for less confident writers. It would have been an outright lie to substitute these obscure words with something more palatable, and despite his constant stream of riddles and trickery, Carroll saw no need to cloud the skies further by telling the wrong story. To do so would have been even more unfair to the readers than it would be to use impossible wording. Finally, having said all of that, and having run out of the typewriter’s equivalent to breath, I would like to take this opportunity to suggest that, like so many of the riddles in Carroll’s world, not a word of this is necessarily what Dodgson had in mind as he wrote his nonsense poetry. After all, the man had a mind like that of a child, and there are several other, much more likely reasons for him to write “Jabberwocky” than to oppose the then-modern rules of diction. Thusly, this is not a paper aiming to show what he meant in writing; it is merely trying to open the reader’s mind to more interpretations of a poem which is certainly no stranger to being interpreted. And in the end, is that not what nonsense poetry is all about? Interpretation?Works CitedByrne, David. Personal interview. 28 April 2004.Carroll, Lewis. “The Annotated Alice.” Bramhall House. New York. P. 261 – 276.Clevinger, Brian. “8-bit Theatre.” Comic strip.
Lewis Carroll has a lot of fun playing with language in Alice in Wonderland. He points out its flexibility, inadequacies, and the confusion that it can produce when taken at face value without common sense and interpretation. His playfulness is certainly entertaining and raises points about some interesting quirks of language, but there is often more to the wordplay than the simple jest that Alice and the creatures of Wonderland find in it. There are often multiple levels of meaning. A fun and playful surface layer often uses lighthearted distracting lights and colors to mask a deeper, darker layer which lies beneath it. Since this type of multi-layered wordplay parallels the multiple layers of meaning running throughout the book, deconstructing and examining the mouse’s tale, an example of the wordplay, offers a portal through which to view the more serious, darker and subversive messages of the story. There are many puns and busy, colorful images before, after and within the mouse’s tale (25) that work to produce the cheery and entertaining mood we are in when we come across the enigmatic poem. Just prior to the telling of the tale, a motley crew of creatures had been running in crazed circles in the “caucus-race” (23). A pun on the word “tale” (24) then follows this very humorous image. The wordplay and the entertaining imagery of the race sets up a cheerful, silly aura for the mouse’s tale, and the reader goes into it without expecting deep meaning. Carroll quickly employs another pun (on the word “not/knot” (25)) as soon as the tale is over, whisking the reader along and preventing any dwelling on the darker nature of the mouse’s poem. Puns, misunderstandings and other forms of wordplay are rampant throughout the entire story. Puns are inherently fun. The idea of one word conveying two ideas hits a nerve and excites people – especially if the second meaning brings with it a set of images and ideas that are surprising and completely incongruous with the other meaning. The puns help to maintain the lighthearted and happy feeling even when not-so-happy things are happening (like the sorrowful singing of the perpetually weeping mock-turtle, or the adamant execution orders from the Queen). As in the scene with the mouse’s tale, wordplay and exciting events and images create and sustain a feeling throughout the entire book that there is nothing darker or more subversive than the innocent telling of a young girl’s adventures in a make-believe world. In the case of the mouse’s tale, puns and silly images are not the only things that contribute to the feeling of levity; other elements combine to enhance this seemingly playful story. The concrete shape of the poem on the page (see page seven of this paper) is of course endearing and distracting. The thought, “How cute! It looks like a tail!” springs to mind. It is difficult to pay close attention to the meaning of a poem when your eyes are wiggling back and forth, reading just two or three words per line. Other poetic elements also enhance the fun feeling, like the merry aab ccb dde ffe rhyme scheme. One pays more attention to the look and sound of the poem than to its meaning. Although Carroll does not write out any other parts of the story in visually descriptive ways, the elaborate and frequent illustrations serve an analogous purpose. The pictures, which are usually humorous, distract the reader and draw attention to the entertaining, funny, and visually exciting aspects of the story, and not to the darker meaning-laden layer beneath the surface. By distracting the reader and diverting attention, these surface elements, full of feeling yet devoid of meaning, effectively conceal the darker side of the poem from those not actively seeking it. They appeal to the casual reader and create a tale that can be enjoyed by all. The pictures coupled with various other instances of wordplay and the exciting events that occur carry out a similar duty for the rest of the story. Certainly Alice and the creatures of Wonderland (and presumably most other children as well) do not see past the fun and silly smoke screen of an entertaining and bizarre world. Digging deeper and trying to grasp the true meaning of Carroll’s words produces much more disturbing, weightier images that correspond to the darker and more adult-oriented themes.The substance of the mouse’s tale, much like many of the themes running through the book, is quite somber. The tale is, in fact, horrible. A dog forces an innocent mouse into an unfair trial in which the rodent will obviously be condemned to death and brutally killed (and very likely eaten). Strong triumphs over weak; evil conquers good. Death is alluded to quite often in the story. Carroll plants the seeds of these unsettling yet real ideas in the heads of children. Kids need not confront them directly yet, but are aware of their shadowy presence. Many nursery rhymes and fairy tales do much the same thing.Carroll gives many events in Alice in Wonderland a similar dual-layer treatment: on the outside, they seem like pure fun and games, while in truth they have a deeper, more adult; sometimes commenting on society, nature and sub-text. Just before the mouse tells his tale, the animals sprint hither and thither in the fantastic caucus-race. The race, which is certainly exciting and bizarre on the one hand, doubles as a sharp satire of England’s government: although there is a great commotion, nothing gets accomplished and nobody ends up with anything worth having. In fact, Alice was in a better situation (she had more candies) before the race was run. There are other themes in the mouse’s tale that are also found in the sub-layers throughout the story. One of these, which seems a favorite of Carroll’s, is the illogicality of many aspects of society. He conveys this throughout the book by emphasizing and treating as normal many of the completely illogical things that happen in Wonderland. In the specific case of the mouse’s story, a totally illogical scenario occurs. The dog, Fury, wants to play all of the roles in the courtroom. (Interestingly, the mythological Furies stood not only for horrible punishment and cruelty, but also logic and justice. The fact that the dog embodies the first, negative, aspects but is the antithesis of the virtuous components of the Furies’ characters compounds the lack of logic in the situation.) As the mouse rightly declares, a trial in which the prosecutor also acts as the judge and the jury is a pointless waste of time. A fair trial could never be produced under such circumstances (25). The mouse’s tale is illogical for other reasons as well. The mouse tells the tale as an answer to Alice’s question about why he does not like cats and dogs (24). However, the tale does not even mention cats at all, and only describes an episode that occurs with a dog. Logically, if only one of the animals were to be mentioned it would make more sense to talk about a case involving a cat, not a dog. Cats are the infamous foes of mice. Dogs rarely catch them, let alone eat them. Perhaps the animal world (and the rest of the world as well) has been warped by Wonderland in more ways than originally recognized. The illogicality of the mouse’s tale mirrors the illogicality found throughout the story. All of Wonderland’s illogical elements, in turn, parallel illogical aspects of society. Wonderland is a version of Victorian society – simply turned on its head and shaken up – and therefore has many elements that reflect those of real life. A careful and thoughtful reading brings these correspondences to the surface. If parallels to all of the layers of the mouse’s tale are to be found in the rest of the novel, we may need to look even deeper. The tale has yet another layer of wordplay. This layer is so hidden that is was not discovered until quite recently. As explained by Gary Graham in 1991, if each stanza of the poem is written out in conventional form, the poem falls into the form that is called a “tail-rhyme.” This form of verse consists of stanzas made up of a couplet followed by another line of a different length. Usually, the third line is shorter than the lines of the couplet. However, in the stanzas of the mouse’s tale the third line is longer than the previous two lines. This causes each stanza to represent a mouse: the couplet is the mouse’s body and the extra-long third line visually forms its tale:”Fury said to the mouse,That he met in the house,’Let us both go to law: I will prosecute you.'” Thus Carroll imbeds yet another layer of pun into the poem. This discovery hints at the possibility of more, subtler, and possibly still undiscovered layers of wordplay that might lie beneath the surface of other parts of the story – for, if Carroll did it here, certainly he could have done so throughout the book. The mouse’s tale, like the entire book, can be read and understood at multiple levels. Alice, like many children, only sees the enticing, entertaining and silly level. In fact, we can be certain that she only sees this level in the mouse’s tale, for when the mouse claims that she hasn’t been paying attention she asserts that she has, and attempts to prove it by saying that he was at “the fifth bend” of the story (25). The mouse has indeed reached the part of his poem at which the words in Alice’s mind begin to make their fifth curve down the page. Alice (and perhaps some readers as well) is too blinded by Carroll’s exterior playfulness to see past this level of both the mouse’s tale and the entirety of her adventures in Wonderland. A more careful reading of the mouse’s poem and a consideration of its meaning – in other words, a look beyond Carroll’s brilliantly painted faÃ§ade of appealing and enticing fun and games that ropes in the reader- opens up a treasure trove of more serious and subversive meanings within the tale, which are analogous to those found when peeling back the sugary layers that coat the entire story. Works CitedCarroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.Graham, Gary. as cited in New York Times, 1 May 1991 B1. as cited in Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992. p 25.The Mouse’s Tale “Fury said to a mouse, That he met in the house, `Let us both go to law: I will prose- cute you.– Come, I’ll take no de- nial: We must have the trial; For really this morn- ing I’ve nothing to do.’ Said the mouse to the cur, `Such a trial, dear sir, With no jury or judge, would be wast- ing our breath.’ `I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ said cun- ning old Fury: `I’ll try the whole cause, and con- demn you to death.'”(25)
” ‘If everybody minded their own business,’ the Duchess said, in a hoarse growl, ‘the world would go round a deal faster than it does’ ” (Carroll 62).Capricious and fanciful, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland depicts a place where communal rules and shared understandings have dissolved. Wonderland’s inhabitants fail to form a community although they share a common space. Interpersonal relationships lack the mutuality that Alice is accustomed to, and individual trajectories do not seem to alter one another even as they intersect. As Richard Kelly argues, “Everyone is alone and isolated in Wonderland” (77). The “madness” that Alice perceives finds its roots in this pathological individualism; where personal freedom is carried to extremes on an interpersonal level, a pervasive arbitrariness materializes.In contrast to the wise and helpful creatures prevalent in fairy tales and folklore, the inhabitants of Wonderland prove belligerent and self-righteous. Ironically, Alice is more correct than she realizes when she wonders if she “shall fall right through the earth . . . [to] The antipathies” (Carroll 21). As Alice subsequently observes, “It’s really dreadful . . . the way all the creatures argue. It’s enough to drive one crazy!” (Carroll 60). Yet, the creatures’ neglect to provide a support network for Alice is merely symptomatic of an even more confounding phenomenon – their failure to form any cohesive social unit that the protagonist can perceive. Carroll frees Wonderland’s inhabitants from any obligation to behave in a certain way towards not only Alice, but also one another. Liberated from social conventions that dictate how individuals should interact with others, the Mad Hatter and March Hare are thus found arbitrarily “trying to put the Dormouse into a teapot” (Carroll 75) at a tea party – a setting traditionally epitomic for etiquette and propriety.Rules and standards provide an infrastructure for community, and social cohesion dissolves in their absence. This dissolution gives way to a high degree of personal independence yet correspondingly causes the Wonderland creatures to interact “in a confused way” (Carroll 35). As exemplified by the Caucus-race, disorder reigns when there are no shared rules: The creatures “began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over” (Carroll 35). As Richard Kelly notes in “Dream Child,” “The caucus race may more significantly be read as a metaphor for the entire story” (79) in that individual creatures behave according to their own whims.Insofar as community entails “sharing, participation, and fellowship” (The American Heritage Dictionary) in the standards that orchestrate behavior, the creatures of Wonderland seem to revel in the anarchy of their individualism. Because community is dependent upon common agreement to uphold certain standards, individual freedom must be sacrificed for its sake. Yet, even when it comes to law, the Wonderland creatures fail to exchange personal freedom for justice and order. When the King demands, “Give your evidence,” (Carroll 108) during the Knave of Heart’s trial, the cook replies, “Shan’t” (Carroll 108). The bedlam of the trial demonstrates the arbitrariness of the law—or lack thereof—in Wonderland. Although the trial bears some resemblance to legal proceedings in its courtroom complete with judge, jury, and witnesses, no “valid” evidence is ever contributed, and the case makes no progress.The anarchy that Alice perceives arises not only from an absence of shared rules, but also from a dissolution of the very logic upon which rules are based. This fundamental logic of causality dictates that positive consequences ensue from following rules while negative consequences emerge from breaking them. Yet, “in Wonderland, where Alice is repeatedly liberated from the predicaments in which her rashness has entangled her, the theory of natural reward and punishment . . . completely breaks down” (Mulderig 324). Actions lose their normal causal potential and are freed from the obligation of producing effects. Although the cook “set to work throwing everything within her reach at the Duchess and the baby—the fire irons . . . saucepans, plates and dishes [—] . . . the Duchess took no notice of them even when they hit her . . . [and] it was quite impossible to say whether the blows hurt it [the baby] or not” (Carroll 61).As critic Gerald P. Mulderig notes, “The most curious fact of life in Wonderland . . . is that one is never held responsible for one’s actions . . . Falls down rabbit holes end with a gentle bump . . . threats of execution are never carried out” (326-327). The cook can act however she pleases, because she is neither reprimanded nor even noticed for her actions. Although throwing things at others normally elicits negative feedback, the cook’s actions possess no such causality. Throwing things remains merely throwing things; no causality transforms it into hurting others or being punished. Where one’s actions fail to impact others, individuals are freed from one another. Moreover, in this world where “everybody mind[s] . . . their own business,” (Carroll 62) the tyranny of causality no longer reigns; individualism effaces the logic familiar to Alice, leading her to diagnose Wonderland happenings as arbitrary.Even when actions do produce consequences, arbitrariness plagues the causal relation. In Wonderland, consequences are not fixed; although the same action may repeat, there is no guarantee that it will produce the same effect. Prior to her discovery of the mushroom, Alice partakes of various foods and drinks that alter her physical size in an unpredictable manner. Alice becomes “only ten inches high,” (Carroll 24) the first time she drinks out of a bottle labeled “DRINK ME” (Carroll 23). However, upon drinking out of the second, similarly labeled bottle, she grows rapidly and finds “her head pressed against the ceiling, and had to stoop to save her neck from being broken” (Carroll 41). Had Alice known that she would become stuck in the White Rabbit’s house as a result of drinking this draught, she probably would not have done so. But because of the very impossibility of predicting an action’s effects, potential consequences fail to function as concrete incentives or impediments.In essence, the destruction of causality frees Alice from the past. As Kelly notes, “the language, characters, and scenes in Wonderland are essentially discrete. Attempts to fuse them lead to misunderstanding. Consequently, . . . Alice cannot evaluate past experiences and can only look forward to new . . . ones” (80). Arbitrariness characterizes the relation between past and present. Accordingly, the debunking of causality invalidates the past as a repository of guidelines for future action and allows Alice to act uninhibited by what has happened before. Free to act according to her whims, Alice comes to abide by the principle of individualism that guides behavior in Wonderland. Without realizing it, she has become as “mad” as the other creatures.The “mad” individualism of Wonderland behavior is echoed on a linguistic level; the creatures refuse to cede linguistic freedom for communal understanding. Dialogues, for example, often resemble two monologues delivered simultaneously, because the participants’ words appear to have no relation. At the Mad Tea Party, for example, the Hatter replies, “Your hair wants cutting” (Carroll 68) after Alice notes, “I didn’t know it was your table . . . it’s laid for a great many more than three” (Carroll 68). It is as though the Hatter did not even hear Alice, for his response seems like a completely arbitrary non sequitur. Uninhibited by verbal customs, the Hatter is free to say what he pleases when he pleases. The Hatter demonstrates what Gordon Hirsch describes as an “inability or refusal to share communicational levels . . .Whatever the cause, the characters’ problems in creating a conversational world in which words, phrases, and sentences have shared communicative meanings is clear and striking” (88).Individualism dominates Wonderland language not only in the sense that verbal exchanges are free from traditional, shared protocols, but also in the sense that language itself is often produced freely according to personal, private processes. Conventional language is established through a communal process in which a group of individuals concur on the pairings between words and what they signify. Individuals can only be understood by others if both parties participate in the same process of communication. “Carroll was well aware of the essential arbitrariness in the relation between the linguistic sign and its referent long before Ferdinand se Saussure was to illustrate that such a principle is axiomatic to all language systems” (Baum 69). In Wonderland, however, individual creatures often assign subjective meanings to words and speech, rather than coming together to agree on arbitrary pairings. Personal expression finds a conduit in personalized language, rather than being channeled through preset linguistic conventions. The exchange preceding the Caucus Race exemplifies this individualistic phenomenon:. . . said the Mouse. ” . . . Edwin and Morcar . . . found it advisable—“”Found what?” said the Duck. “Found it,” the Mouse replied rather crossly: “of course you know what ‘it’ means.””I know what ‘it’ means well enough, when I find a thing,” said the Duck: “it’s generally a frog, or a worm” . . . (Carroll 34)Carroll highlights the subjectivity of the Duck’s definition of “it” by italicizing the Duck’s “I” and following it with qualifications specific to the Duck’s diet. Although the Duck and the Mouse refer to the same word, their interpretations of “it” do not coincide. This exchange illuminates the creatures’ “inability to concentrate on shared ideas and feelings, to the extent that communication between individuals is significantly disrupted” (Hirsch 87). Language becomes arbitrary in that individuals endow the same linguistic vehicles with conflicting meanings. Each creature opts for freedom from others’ points of view.Accordingly, Carroll revels in puns, because they so effectively exploit the subjectivity of language through their ability to simultaneously convey more than one meaning. It is thus that Alice cannot understand how “the Mouse’s tail [(tale)]” (37) can be “sad” in addition to “long”. Although puns are also used in conventional English, they are normally followed by tacit comprehension. In Wonderland, however, the listener does not notice when words are being used as puns, and the speaker cannot comprehend the listener’s confusion. Both listener and speaker fail to participate in the other’s system of language.Even when the Wonderland creatures do participate in the same language, no such shared linguistic register exists between them and Alice. For example, when Alice inquires of the duchess, “Please, would you tell me . . . why your cat grins like that?” (Carroll 61), she receives the following reply: “It’s a Cheshire Cat . . . and that’s why” (Carroll 61). The creatures define a cat that grins as a “Cheshire Cat,” but Alice is not privy to the other pairings within their personal language. Thus, at the “mad tea-party,” (Carroll 68-76) Alice fails to understand the Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse even as all four exchange words at the same table. As Alice muses, “The Hatter’s remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English” (Carroll 70).In “Double Binds and Schizophrenogenic Conversations: Readings in Three Middle Chapters of Alice in Wonderland,” Gordon Hirsch makes a revealing comparison between Wonderland interactions and “schizophrenic patterns of thought and communication” (86). Fragmented, ambivalent, and full of double meaning, both schizophrenic language and Wonderland language are used “expressively and personally rather than to communicate a shared meaning or engage in real dialogue” (Hirsch 97). Whereas language is usually used to establish common ground or bind individuals together, Wonderland language has a paradoxically alienating and anti-communal effect. So estranging is her visit to the March Hare’s house that Alice storms off in disgust: “It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!” (Carroll 76).So excessive are the creatures in their own individualism that they fail to acknowledge the separate individualism of other creatures. Whereas normal communities permit individual freedom up to the point that it does not impinge on others’ freedom, this qualification does not stand in Wonderland. Instead, the creatures fail to respect or even acknowledge the validity of identities outside of themselves. Hirsch notes the egocentricity that arises from this excessive personal freedom exercised during the Mad Tea Party:. . . as the centerpiece of social life in this culture [19th-century middle-class English life], the tea ceremony above all provides an opportunity to move beyond an egocentric view of personal relations . . . [Yet] it is clear that at the Wonderland tea-party, no one is going to give Alice her own cup of tea or recognize her as a real person with whom there could be meaningful communication and interaction based on mutual respect. (100)One might argue that Wonderland’s “madness” does not arise from exaggerated individuality but rather from a sheer lack of logic or reason. Yet while actions may initially appear illogical, they actually seem to make sense in a way merely unfamiliar to Alice. “Carroll’s nonsense is not non sense, that is, devoid of meaning . . . Despite the apparent anarchy of words and things in the Alices, there is method evident in the madness” (Baum 69-70). For example, while it appears arbitrary for the Dodo to declare each participant a winner of the Caucus-Race, this in fact makes sense in light of the race’s original purpose; the Dodo had proposed the race as a “more energetic remed[y]” (Carroll 34) for drying off the creatures soaked by Alice’s tears. And only after “they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again” (Carroll 35) does the Dodo announce that the race has ended.Similarly, Wonderland language also seems to function according to a subtle internal logic imperceptible to Alice. For example, the conversation that takes place during the Mad Tea Party seems at first glace wholly illogical, a string of non sequiturs. Upon closer examination, however, a curious logic appears. When Alice arrives, the creatures state that there is no room at the table. The logic behind this statement is that when one says that there is nothing, there is nothing. Yet, Alice violates this by insisting that there is room. As a result, the March Hare tries to prove that things go wrong when this logic is violated: he implies that there is wine by offering some to Alice, but there is in fact none. Alice becomes angry, and yet it was she who first violated this logic of saying what you mean (which might be why this discussion comes up later). Although it seems as though the March Hare acts arbitrarily and rudely, he actually adheres consistently to this logic. As Kelly argues, “The systems of the Wonderland creatures may be logical, in the sense of being self-consistent” (91). It is Alice who “arbitrarily” expects abandonment and then adherence to this logic according to changes in circumstance.In addition to recognizing the fundamental inconsistency in Alice’s way of thinking, the creatures try to expose the relative arbitrariness of Alice’s language to them. For example, when Alice says “You should not learn to make personal remarks,” she does not specify that personal means relating to a private/specific person instead of relating to people in general (the latter of which in fact seems more logical, since “personal” is derived from just the word “person” and not the phrase “specific person”); there is nothing in the word “personal” that specifies this distinction. The creatures seize on the latter definition and then abide by Alice’s imperative perfectly, for the next remark that the Hatter made is perfectly “impersonal” in the sense that it has nothing to do with people: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” (Carroll 68).Shared customs and understandings serve as a lens for interpreting individuals’ actions. “Above-ground conventions of etiquette in social intercourse are meaningless in Wonderland” (Rackin 45). As an outsider, Alice does not have access to these lenses and sees only arbitrariness. Placed in an alien frame of reference, Alice experiences an identity crisis when the standards she previously used to define herself fail to apply in Wonderland. In her world, children’s age changes proportionately with their physical size. Growing and shrinking rapidly in Wonderland, Alice feels an overwhelming sense of arbitrariness as the rules and boundaries that she is accustomed to dissolve. “But I’m grown up now,” she muses, “shall I never get any older than I am now?” (Carroll 42). Although freed from conventional rules, Alice also feels an overwhelming sense of “madness” because of her unfamiliarity with Wonderland rules. Reciprocally, Wonderland may make sense to its inhabitants, but if they were placed in Victorian England, they might perceive the same arbitrariness that Alice does in Wonderland.Sane enough in her own world, Alice is in fact “insane” in Wonderland. “The term ‘mad’ seems relative to Carroll,” (Kelly 84) since individuals are arbitrary only insofar as their subjectivities do not coincide with those of others. As the Cheshire Cat profoundly discloses, “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad” (65). In this land of extraordinary individualists, Alice, with her private customs and logic, fits right in.
The fantasy world of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” mimics reality, a world where as people mature from children to adults, they become more verbally aggressive. In the real world, adults often grow more confident as they grow older and more mature. They become wiser and learn some lessons in life. Adults also gain a mastery of their language and learn to assert themselves through language. This is what happens in Wonderland as Alice matures. As Alice’s confidence in her verbal abilities soars, so does her verbal aggressiveness.The adults in Wonderland (the king and queen) are extremely hostile and use aggressive language to assert their power and control over the other characters. The king and queen, in particular, use threats of physical violence to display aggression. Their constant cries of “Off with her head!” and “I’ll have you executed,” make the other characters tremble with fear. In fact, the king and queen’s authority relies on this ability to strike fear into the others. The king and queen also use aggressive tones in their voice and aggressive body language to strengthen the power of their speech. In the trial chapter, the king’s words are often delivered “angrily” or “sharply.” The queen is able to strike fear into the Hatter simply by staring hard at him (379).However, the king and queen are only powerful when the other characters take their threats of violence seriously. The cook in the trial undermines the king’s power because she doesn’t fear him. The cook is called as a witness and the king demands that she give her evidence. The cook replies, “Shan’t,” which causes the king much anxiety and gives him a “melancholy air” (381). The white rabbit also does not seem to fear the king. The rabbit interrupts the king’s speech and corrects his choice of words. This undermines the king’s verbal authority and causes him to second-guess himself. The rabbit corrects the king “in a very respectful tone,” but here also, body language plays a very important role. The rabbit’s delivery, while respectful in tone, includes “frowning and making faces at him as he spoke” (382). The realization that the king’s threats are idle, coupled with the rabbit’s confidence in his own linguistic ability, give him the confidence to stand up to the king.Alice matures in Wonderland and becomes less of an “insider” by learning the nuances of the language spoken there. This leads her to become more confident in her ability to communicate. She learns to assert herself through language and becomes more verbally aggressive in order to establish her own power. This is what enables Alice to resist the queen. Although Alice is also astute enough to realize that the king and queen’s threats of violence are not real, it is her confidence in her ability to communicate which gives Alice the courage to speak up and oppose the queen. This newfound courage, coupled with Alice’s physical growth, spurs her to defy authority. Yet, has Alice’s confidence truly soared, or is her verbal aggressiveness merely learned behavior? Alice seems to be imitating the example set before her by the other aggressive characters. Alice has adapted to the verbally aggressive ways of Wonderland for the sake of survival.Despite her large size and her confident language abilities, Alice is still a child at heart. And children, as every parent knows, are apt to defy authority every now and then. When Alice childishly declares to the court that they are “nothing but a pack of cards,” the pack jumps upon her as if to attack her (384). And although Alice is much larger then all of them, she still “gave a little scream, half of fright, half of anger” (384). The other characters still hold authority over Alice, as she is afraid of them. But Alice may have a good reason to be afraid, as this is the first time any of the characters has used physical violence against her, not just verbal aggressiveness. Because of this, I believe that it is Alice who frees herself from Wonderland to escape the threat of physical harm. She returns to the safe world of childhood where rules still exist to help children feel secure and (most) people don’t act aggressively until they grow up.Sources:Carroll, Lewis, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” A Custom Edition of Classics of Children’sLiterature, Fourth Edition. Ed. John W. Griffith and Charles H. Frey. Bloomington: Prentice-Hall, 1996, 333-385.
“You live in the image you have of the world. Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time”- Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Treasure Island is a novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson, which entails adventure and discovery. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll, also calls for exploration and revelation. The main characters from each novel embark on a journey to a world much different from their own. Both characters discover a great deal about their new world, old world, and ultimately themselves as adolescents. This essay will discuss Jim’s quest in Treasure Island, as well as Alice’s trip to Wonderland. Although they do not experience the same worlds, there is some similarity and evident differences between them and their experiences. In this essay, readers will examine how both worlds lead to self-discovery and maturation, while enticing exploration. Alice’s world is an unreasonable puzzle; while Jim’s world is also disorderly, there is some structure and roles, unlike Alice’s world. Both new worlds are complex, representing the loss of childhood innocence, and begin the journey to adulthood.
Wonderland is best described by the Cheshire Cat when he tells Alice, “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Ch 6). Indeed, Wonderland is a mad world in which Alice, despite her best efforts, cannot begin to comprehend. Alice cannot understand this world because she relies on her past knowledge and identity to make sense of it. Unfortunately, the lessons Alice has learned are not applicable in Wonderland, a world where anything goes, size and time are relative, and formality is not always appropriate. Alice’s character was written during the Victorian Era, which had an education system that limited the action, dialog, and thought of the individual. During this time, children were discouraged to use their imagination or think for themselves. Instead, there was a heavy emphasis on order, roles, and propriety. The Victorian Era did not provide children with room for metacognition or true apprehension. Instead, children were taught to be seen and not heard, to obey commands without question, never lie, and that the world is a knowable place through logic. Alice’s character is a clear reflection of the system and era in place. Carroll disapproved of the mindless nature and teachings of the Victorian era, which may be why none of Alice’s previously memorized drills and lessons are applicable. For example, Alice can no longer recite her previous lessons, like her multiplication tables, or geography: “London is the capital of Paris, and Paris is the capital of Rome, and Rome—no, that’s all wrong, I’m certain! I must have been changed for Mabel!” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ch 2). She tries to understand the Queens game of croquet, the Caucus race, the Mad Hatter’s riddle, and the Mock Turtle’s schooling plan with logic but is unsuccessful. Here, Wonderland displays itself as a meaningless puzzle. Alice has intertwined her identity with what she has learned, and continues to believe in these teachings despite their ineffectiveness. This connection shows readers she is insistent on being a good, knowledgeable Victorian girl. Alice believes that these lessons and logic alone will provide her comfort and understanding in any situation. However, it only provides Alice with identity confusion and frustration. Wonderland further proves these Victorian ideologies and certainties irrelevant when it criticizes the notion of honesty. Following her teachings and remaining truthful, Alice offends a pigeon in Chapter 5 when she admits to eating eggs. She also offends a mouse in Chapter 2 when she expresses her fondness for her cat alone, as well as its skill in catching mice. Here, Wonderland teaches her rules are not absolute. Other lessons Alice must disregard or adapt are the notions that size and time are definitive. In Wonderland, eating or drinking certain things can cause a person to shrink or grow. To prosper, Alice has to learn how to maneuver the physical changes. Time, in Wonderland, is not a thing or a measure, but instead an individual. The creatures in Wonderland scoff at Alice’s logic when she says “I think you might do something better with the time, than waste it in asking riddles that have no answer,” and the Hatter replies, “If you knew time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Ch 7). Wonderland is undeniably a world of its own filled with new lessons for Alice, not unlike Jim’s new world in Treasure Island. Jim’s quest begins when he abandons the Admiral Benbow and England, setting off to sea with pirates to Treasure Island. When Jim goes aboard the Hispaniola, he leaves his past world of comfort, and journeys to the pirate world of exploration and danger. His previous world, which was 18th century England, was a time when piracy was a prevalent trade. Despite this, common folk disdained such practices. Piracy was a significant threat to nations who had political and economic power in its shipping industry, such as Great Britain. Importance was placed on hard work and sacrifice, and piracy was interpreted as the stealing of fortune. Naturally, children were taught to shun the world of piracy, and only to approach it in fear. Similar to the Victorian Era, the 18th century demanded manners and obedience, and had set ideologies on what is right or wrong. Therefore, Jim and Alice’s previous worlds were not divergent. However, there is a distinction between their new worlds. Unlike Alice, Jim’s new world is not separate from his old one. Another difference would be that Alice has no place or structure in Wonderland, while Jim has a role as a cabin boy. Jim’s old and new world intersect with pieces of England aboard. These admonitions come in the forms of Dr. Livesey, and Squire Trelawney. In Treasure Island, Stevenson emphasizes 18th century England’s tendency to be a very black and white world. These two men, along with Captain Smollet represent the “white” part of society. The “white” or accepted part of society mostly consisted of wealthy individuals such as aristocrats, scholars, and noblemen. The pirates, the captain, and even Jim refer to these three characters as gentlemen, “on top of that the three gentlemen went below, and not long after word was sent forward…” (Treasure Island, 98). They continue to label these characters as gentlemen throughout the book (pg 1, 71, 98, 100, 233). At the beginning of the novel, Jim places pronounced value on those who adhere to the ideals of gentlemen. As he immerses into the pirate world, Jim loses interest and regard for them as well as the world they represent and its values. The culture of piracy consists of freedom, adventure, and profanity. Piracy was a world of dualities, where fear and fun coexisted. The pirate Billy Bones introduced Jim to pirate culture when he stayed at the Admiral Benbow. Billy Bones is given a terrifying description as tall, strong, and to have “hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white” (Treasure Island, Ch 2). The pirates’ identify themselves as buccaneers and gentlemen of fortune. However, Stevenson writes them to be unintelligent, sly, unkempt, dirty, and unpredictable individuals. Stevenson emphasizes the differences between these two groups to reveal the differences between these two worlds, and to reflect the class structure of 18th century England. Stevenson highlights the dual nature of the pirate world through the character Long John Silver. A repellent yet attractive character, Long John Silver classifies as neither a complete pirate nor complete gentlemen. Instead, he is half of each, further assisting Livesey and Trelawney in mixing these two worlds into one. Jim describes Silver to be “intelligent and smiling” (Treasure Island, 62) and even expressed his shock, “I thought I knew what a buccaneer was like – a very different creature, according to me, from this clean and pleasant-tempered landlord” (Treasure Island, 62). He directly blurs boundaries, as he is a pirate who is not only educated, but also owns a property, has a bank account, and is married. These dualities become more apparent when he switches his allegiances several times to further his interests. With the collision of his old and new world, Jim realizes the teaching of his former world: the world is good or bad, gentleman or pirate, right or wrong; are inaccurate, and just like Long John Silver, you can be several things at once. Like Alice, Jim develops and learns in this new world of dualities and adventure. By leaving their old world, and surviving their new world, Alice and Jim mature into wise adolescents on the journey to adulthood. Both Alice and Jim arrive at their new worlds in naïve, child-like states. They are both products of their environments, accustomed to blind obedience, and believe that the world is knowable and has certainties. However, through their adventures, they learn important life lessons that take them from such innocence into more adult-like, mature states. Firstly, they both develop their own code of conduct. It is important to note that at the beginning of the novel, Jim was a very dependent individual. By the end of the novel, Jim is completely independent. An example would be when Jim goes on his own to recover the Hispaniola and bring it back to safety. It is during this time that he overcomes many obstacles, one of them being Israel Hands. Jim’s transition from dependence to independence reflects experience and growth. Throughout the novel, it is apparent that Jim held admiration and curiosity for Long John Silver. Therefore, it is no surprise when Jim himself unapologetically becomes a character of duality. We see Jim’s “black” side when he informs the gentlemen of Silver’s plan to steal the treasure, but deserts them and follows the pirates ashore. Another example is when he warns the gentlemen of Ben Gunn, yet abandons them again to venture on his own. We see Jim at his darkest in Chapter 25, when he murders Israel Hands in self-defence. However, we also see some of the old world in Jim when he takes on the personality of Captain Smollet, using intelligent yet cautious language when addressing Hands. We see this again when his first order of business is to rid the ship of a pirate flag, an action following Smollet’s customs. Jim’s new found ability to switch between personalities reflect control. However, despite his shifts to white and black, his loyalty does not waver from the gentlemen. Jim accepts aspects of both light and dark, taking only the best of each. At times, he adopts the risky, brave, cunning behavior of a pirate. While doing so, he also adopts the responsible, courageous, wise behavior of a captain. A great example of Jim’s new code of conduct would be when the pirates take Jim, and Dr. Livesey suggests he run away. At the beginning of the novel, there is no doubt that Jim would follow this request willingly with little regard for the circumstances. However, Jim has matured through his experiences throughout the novel and refuses. Despite the Dr.’s best efforts, he could not convince Jim to dishonour his word and ultimately himself, “Doctor… I passed my word” (Treasure Island, pg 254). At this point, Jim has shown readers he thinks and acts for himself. As discussed previously, Jim also matures by following suit of Long John Silver. By examining his duality of character, Jim comes to understand that the world is not just black and white; there is a grey area too. Ultimately, Jim learns about responsibility, courage, independence, and his resourcefulness. Alice, too, matures to be an autonomous individual with an understanding of the world’s complexity. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a great representation of the child’s struggle to understand and survive in the adult world. There are many struggles Alice must overcome to survive this world, such as her ongoing physical changes. Due to the Victorian Era’s closed-minded nature, to survive Alice also has to adapt her previous teachings and open her mind. In Wonderland, Alice questions with her identity, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 2). Alice ponders this question after she has uncontrollably grown. As she undergoes these physical changes, Alice realizes she is not just trying to make sense of Wonderland, but also determine who she is in Wonderland: a world that challenges her sense of self and perspective. Adults often define children by their age and size in restrictive ways. For example, a child may be told they are too big to sit on a lap, but too little to play with a certain toy. Carroll exhibits the arbitrary and puzzling nature of adolescence by Alice’s random, disempowering physical changes. In Chapter 1, Alice becomes upset when she is too small or too big to reach the garden. Alice expresses frustration again in Chapter 5 after she has lost control over certain body parts due to her growing neck. However, Alice begins to understand Wonderland’s complexities, and learns to control her size by maneuvering two sizes of a mushroom. Alice falls into Wonderland expecting that she will be able to use logic and reason to make sense of any situation. After encountering numerous puzzles with no solutions, Alice grows frustrated at her inability to understand Wonderland. These puzzles imitate the way adult life frustrates expectations and resists clarification. As her journey unfolds, her situational management improves. Eventually, Alice learns she cannot expect to find meaning in every situation she encounters, even if they are problems she can normally solve. Similar to Jim, Alice learns the world is not black and white in the sense that there is not always a clear answer. Another example of Alice’s growing maturity is her development of expression. At first, Alice often asks questions in an attempt to understand her surroundings. However, she often depends on the instruction and opinions of others. Alice does this in Chapter 5 when she asks the caterpillar for direction, but receives none. The Victorian Era was a society where children were essentially voiceless, and had no real agency. Alice finds her voice and begins to ask questions that reveal irrational or contradictory behaviour. She also begins to correct some of the character she meets, and even loses her temper with them. Readers see this during the trial of the Knave of Hearts when she is told to leave by King because she is a mile high. However, Alice does not submit and even criticizes the authority figure, stating “Well, I shan’t go, at any rate,’ said Alice: `besides, that’s not a regular rule: you invented it just now” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12). Here, Alice shows readers she no longer blindly obeys, and is willing to ask the hard questions. Like Jim, Alice has created her own code of conduct. Although Alice’s actions would be questionable in her old world, in her new world Alice’s voice becomes a source of liberation and control. At the end, Alice comes to the reasonable conclusion that the court is ludicrous, and “nothing but a pack of cards” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12). By this point, Alice has grown tired of Wonderland. She dismisses the confusing, ridiculous world that is adulthood. Once Alice and Jim have learnt all their new world has to teach, they are ready to return to their reality and continue their journey to adulthood. As Alice is described, “She would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, chapter 12). Her journey through chaos, and into a new sense of maturity and repose, has come to a decisive end.
Treasure Island and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are both adventure-filled novels, calling for the exploration of worlds and self. Both novels take place in worlds separate from their own. To survive, Jim and Alice must mature from childhood and enter adulthood. While Jim’s new world provides him with a role, and Alice’s does not, their experiences are similar. Jim and Alice’s adventures lead them to develop their own codes of conduct. They learn that the world is highly complex, despite what they have been taught. They acquire the ability to maneuver through the adult world, as confusing and contradictory as it may be. Ultimately, both worlds represent the loss of childhood innocence, which sparks the onset of adulthood.
In Lewis CarrollÃ¢ÂÂs novel AliceÃ¢ÂÂs Adventures In Wonderland, much of the sequence and dialogue seems chaotic and nonsensical, leaving the reader to interpret its meaning and purpose. Being that the entire story occurs within a dream, Carroll has the freedom to play with subconscious notions of existence, reality, and most pertinently, societal intercourse. Interaction plays a large part in the progression of the novel, and AliceÃ¢ÂÂs prejudices and reactions demonstrate her own indoctrination concerning how that interaction should be carried out. She meets with several different characters, each with his or her own relative position in the Ã¢ÂÂreal worldÃ¢ÂÂ (or Ã¢ÂÂwaking worldÃ¢ÂÂ) who behave in ways disproportionate to their status. Consequently, through ridiculous monologues, insane characters, and chaotic situations, Carroll employs nonsense as a vehicle to expose the absurdity of the excessive reliance on order, conformity, and institutions inherent to society.Throughout the majority of the novel, Alice exposes much of the absurdity in Wonderland. At other times, however, her own reactions betray hints of her own reliance on the niceties that society feels it necessary to maintain in an attempt to display order in even the simplest events. On many occasions, Alice is appalled by the lack of manners expressed by those whose titles presuppose ‘good breeding’. The two characters most notable for evoking such sentiments are the Queen of Hearts and the Duchess.Alice first encounters the Duchess at her home, while she is nursing her baby. Alice makes an inquiry as to why the cat grins, and the Duchess tells her curtly that all cats can grin. Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂI donÃ¢ÂÂt know of any that do,Ã¢ÂÂ Alice said very politelyÃ¢Â? (Carroll 61) and the Duchess rudely replies, Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂYou donÃ¢ÂÂt know very much.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢Â? (61) Alice is put out by her rudeness, more because she expected more from a Duchess than because of her unkindness. She was not as bothered by the impertinence of the footman since his rank implies his ineptitude in the realm of courtesy.On the next encounter that Alice has with the Duchess, she seems far more civil. Alice feels obliged to forgive her past offensiveness because she believes that Ã¢ÂÂperhaps it was only the pepper that had made her so savage…Ã¢Â? (86) The reader, however, can surmise more from her apparent duality. The rude behaviour occurred in her own home whereas her politeness is brought out when she is in the presence of the rest of society. Furthermore, it seems that fear for her life has driven the Duchess to behave more civilly, because the Queen has just made threats on her life. Though Alice may not see past the obvious, Carroll points out the incredulity of the DuchessÃ¢ÂÂs duality in such a way that the reader cannot miss it.Once Alice has had enough of the Duchess, she decides to attend the HatterÃ¢ÂÂs unending tea party. Upon entering the party, the March Hare offers Alice some wine.Ã¢ÂÂAlice looked around on the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. Ã¢ÂÂI donÃ¢ÂÂt see any wine,Ã¢ÂÂ she remarked.Ã¢ÂÂThere isnÃ¢ÂÂt any,Ã¢ÂÂ said the March Hare.Ã¢ÂÂThen it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt very civil of you to offer it,Ã¢ÂÂ said Alice angrily.Ã¢ÂÂIt wasnÃ¢ÂÂt very civil of you to sit down without being invited,Ã¢ÂÂ said the March Hare.Ã¢ÂÂI didnÃ¢ÂÂt know it was your table,Ã¢ÂÂ said Alice. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs laid for a great many more than three.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂYour hair wants cutting,Ã¢ÂÂ said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.Ã¢ÂÂYou should not make personal remarks,Ã¢ÂÂ Alice said with some severity: Ã¢ÂÂitÃ¢ÂÂs very rude.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢Â? (68)Alice is perturbed by the ease with which the Hatter and March Hare confront her, and it is evident that she is not used to being spoken to in such a way. As well, Alice is very critical of any mistakes in propriety made by others while she is not as concerned with her own errors. This excerpt of seemingly nonsensical exchange contains criticism of the mindless yet religious adherence to archaic niceties, such as those Alice does not find at the HatterÃ¢ÂÂs party. The rule of chaos rather than order frightens Alice away, so much so that is the only place that Alice visits which she leaves saying, Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂAt any rate, IÃ¢ÂÂll never go there again!Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢Â?The other function that Alice has in the narrative is as an innocent who is shocked with what she is presented with. In these situations, she is the voice of reason, unhampered and untainted by societyÃ¢ÂÂs crafty programming.The solemnity of the exchange between the frog footman and the liveried fish displays a profound notion of how much order is associated with even the simplest of tasks, as in the handing over of a letter. Carroll takes particular pains to express the gravity with which this is accomplished: Ã¢ÂÂ…he handed over to the other, saying in a solemn tone, Ã¢ÂÂFor the Duchess. An invitation from the queen to play croquet.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢Â? (59) The frog footman then goes on to repeat the message in reverse order, Ã¢ÂÂin the same solemn tone,Ã¢Â? (59) in order not to disrupt what seems to be an almost ritualistic excursion. The nonsensical aspect of this particular encounter is exposed when Alice cannot help laughing out loud because as the two footmen bow, Ã¢ÂÂtheir curls got entangled together.Ã¢Â? (59) While this is a sacred matter for the frog and fish, the reader sees past the conventions of societal requisites and the occasion is reduced to foolishness.The Mock TurtleÃ¢ÂÂs story is an example of a reference to institutional reliance in society. When he talks about his years at school, the subjects he speaks of are ridiculous: Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂReeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,Ã¢ÂÂ the Mock Turtle replied; Ã¢ÂÂand then the different branches of Arithmetic Ã¢Â” Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢Â? (93) The apparent parallels to actual educational instruction are reading and writing, and in terms of the arithmetic, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. CarrollÃ¢ÂÂs choice of subjects seems nonsensical enough, tempting the reader to gloss past them, but upon closer inspection, it appears that these very Ã¢ÂÂsubjectsÃ¢ÂÂ may have more bearing on the education that children receive in their early years.Ambition is the soul of any capitalist society, and as such, it may be assumed that an instilling of this Ã¢ÂÂvirtueÃ¢ÂÂ would be advantageous. The desire of more and more profit is the result of ambition. Seen in this light, rather than being a careless use of a like sounding word to addition, Carroll seems to have been very particular in his choice.The use of the word distraction is somewhat more elusive. Distraction can refer either to a diversion, an interruption, or a hindrance. It seems most likely (in keeping with the previous note on ambition and capitalism) that it refers to the former meaning. Diversion offers the members of a capitalistic society a way of disregarding the many injustices that spawn from an unabated and disproportionate use of resources. It is necessary in order to function with the privilege of an undisturbed conscience.The word Ã¢ÂÂuglificationÃ¢ÂÂ is not an actual word, and Carroll takes the time to explain its meaning to the reader, and very tactfully, by having Alice make an inquiry to the Gryphon: Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂYou know what beautification is, I suppose?Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢Â? (93) it asks Alice, in a manner that suggests that it is an easily understood word. It is meant to imply the opposite of beautification. This appears to be CarrollÃ¢ÂÂs way of explaining how institutions have replaced societyÃ¢ÂÂs former and proper notions of aestheticism, especially in accordance with art. It is his way of saying that beauty is an ideal of the past, one that has been replaced by destruction and decay.The final subject, derision, falls appropriately along with ambition and distraction. It follows that in order to improve oneÃ¢ÂÂs own station in life, it is necessary to belittle others in order to arrive at that place. Derision completes the circle of degradation by implying that as a society, individualism is the dominant mentality, whereas society, as the word itself implies, should be the coming together of many to achieve mutual goals.The first two subjects, reeling and writhing, are the two that the Mock Turtle takes for granted that everyone learns. These are a more direct, visible image of the degradation brought about by the inconsistent displacement of virtues in society.While the nonsense of AliceÃ¢ÂÂs Adventures In Wonderland may seem not to have any distinct purpose, its clear, reoccurring themes denote its purposeful insights on the failings of society. Carroll manages to delve into a world of fantastical wonders and, within that world, provides the reader with an effective, convincing argument by making the mildly absurd become overtly ridiculous. His use of spontaneous, erratic characters allows the freedom to observe right from wrong in a place where those distinctions have not already been made. Alice acts as the guide, who leads expecting no more or less than the reader, and with the stubborn prejudices of a child. Carroll has successfully pointed out the errors inherent to many of the facets of life that one does not question, and leaves the reader feeling as if he or she has just awakened from the dream of presupposition.Works CitedCarroll, Lewis. AliceÃ¢ÂÂs Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. New York: New American Library, 2000.
As a popular and widely loved novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and, Through the looking Glass and What Alice Found There has been translated to well over a hundred languages and is a household tale that most people have enjoyed in their childhood. With a seemingly lighthearted storyline full of imagination and adventure, the novel also intended to have depth and share the author Lewis Carroll’s thoughts on the Victorian society. Carroll uses the picaresque aspect of Alice’s narrative to produce effective social commentary on the Victorian lifestyle through playful use of words, rhyme, and even the characters themselves; these elements aid in Carroll’s criticism of the victorian way of life and 19th century England’s politics. The characters that Alice meets on her adventure along the way show different parts of the Victorian lifestyle that allow for those defective features to be emphasized and highlighted. A picaresque novel is one that is usually a first-person narrative, relating the adventures of a rogue or lowborn adventurer as he or she drifts from place to place and from one social environment to another in an effort to survive.
Though Alice is obviously not from a low class family due to her somewhat educated responses, once Alice is in the rabbit hole her social background become irrelevant. Carroll uses Alice’s education to contribute to the perception of Victorian England. Throughout the novel Alice refers to her lessons and education, usually proud of the knowledge she’s gathered during them. However, when Alice applies this knowledge it is either useless or wrong. For example, She can remember the how many miles to the center of the earth, but she mistakenly thinks that everything will be upside down when she passes through to the other side.Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? “I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?” she said aloud. “I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think —” (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the school-room, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) — yes, that’s about the right distance — but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?” (Alice had not the slightest idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but she thought they were nice grand words to say.)(Carrol 10-11).
Carroll also mocks tales that Victorian children were forced to read for educational purposes. He criticizes these tales repetitive morals of consequences for foolish actions. . . . she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later. (Carroll 13) This also alludes to the fact that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it’s accompanying “densely woven masterpieces” do not follow the same path as the other children’s books of that Victorian era (Hunt, 49). Carroll conveys “ the challenge of realizing that understanding how different readers read (even two very generalized groups labelled “adults” and “children”) is not to bring them to the same understanding but to appreciate (and value) their different understandings” (Hunt, 41). This ultimately underlines a flaw in his society.
Another social comment that Carroll makes is on the importance of class in Victorian society through the Garden of Live Flowers in Through the Looking-Glass. Alice encounters these flowers that attempt to represent the plants as different levels within the British social class structure. In this miniature garden world that Carroll creates, the finer and rarer specimens (i.e. the tiger-lily, and the rose) are in a higher class than the more common and simpler daisies. The characteristics of each type of flower alludes to its rank and class in the garden.
And here they [the daisies] all began shouting together, till the air seemed quite full of little shrill voices. “Silence, everyone of you!” cried the Tiger-lily, waving itself passionately from side to side, and trembling with excitement. “They know I can’t get at them!” it panted bending its quivering head towards Alice, “or they wouldn’t dare to do it!””Never mind!” Alice said in a soothing tone and , stooping down to the daisies, who were just beginning again, she whispered “If you don’t hold your tongues, I’ll pick you!”There was silence in a moment, and several of the pink daisies turned white.”That’s right!” said the Tiger-Lily “The daisies are the worst of all. When one speaks, they all begin together, and its enough to make one wither to hear the way they go on!” (Carroll, 137)
When Alice first enters the garden, she sees and speaks to the tiger-lily first, while the daisies interrupt and chatter away until threatened to stop by Alice. The rose assumes some sort of authority over Alice as it criticizes her from the very beginning of the conversation even showing traces of racism with reference to Alice’s color. As this relates to the issue of class structure and how power is divided among the classes,it also shows the stupidity of it. Normally in British society, power is divided unequally with the higher classes getting most of the share. In the Garden of Live Flowers there seems to be existing class levels, but because all of them are planted into the ground and none can reach another no flower can in fact assume more power than another. This makes the tiger-lilly delusional to think its ‘kind’ is better that the others and highlights the same issue in Victorian society. Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. This was well practiced in the victorian era which enriched the pockets of the elite while impoverishing the already less fortunate of England.
In capitalism, as in Through the Looking Glass, this practice translates into both relentless pursuit of the unattainable and a lack of appreciation for the attained.The image portrayed here by Carroll of someone reaching for a desired object, obtaining it but continually seeing something else apparently even more desirable just beyond the horizon of availability, represents the heart and soul of the capitalism which thrived in Victorian England as it does in the world today.”The prettiest are always further!” she said at last, with a sigh at the obstinacy of the rushes in growing so far off, as, with flushed cheeks and dripping hair and hands, she scrambled back into her place, and began to arrange her newfound treasures.What mattered it to her just then that the rushes had begun to fade, and to lose all their scent and beauty, from the very moment that she picked them? Even real scented rushes, you know, last only a very little while- and these, being dream-rushes, melted away almost alike snow, as they lay in heaps at her feet-but Alice hardly noticed this, there were so many other curious things to think about (Carroll 178) Use of superlatives such as the “prettiest “are the object of this unquenchable desire and are capitalistic desires as it is impossible to obtaining anything superlative. For Alice this fact translates into a physical distance (“further”) that can’t be crossed. For the Victorian capitalist money translates into the distance between different levels of material wealth. Just as Alice does not care that her “new found treasures…melted away almost alike snow”, the true materialist never appreciates what they have because they are caught up in the quest for “other curious things to think about.” Carroll uses Alice’s innocence to show how this capitalist was of thinking in unknowingly embedded in the Victorian mind.
Overall, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There was more than just a nonsense tale but rather one of “complexity, ambiguity, and flexibility”(Hunt, 49). Carroll uses the picaresque aspects of the novel to emphasize flaws in the Victorian society as well as their effect on the members of the society. Carroll effectively conveyed his message without breaking the amusement of the children’s novel. As a great artwork, it is unsurprising that this novel remains a cherished tale.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking- Glass and What Alice Found There. Edited by Hugh Haughton, Penguin Classics, 2009.Print.
Hunt, Peter. “The Fundamentals of Children’s Literature Criticism: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.” The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature, Edited by Julia L Mickenberg and Lynne Vallone, 29 Nov. 2012, pp. 35–51.Print.
“The Social and Political Contexts of the Alice Books.” Literature, History & Culture in the age of Victoria. victorianweb. 28 May 2005. Web. Feb 12,2018