A Journey Through Worlds: Adulthood and Discovery in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Treasure Island’
“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.
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