Alice in Wonderland Essay
Updated: Dec 8th, 2019
A critical analysis of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland will help resolve the question regarding the purpose of fantasy in films and literature. It is important to determine if fantasy serves only one purpose, to provide an escape from reality.
It is the contention of the proponent of this study that there is another reason why fantasy in film and literature exists. An examination of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland will reveal that fantasy serves two purposes and it is to provide a way of escape from reality and provide a mechanism for the delivery of socio-cultural messages.
The Primary Purpose of Fantasy
The primary objective of fantasy is to provide a way of escape from the unexciting existence of daily living. At the time of writing, England was a progressive society. Victorian England provided a backdrop for the story and served as a source of inspiration for the writer (Clark, 1963).
The importance of Victorian England in world trade assures stability for the British people (Wood, 1960). In other words the citizens of the said country can expect a routine way of life. The children wakes, up in every morning and expect the same activities to recur. They will eat breakfast
and, then, learn the basic skills of reading and writing. Those who had no pending academic requirements spend their time playing with toys while others enjoy the fellowship of friends, neighbours and relatives. The children eat lunch and, then, they will eat their evening meal. After the morning and evening activities had been completed, the children retire to their beds. They need to renew their strength to perform tasks lined up for them the following day. But the same pattern can be expected the following day.
The adults experience the same type of routine. They wake up to prepare for the tasks ahead. But they are confronted with the same workload. The mothers prepare the meals and clean the house. The wife takes care of husband and children. The father eats breakfast in preparation for the work ahead.
The professionals report to their respective business establishments. The blue-collar workers report to their employers to perform duties that range from construction work to back-breaking labour in factories. This description of the 19th century life in England may be a simplified version of real events. But it is enough to show the need for activities that can help deal with the grind as a result of predictability and routine (Levin, 1965).
Fantasy provides an escape not only from the boredom but also from the pain inflicted by circumstances of daily living (Guiliano, 1982). Fantasy provides an escape because it frees the mind of the reader. In fantasy, there are no boundaries.
The link between fantasy and freedom was elaborated by Rosemary Jackson who wrote that fantasy is free “from many of the conventions and restraints of more realistic texts: they have refused to observed unities of time, space and character, doing away with chronology, three-dimensionality and with rigid distinctions between animate and inanimate objects, self and other, life and death (Jackson, 1988, p.2).
Jackson’s insight regarding fantasy provides a clear explanation why fantasy films and fantasy literature are popular, even in the 21st century.
The ability to escape through fantasy is something that must not be taken lightly. According to one commentary, “the ability to escape is an integral part of a healthy adult” (Macpherson, 2000, p.263). Fantasy literature provides a short-term escape from reality. Psychologists consider them as “breathing and laughing spaces” (Macpherson, 2000, p.263).
When faced with insurmountable problems, human beings will find ways to relieve the stress and to mitigate the impact of the negative circumstances (Schwartz, 2006). Fantasy literature and fantasy films provide temporary escape. The problem still exists after watching a movie or reading a wonderful novel.
But fantasy films and literature provide the psychological equivalent of an exhaust valve. It enables the person to let go of some steam before the engine explodes due to excess heat and pressure. There are problems that cannot be solved in an instant. There are struggles that require time before it can be resolved.
But human beings are prone to overanalyse the problem and, as a result, anxiety can create an emotional stranglehold. Thus, it is important to focus the mind on other things. Therefore, the effective use of fantasy films and literature can be seen as an integral part of human health.
The Secondary Purpose of Fantasy
In the case of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, one of the purposes of fantasy is to create a mechanism that can deliver social messages (Richardson, 1999, p.169). It can be argued that the author attempted to paint an image of an ideal child. Alice served as a model.
The author can describe an ideal image of a child in a straightforward manner, but only a few people may be interested to read the article. It is much better if the message is hidden in a story. People love to listen to stories. The image of an ideal child formed in the mind of the author can come alive through storytelling.
Carroll may have utilised an ideal image of an English child but the child that he created in this fantasy adventure was far from perfect. Alice may look perfect on the outside but, when it came to her character, there are areas that required significant improvements. Early in the story, the author seems to highlight the important weakness in the character of Alice.
She was impatient when it came to many things. But what was highlighted in the beginning of the story was that she wanted to do things that are restricted for adults. Her family tried to make her understand that she had to wait for the time when she would be old enough to be considered an adult and experience the things that she wanted to experience such as the ability to drink tea with them.
Alice did not listen to the wise words given by members of her family. Her desire to grow up and become an adult without going through the process of maturity became more evident. She was impatient and wanted to act like an adult. The author could preach about values and the importance of humility and obedience. But the target audience may be turned-off by such actions. Thus, it was better to use fantasy to create a more compelling message with regards to the importance of these values.
The author was able to express his socio-cultural message in an indirect manner. When Alice fell into a hole, she was separated from her family. It was an indirect way of saying that children who disobey their parents will experience separation. Alice wanted to be independent and wanted to grow up fast.
But she had no clear idea with regards to the consequences of such desires. There are many children all over the world who can relate to the feeling of frustration that Alice felt. However, the author wanted his young readers to understand that rebellion against parents can lead to alienation.
Alice did not only fell into a hole, she also experienced free-fall. She thought that she fell into a bottomless pit and imagined that at the end of the hole is a country called Australia. Fantasy enabled the author to create a world that contradicts the law of nature. It makes the story more interesting.
However, this particular scene was inserted not only to explain the transition from the normal world above-ground to the magical kingdom beneath but also to show the folly of pride. Alice wanted to grow up fast and defy the natural processes that usually go with the transition from childhood to adulthood. It can be argued that her impatience and her desire to interact with adults are a sign of pride (Lloyd, 2010). Thus, when she fell into a hole, she experienced free-fall. The whole event symbolised the humbling consequence of pride.
The author also made it clear that a child must not desire to cut corners when it comes to the process of growing up. There is much to learn and the child must go through the journey from childhood to adulthood. The insistence of Alice to enter the world of the adult was dealt within the story.
In one scene, Alice was compelled to enter the house of W. Rabbit. When she was inside, she ate special food with magical powers. The food that she ate enabled her to grow but her growth was abnormal in relation to her surroundings and, therefore, she had to bend so low in order to protect her head.
Her growth continued unimpeded so that she was trapped inside the house and her arms and legs blocked all possible entrance and exit to and from the house. She was pinned down, uncomfortable and wanted desperately to go back to smaller size so she can leave the house.
The use of fantasy enabled the author to teach his young readers the importance of being a child and the need to follow the instructions of parents. But Alice in Wonderland is not an ordinary example of fantasy literature. The author was not only able to correct the character flaws of Alice he also managed to create a story wherein he can insert values that were important to his target audience.
Carroll’s genius was revealed through the following commentary: “Alice herself, prim and earnest in pinafore and pumps, confronting a world out of control by looking for the rules and murmuring her lessons, stands as one image of the Victorian middle-class child” (Auerbach, 1987, p.31). Thus, the use of fantasy enabled the author to underscore the importance of certain social values.
Fantasy in films and literature serves a primary purpose and that is to provide the reader with a mechanism to temporarily escape the humdrum of daily existence. But, in the examination of Carroll’s work Alice in Wonderland, it can be said that the author did not only provide an escape valve for stressed out people, he also showcased Victorian England.
Carroll was able to express his socio-cultural message through the help of fantasy literature. In a unique and entertaining manner, the author utilised fantasy literature to communicate ideas that can help parents raise a child. Thus, fantasy literature did not only contain entertainment value but also the capability to impart important life lessons.
Auerbach, N 1987, “Alice in wonderland: a curious child”, in H Bloom (ed), Modern critical views: Lewis Carroll, Chelsea Publishers, New York, pp.31-43.
Clark, G 1963, The making of Victorian England, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London,
Guiliano, E 1982, Lewis Carroll: a celebration, Clarkson Potter, New York.
Jackson, R 1988, Fantasy: the literature of subversion, Routledge, New York.
Levin, H 1965, ‘Wonderland revisited’, The Kenyon Review, vol. 27 no. 4, pp. 591-616.
Lloyd, M 2010, “Unruly Alice: a feminist view of some adventures in wonderland”, in
P.B. Davis (ed), Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy : curiouser and curiouser, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey, pp.7-17.
Macpherson, H 2000, ‘Classifying escape: Tillie Olsen’s Yonnondio’, Critique, vol. 41 no.3, pp. 263-271.
Richardson, A 1999, ‘Romanticism and the end of childhood’, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, vol. 21 no. 1, pp.169-189.
Schwartz, L 2006, ‘Fantasy, realism, and the other in recent video games’, Space and Culture, vol. 9 no. 3, pp.313-325.
Wood, A 1960, Nineteenth century Britain, Longman, Green and Co., London.
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Updated: Dec 8th, 2019 A critical analysis of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland will help resolve the question regarding the purpose of fantasy in films and literature. It is important […]