Alices Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carrolls classic Alices Adventures in Wonderland has entertained children and adults for over one hundred years. Carrolls unique and fantastical style of writing contributed greatly to the storys early popularity and for the most part it was considered to be a nonsensical narrative written mainly for entertainment (Phillips). Alice is unique for the time in which it was written because unlike most Victorian childrens literature, it was not meant to teach a moralistic lesson. Aside from its obvious entertainment value, Carrolls story has become an influential and widely studied work of English literature. One prominent interpretation of Alice that seems most reasonable given the eccentric personality of its author and his view of society, maintains Alice to be Carrolls social commentary on the absurd restraints and limitations imposed on the child in Victorian society. In Alices Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll uses not only his fascination with children and logic, but linguistic playfulness to creatively depict the universal journey from child to adult.
In Alices Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carrolls fictional world and its characters mirror the authors personality in many ways. In his adult life Carroll was considered a genius mathematician and locigian. While his personal qualities allowed for him to be quite the entertainer, some of his behaviors may have been viewed as peculiar, especially for the times in which he lived (Phillips). As described by the author Virgina Woolf in the book, Aspects of Alice Lewis Carrolls Dream child as seen through the critics looking glasses, Carroll was a man whose childhood remained in him entire. And this is very strange, Woolf explains, for childhood normally fades very slowly. Wisps of childhood persist when the boy or girl is a grown man or woman. Childhood returns sometimes by day, or more often by night. But it was not so with Lewis Carroll. (Phillips) Carroll was a man whose best personal qualities flourished in the company of children, especially around the Liddell sisters, whom much of his work, including Alice was based on, and written for (Phillips). In regards to what was perhaps considered odd behavior, Virginia Woolf seems to sum up the brilliance and intrigue of Lewis Carroll, Since childhood remained in him entire, she said, he could do what no one else has ever been able to do-he could return to that world; he could re-create it, so that we too become children again. (Phillips).
In many ways Carrolls work aims to mock the ways in which Victorian children were raised. In the nineteenth century people were expected to behave according to a set of rules and morals, which is perhaps the reason Carroll was inspired to create the fictional world of Wonderland-- where nonsensical behavior is accepted and children are not forced to behave according to societys rationale (Phillips). With the memorable creation of such a world, Carroll invites his readers on a fantastical yet familiar journey that we all experience when growing up. At the same time Carroll addresses the questioning of identity for children in an adult world, he also offers a hilarious parody of the Victorian Era.
Alices Adventures in Wonderland begins with Alice sitting next to her sister who is reading, though Alice seems quite bored. She comments, what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations (Carroll 325). It is Alices natural childlike curiosity that will carry her on a complete journey that demonstrates for all readers those inevitable steps of discovery we take from childhood into adulthood. Like many children, Alice seems to feel and act like she is a young adult, probably as a result of the era in which she was raised (The Philosophers Alice). However, even in modern times, children seem to always be in eager pursuit of growing up. Young children always want to behave as an adult, despite the loss of a certain freedom and innocence that occurs when we accept the responsibilities of the adult world. Alices journey through Wonderland symbolizes the challenge children experience, as they grow older, trying to find an identity for themselves in the realm of maturity and adulthood (The Philosophers Alice).
Lewis Carroll illustrates this common journey when Alice makes her great fall down the deep well. The first problem Alice encounters in her adventure is finding a way to fit through the little door in pursuit of the curious White Rabbit. She soon finds a bottle labeled drink me but as Carroll relates, The wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry (Carroll 326). This is because Alice is still behaving as the proper Victorian child, who in many ways resembles and imitates the behavior of an adult (Phillips). As adult readers we are well aware that Alice is confused about her position in society-- between childhood and adulthood. Her journey through Wonderland will be similar to the experience we all encounter growing up, where things dont always make sense but we are eager to understand in the same way, as adults seem too.
Throughout the story, Alice continues to question her identity as a child that has been taught to embrace the values and assumptions of an adult society (The Philosophers Alice). Lewis Carrolls Wonderland attempts to evoke the childlike innocence, curiosity, and playfulness back out of Alice (Phillips). All of these being aspects of our personalities we often lose as we enter the adult world. Alices attitude towards the characters in Wonderland proves she is determined to act as an adult, even though she is clearly a child. Alice attempts to take on many adult roles and responsibilities while in Wonderland, however most of her attempts result in absurdity. For example, when Alice tries to assume moral responsibility by saving a baby from abuse at the Duchess house she only comes to see that the baby is in fact a pig. The fact that all of Alices attempts to prove herself as an adult only result in nonsense seems to suggest that Alice should just accept the unusual world she has entered. She should accept the wonder and confusion that comes along with being a child.
It does seem that Alice begins to accept her identity as a child when she is challenged by the Caterpillars question. She knew who she was when she got up this morning, but she seems to think shes changed several times since then (Carroll 339). Obviously, Wonderland is beginning to take its toll on Alice. Alice realizes her lack of control in this situation, just as children at some point become frustrated by their lack of control in the adult world (The Philosophers Alice). She cannot even control the size of her own body. She constantly transitions, with each size resulting in a new perception of the unusual world. When Alice becomes a giant, towering over the trees, she outgrows Wonderland. As a giant she begins to realize how out of place, even scary, it is to be that size, the size of an adulthood that has outgrown the wonders of childhood.
By the end of Alices adventure the most important question readers ask of her is whether or not she will choose to leave Wonderland as a child, appreciating and enjoying the absurdity of Wonderland, or as an adult, where the world is always sensible and practical. In the final chapters of the story, where Alice is at the trial of the Knave of Hearts, she ultimately comes to the decision that the nonsensical world and characters of Wonderland had defeated the sensibility she thought herself to possess as a young adult. She ends her journey with the line, Youre nothing but a pack of cards! (Carroll 373). At this moment in the story and as Alice awakens to discover she is no longer in Wonderland, we realize that Alice has been transformed. She has allowed herself to be a child, and has accepted the wonders of a world that adults often forget.
The Victorian Era was a time in which proper etiquette meant everything and Victorian childrens literature was expected to follow the same model. However, Lewis Carroll chose not to follow the rules in his work. Just as Alice questions the authority of the King during the trial scene, she seems to be pointing out the stupidity of his rules and with that the stupidity of contemporary standards set by the time and the adult society (Phillips).
The characters and scenarios Lewis Carroll has created in Alices Adventures in Wonderland have lived in the imaginations of his audience for generations. While Carroll has often been described as the master of nonsense, his writing proves to do more than just entertain. Carroll found the rules and obligations of the Victorian Era to be ridiculous and restrictive, especially for the experience of a child (Phillips). Most importantly however, Lewis Carrolls Alices Adventures in Wonderland brings out the imagination and joy of childhood in all who experience the adventure and serves as a founding example of the importance of childrens literature no matter the era.
Carroll, Lewis. The Philosopher's Alice. New York: St Martin's Press, Ny, 1974, 1974.
Frey, Charles H., and John W. Griffith. Classics of Children's Literature (6th Edition). Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall, 2004.
Phillips, Robert. Aspects of Alice: Lewis Carroll's Dream Child as Seen Through the Critics' Looking-glasses, 1865-1971. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1974.