LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Its Emphasis on Consumption

on February 12, 2013 7:15pm
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Caterpillar from Disney’s rendition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been regarded a sensation since its publishing in 1865 and is often revered as the the work that began the genre we know as Children’s Literature today. Though the tale is whimsical and lighthearted, it involves some materials that adults, especially parents, may find inappropriate. One may recall the hookah smoking caterpillar sitting atop a mushroom that causes Alice some trouble, eventually causing her to question her own identity. During her encounter with the caterpillar, she is advised to consume a bit of the mushroom to adjust her size, as she remarked her size was constantly changing and not appropriate for her journey. This consumption of mushrooms may be referring to hallucinogenic mushrooms.

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A scene from the Disney film also described in Carroll’s original tale 

The novel is centered around the phenomenon of consumption, whether it be drugs, food, or drink. Such explicit mention of drug use makes the tale seem inappropriate for children. It is often rumored that Lewis Carroll himself was under the influence of hallucinogens or psychedelics, perhaps LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), during his authorship of the work. Many of the drug references come directly from Disney’s film version of the book rather than Carroll’s original work on which the movie is based; the film includes more substance abuse than the children’s book, including a walrus smoking cigars and bizarre scenes that depict characteristic behavior of drug abuse such as Alice’s encounter with the talking flowers and the rapid changing from night to day.  For this reason, it is rumored that each character represents a certain drug, much like it is rumored that each character in Winnie the Pooh represents a personality disorder. tumblr_lc4edpi17I1qas2h4o1_500Alice in Wonderland is often associated with drug abuse, with many referring to Alice’s adventures as an “acid trip.”  Popular culture’s obsession with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has become a cult-like practice in which each character or scene is associated with a different substance, though this is ironic because the work, in addition to the film, was clearly intended for children yet so heavily loaded with drugs.

 

Here are some other images associating characters with drugs:

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4 responses to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Its Emphasis on Consumption

  1. cpaik1 says:

    I also noticed the ever present recurrence of eating, drinking, smoking, etc. throughout the story.
    However, I believe that there could be a different reason as to why it is so prominent in the story.

    Alice, who’s first goal was to catch up to the white rabbit, becomes entirely focused on the bottle that says “Drink Me” and the small cake that says “Eat Me.” This passage is so detailed, it even includes the flavor of the drink, which is “cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast.” After consumption, a series of strange and unusual events happen to her. That leads me to wonder two questions. Did Charles Dodgson, who was completely obsessed with detailing the precise amount of food eaten by himself and his friends, put these aspects of eating and drinking in this story because he himself was so consumed by it? If so, was he implying that Alice has eating disorders, which is why she becomes so focused on eating and drinking?

    Alice struggles in maintaining the ideal height to enter the door to the garden. When she drinks, she becomes too small. When she eats the cake, she becomes too big. It is almost as though she has an eating disorder of some kind because she frequently fluctuates as the novel progresses. This is seen when Alice drinks another bottle labeled “Drink Me” in the white rabbit’s home and balloons in weight and height. Then, Alice sees pebbles turn into little cakes, which is a strange turn of events. Nonetheless, she eats them and becomes normal again. This could almost be seen as a binge-eating disorder.

    Who can forget Alice’s encounter with the hookah-smoking caterpillar either? She relies on eating the mushroom in order to achieve her ideal height. Is this a symbolism of Alice consuming drugs to reach her goal body image?

    What was Charles Dodgson trying to convey when he penned these words? It’s hard to say. The one certainty is that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is full of a preoccupation with consumption, which can certainly be studied further.

  2. smmejia says:

    You’re right about Disney creating more scenes for drug references to be extracted from than the original novel. The same could be said about Pinocchio. In the Land of Toys, the children partake in activities that children prefer, such as jump rope, running, dancing, and just good, wholesome fun (I name these activities based on the written text and illustrations). I think there was a mention of them eating whenever they want and eating whatever they preferred to eat, but there is definitely no explicit description of the consumption of alcohol or tobacco. However, in the Disney version of the film, children doing drugs is the focus of that part of the story. In fact, the location is not called the Land of Toys, but Pleasure Island. Why would Disney insert drug references into the animated film adaptations of novels when there may not have been such references (at least not as obvious and blatant as the portrayals Disney provides in visual form)?

    The Disney we know today is much more censored and concerned with creating family-appropriate and child-appropriate material. Why did Walt Disney films then portray these child-inappropriate activities when now they would never think to make another movie like Pinocchio or Alice in Wonderland? I think this reflects back on the culture of America at the time. Smoking and drinking in front of children used to be acceptable, and so it may have created a desire in children to also want to smoke and drink when they wanted to imitate being “grown up,” and this makes sense for Pinocchio, but what about the not-as-obvious references to drug consumption in Alice in Wonderland? Another trend that has been seen in children’s films and stories for a long time is the sneaking of adult-themed references and humor to provide entertainment for the adults who are obliged to partake in their children’s entertainment. Perhaps Disney was not trying to send a pro-drug consumption message to children but providing this darker undertone for the entertainment of the adults who end up watching the movie with their children.

  3. I think it’s important to point out that Disney was the one who introduced the drug references in his film Alice In Wonderland. When reading the novel, I did not think that there were many things pointing to drugs. Even though it has been rumored that Caroll was on LSD during the time he wrote the novel, I do not believe he would incorporate it into a story for children. I think that because of the world we live in that to make the movie possibly more interesting for adults, Disney could have added the trippy illusions. But I do not think that was the intention of the author. I believe the crazy things go back to the theme of nonsense and how a child thinks differently than an adult. I feel that this book was written for pure fun and entertainment and that by skewing the views of how it was written does the novel an injustice.

  4. Rebekah says:

    I just want to remind you all to be very careful about using “rumors” in your literary analysis. It is, in fact, impossible that Carroll was on LSD when he wrote Alice because LSD was not invented (artificially synthesized) until the 1930s and it wasn’t until nearly a decade later that scientists fully realized that the compound had hallucinogenic properties when ingested.

    If Carroll’s state of mind are of interest to your analysis of the novel, be sure to do some research and find reliable sources that can back up your claims of drug use, medical conditions or other disorders (of which there are plenty!) That way, you don’t get caught repeating rumors that turn out to be untrue!

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