LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Alice Lost in Wonderland

on February 14, 2013 1:33pm

alice

Charles Dodgson, or better known as Lewis Carroll, was a man who never quite grew up from his childlike mindset. Literary sources tell us that he was constantly entertaining children and enjoyed spending time with their uncultivated and inspired minds that saw no bounds or limits. In his tale Alice in Wonderland, he created a literary world full of nonsense and imagination that is parallel to the mind of a child. From the very first scene where Alice is with the Rabbit, Carroll transports his readers to a state of idyllic childhood innocence, where nothing has to be explained, just accepted to be true. Much like the mindset of a child, children do not always understand why things are happening the way they are, but they accept them as undeniable truths because they have no reason not to. They have a trust for society inherently, just as Alice accepts the abnormalities of Wonderland.

Carroll has created the childlike playground of Wonderland to comment on the loss of childhood innocence, for Alice’s lack of identity is a direct juxtaposition to highlight the knowing from the unknown. The structure of Carroll’s story is reminiscent to the mind of a child; it is divergent, not structured, and accepts the idea of the absurd. Unlike other fairy-tales of the period, this book appeals to the mind of the child, rather than the adult. Carroll uses Alice as not only a motif for coming into adulthood, but also as a metaphor for society as she is described with a  “need to define, limit, control the chaos of so many of the Wonderland situations”, which can translate to the rigid societal rules that govern our own behaviors as adults (Natov, 55). There is an “overriding concern… about adolescent preooccupation with identity” in Carroll’s piece that translates with the innocence of children and the transition to adulthood because Alice concerns most of her thoughts with understanding who she is and what she knows (Natov, 55). She has no clear sense of her identity throughout the entire story; she finds it difficult to characterize herself to others, especially when she comes in contact with the caterpillar.  As he questions who she is, she “hardly know[s]” for all she can think of is that she “knew who [she] was when [she] got up this morning, but [she] think[s] [she] must have been changed several times since then” (Carroll, 41).

This story serves as an expression of self-discovery; what it is like to have the mindset of a child, yet the social responsibility of an adult. It causes me to wonder if this is a similar dichotomy that Carroll also felt—the pressure to grow up, when it made so much more sense to stay in the adolescent and youthful mind frame of a child. I hope that it is as Carroll said, that as adults we still are able to “find a pleasure in all [our] simple joys, remembering [our] own child-life, and the happy summer days” for those are the times when the world just seemed to make more sense (Carroll, 110).

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One response to “Alice Lost in Wonderland

  1. cwood520 says:

    I definitely agree with much of what Nicole’s blog theorizes and with the observations she makes – I believe Carroll’s wonderland is “a literary world full of nonsense and imagination that is parallel to the mind of a child” and that the story contains a sense of duality by portraying the innocence and nonsensical imagination associated with childhood alongside with the compulsion to order and make sense of the world that so many adults cling too. As we discussed in class today, ‘The Adventures of Alice and Wonderland’ truly do have something for everyone – children, adolescents, and adults. In “The Persistence of Alice” by Roni Natov, Natov makes the astute observation that, unlike many other authors we have explored thus far,

    “In mid-Victorian England, Lewis Carroll stood alone revealing the essential meaninglessness of life. As Carroll’s omnipotent, omniscient Cheshire Cat says: “we’re all mad here.” And as Carroll dazzles with his brilliance and wit his most sophisticated audience, the millions of adults who read, reread, and write about the Alice stories, he exposes the uncertainty of our lives.” (pg. 58-9)

    Carroll, through the eyes of an innocent child, tells little kids about the story of a place where all the rules are broken and the ones that are in place don’t really work, such as the Mad Hatter’s teatime procedures. How thrilling and fun for a small child whose life is governed by…Brush your teeth! Don’t touch that! No, No, NO! to be able to read about a wonderland where how their mind works and the contents of their imaginations are not limited nor dampened, but rather, are celebrated. Also, if you try to examine how an adolescent might view this work, Natov argues that they, “seem to sense the anti-establishment code of the work, its cultish drug imagery and quirkiness – what may feel “trippy,” “far out,” uninhibited,” or in other words – a sense of freedom. (pg. 58) Adolescents have the unique ability to experience both sides, to appreciate the freedom and nostalgic childlike imaginations the twists, turns, and characters of this story bring to light, while simultaneously they are able to empathize with Alice who is quite unceremoniously thrust into the middle of this foreign world where all she seems to desperately want is a sense of order and a sense of self.

    Finally, Adults and their reading of Alice, which is for me probably the most difficult to determine, is said best by Natov when she observed everyone’s interpretation of Alice and Wonderland, but especially adult’s, as, “We may feel trapped and stifled in Wonderland. But there is also a sense of freedom which comes from recognizing the truth and being forced to laugh at it, from understanding the chaos and uncertainty we have always sensed about our lives.” (pg. 61) I think that Alice and her journeys throughout Wonderland possibly reassure adults while simultaneously unnerving them. It shows them that even though they have tried to make sense in a world that is rarely sensical, have tried to get jobs and pay taxes and go to church on Sunday, just as Alice has tried to study her lessons and be a good little girl, we will sometimes wake up to find we have gone quite far down the rabbit hole and the white picket fence that protected our neat and orderly lives is no longer there. Sometimes we will be forced to pull up a chair at the Mad Hatter’s table and try to enjoy our tea.

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