My older brother Ricardo was diagnosed with autism when he was six years old. While on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, his interests do not coincide with most other twentysomethings so he was naturally more excited than I was that I was taking a Children’s Literature course. Surprisingly enough, he was obsessed with the idea of me revisiting Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. After finishing the work and reading Roni Natov’s The Persistence of Alice, I began to understand why my brother – someone who is very aware of his developmental disorder that affects the normal development of his social and communication skills – would be fascinated with Alice’s story.
Natov’s basic point is that while Alice is unarguably a literary classic, children are not receiving it in its original prose and rather through other mediums. Even still, its fantasy, humor, and absurdity transcend time and continue to be significant to children today because, “the work is intrinsically interesting and universally powerful” (Natov 52). Natov’s arguments, however, made me realize why this story not only resonates with children – but also to someone with autism.
Natov explains how, “Carroll depicts the thinness of the line between dreams and the waking world which young children experience, and their curious lack of discomfort between the two” (52). This holds true for someone like my brother who, most of the time is quite literally in his own world and very much within himself and his thoughts. Natov explains that, “Fun is made of the literalness of the child’s mind; it must be particularly satisfying when Carroll allows the child to be the knowledgeable one, the one who get the joke, since children often suffer from confusion about adult figurative language, taking it in its literal sense” (53). Autistic individuals are almost entirely concrete thinkers, meaning they interpret language very literally, so idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres and sarcasm are normally lost on them. For a self-aware person like my brother, Carroll’s jokes are uproarious. Finally, Natov’s explanation of Alice’s “relevant and painful” journey that signifies the, “adolescent preoccupation with identity,” is especially pertinent to my autistic individuals constantly trying to find their place in a world made for neurotypical people.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is universal themes and fascinating fantasy make it a work that will transcend generations of children and adults alike who take comfort in the Chesire Cat’s words that, “we’re all mad here.”