LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Logic and Alice

on February 14, 2013 2:58pm

Carroll delights in taking logic and turning it on his head.  In Chapter V, Carroll proves that little girls are serpents in the scene with the Pigeon.  Alice says she is a little girl, but the Pigeon says that she can’t be a little girl “with such a neck as that!”  The pigeon says that Alice must be a serpent.  “I suppose you’ll be telling me next that you’ve never tasted an egg!”  Alice admits that she has tasted eggs, but defends herself by saying that “little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do” (48).  The pigeon uses this as grounds to say that little girls are a kind of serpent.

Such uses of logic (serpents eat eggs, little girls eat eggs, therefore little girls must be serpents) abound in Alice in Wonderland.  Carroll uses syllogisms to reach ridiculous conclusions.  In doing this, he treats children like they are actually logical, thinking people, rather than wild things, like Rousseau’s ideal of the “perfect child.”  While Rousseau believes that children would be empty, wild beasts until they are educated at twelve, Carroll believes that children will develop their own mental faculties, even without guidance from adults.  Carroll’s use of logic to reach odd conclusions forces children to, in thinking for themselves, realize why the claims are false, even though they seem to be logically sound.

Carroll trusted that children could and would understand the difference between reality and fiction, nonsensical or otherwise.  He speaks to children as though they are capable of adult thought, because he believes that they are.  He does not speak to them as though they are less intelligent, or like they are lesser beings in need of moral and ethical instruction.  It is this quality that makes Alice in Wonderland a classic work of children’s literature–the belief that children are not some mythical being that is somehow different from a regular person.  Carroll writes as though children are adults and are capable of adult thought, and that makes his work not only timeless, but ageless as well.

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2 responses to “Logic and Alice

  1. I think part of the reason Carroll plays with logic so frequently in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is not just because of his view of children, but also the circumstances of the time in which the story was written and published.
    Carroll was working on this story during a time where advanced mathematics and arithmetic were being developed, which pushed the boundaries of what is logical to include a broader scale. I think part of the reason children were encouraged to decide what is nonsense and what is reality through out Alice’s adventures is not only to get them thinking but also to push the envelope on what is possible at the time. During a time period where much was being discovered, it makes sense that a man with a high level of influence on children would push the next generation to think outside of the so-called logical realm and to discover new things.
    Another new discovery of the time was the emergence of the child’s non-sense genre. This new genre of literature provided for a new avenue of thinking for children that would increase knowledge in the right side (the creative side) of the brain. It mixed logical lessons such as that of types of government and morals with non-paralleled and artistic thinking. This gave children a chance to think for themselves in way, deciding what was true or not true. With this new freedom of thought came new responsibilities for children, which may be why they were drawn to the book. Children liked the idea that logic, or what mommy and daddy always said, could be questioned. They liked that they could decide for themselves and think in a new way.
    So, playing with logic may have resulted from Carroll’s view of children as ageless, but I think it’s important to consider how this tale helped children learn and, in a sense, grow up.

  2. mpak504 says:

    Alice in Wonderland is the epitome of the nonsense literature genre. It has animals talking, people changing shapes with a sip of a drink, a deck of cards talking, and so on. At first glance, one would think that Carroll makes no sense and the novel is just simply, nonsense. However, after reading the novel as an adult, I can see a parallel between Alice in Wonderland and a child’s experience in the adult world.

    SWINGINFORBREAKFAST, I will have to disagree with you. I find it hard to believe that Carroll uses logic to “force” children to think for themselves and find claims false on their own. I think that Carroll justifies the crazy things that happen in Wonderland because Wonderland is the adult world, or the world that children see when they observe adults. Alice in Wonderland portrays a view of the adult world from a child’s perspective. I think that “Wonderland” is a place where things just don’t make sense, but they make sense for everyone that lives in it, just as children don’t understand adults and the grownup world of mundane schedules and doing the same things over and over again. They just observe and try to make sense of it on their own, because all they know is that it is supposed to make sense. So, I don’t think that Carroll is speaking to children as though they are capable of adult thought. I think that Carroll is assuming the position of the child and speaking to readers through the view of a child, portraying what they think or feel when they observe the adult world, or in this case “Wonderland.”

    As for Carroll’s work being timeless and ageless, I believe that it is timeless and ageless because it is considered canonical, in my opinion. Anything considered a classic will last through generations and generations. Also, “timeless” and “ageless” is a characteristic of canonical literature. One cannot be inducted into the canon unless they possess these qualities. Also, the popularity and respect that Alice in Wonderland received may have helped it become part of the canon; not to mention, the Disney version helped Alice in Wonderland stay on the shelves for newer generations to enjoy.

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