LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Nonsense as “Kid-sense” and Biography in Lewis Carroll’s Poems

on February 21, 2013 9:00pm


I’m sure we all know that adorable AT&T commercial where the representative asks the children if they would rather have a big tree house or a small tree house.  I’m not exactly sure what the little boy says about the big screen TV and the wire and the position where you would have to hold the wire?  Nonetheless, the gist of what he says is nonsense.  It is not supposed to make sense to the audience.  It seems like nonsense to the adult audience, however, it makes sense to the children.  Nonsense is like “kid-sense.”  After the little boy explains his big screen TV reasoning, the representative says, “That’s a pain in the bones isn’t it?”  To this, the children reply together in agreement, which suggests that the children understood the little boy’s explanation. 

This idea of nonsense as “kid-sense” is a major theme in Lewis Carroll’s works.  I think that Carroll writes in the mind of a child, so what seems out-of-the-ordinary for adults makes perfect sense to the children who read his works.  His poem The Walrus and the Carpenter represents this kid-sense.  The entire poem seems like nonsense at first: who would put a walrus and a carpenter together?  The poem has the most random combinations of characters and images, but in the end, Carroll provides some life lessons: don’t trust every adult.  This may be an underlying message to children because of his pedophilia accusation?  He is known to embrace the Rousseau ideology of the innocent, beautiful child and he is also known to have an interest in the hobby of photography.  So what does he do with these two? He decides to take pictures of innocent, young girls that embody the Rousseau child image.  Some people may have thought this was weird, but in the Romantics era, a celebration of idealized children was common.  Carroll even requested in his will that he wants the pictures that he took of all the young girls to be returned to them or trashed.  He seems to respects these women as his best friends, unlike what any real pedophilic old man with a strange obsession to young girls would do.  So, I think that the message in The Walrus and the Carpenter of being careful of which adults to trust comes into play with Carroll’s personal background.  He warns other young girls that not all older men have good intentions like him.  

Carroll’s personal life also comes into play in his poem in Through the Looking Glass: “A boat beneath a sunny sky.”  This poem represents darker undertones and perhaps some dark moments that he experienced in his personal life.

Overall, the poem uses a sad tone.  Words like “die,” “Autumn frost,” and “slain” present dark images.  Furthermore, Alice Liddell’s name is hidden within the text of the poem and she is regarded as the phantom that still haunts him (Lewis Carroll) and that haunts the poem.  The poem is suggestive of the ties Carroll lost with his young, best friend, Alice Liddell, and he mourns about it in the poem.  However, he ends the poem with the line “Life, what is it but a dream?”  (Carroll line 21).  Why does Carroll end the poem here?

I think that the line is both sarcasm and a reference to the Rousseau idealized child.  Rousseau’s innocent, pure and beautiful child image is presented in the poem because children dream “as the days go by” and dream “as the summers die.”  No matter what ugliness, sin, or sorrow happens, the child still possesses innocent thoughts like a free-flowing dream.  Life is like a dream to these idealized children where no dark images exist. 


Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

On the other hand, through a sarcastic reading, I think that Carroll points out his sorrow from losing his friendship with Alice Liddell.  The entire poem juxtaposes light images with dark images: “sunny skies” and “Autumn frost,” and “memories die” and “waking eyes.”  One positive image is erased by a dark image, which ultimately shows Carroll’s sad feelings about losing Alice Liddell.  So, by saying life is a dream, he sarcastically comments on his own sad life that he lives without his close friend.    


Alice Liddell


One response to “Nonsense as “Kid-sense” and Biography in Lewis Carroll’s Poems

  1. sconage says:

    It was not until your blog that I actually thought about the meaning behind that AT&T commercial,
    but now it makes perfect sense to me. Nonsense is a big part of children growing up, it seems that in order to have a normal childhood you have to participate in some type of nonsense. Nonsense
    seems to be a way for children to express themselves without the adults knowing what they are
    saying, it’s like a secret code. Nonsense allows provides children with the opportunity to develop a
    creative side; children that are always made to think about things in abstract ways are denied this

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