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).
Identity in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is constantly shifting and this creates anxiety and confusion for Alice and the readers of the novel. Throughout the novel, Alice is continually questioning her identity and admits that she is uncertain about who she really is. Several times in the novel she also ordered to identify herself by the creatures she meets, but she has doubts about her identity; so she is not able to do that that.
In the beginning of the novel, Alice believes that she must be someone else because her original sense of self is disturbed. Alice believes that she must be Mabel which is someone that she finds dreadful and ignorant. This false identity of self begins to make her have doubt and feel hopeless; so she decides to stay in the rabbit hole until someone is able to tell her who she is.
This doubt about her identity is further diminished by her physical appearance. Alice grows and shrinks several times and she finds this very confusing. When the Caterpillar questions her about her identity, she replies, “I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present-at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” (83-84) Alice uses the phrase, ” I must have been changed” instead of “I changed” which shows her loss of control over her identity. She is mistaken for a serpent by the pigeon because she admits to eat eggs and because of her long neck. The multiple changes in her physical appearance makes Alice feels in stable because she is constantly changing; and this is making it hard for her to truly learn her identity.
Cheshire Cat questions another part of Alice’s identity, which is her sanity. He believes that she must be “mad” as she enter Wonderland.
As the novel continues, Alice learns to identify with what she is not. She tells the other characters in the novel that she is not mad and not subject to the commands of the king and queen.
When pondering the tumultuous and hectic period of human development known as adolescence, one could not define the term better than F. Scott Fitzgerald when he said, “Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.” Pieces of children’s literature constantly employ the use of nonsense and fairy worlds to impart messages to the children who read their pages: however, at the pinnacle of silliness and contradiction, Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland stands paramount amongst the canon. Through Alice’s trials and tribulations in Wonderland, the author creates a rational allegory out of irrational scenarios and examines the intricacies of an event children both fear and revere: growing up.
Dream me a little dream
From the very beginning of his novel, Carroll separates Alice from the Victorian Era society she has been raised in and plunges her into the depths of Wonderland. However, this begs the question as to what is Wonderland? In reality Alice falls asleep, thus suggesting that Wonderland is a dream and all the events she experiences are merely machinations of her subconscious. This departure from reality begins even before she fully enters her dream, as she claims to see a fully clothed white rabbit speaking English as she dozes off. This represents the separation of Alice from the real world and her initial plunge into the depths of her unfiltered personality.
Do these people look like they care about laws?
Now that Alice is firmly separated from the conforming pressures of English society, Carroll uses the illogical laws of Wonderland to represent Alice’s capacity for permanent self-realization. One instance of this would be when Alice falls from a great height, but is unharmed despite the fact that the fall would have killed her in the real world. From this point on, Alice accepts the laws of Wonderland and does not view height as life threatening anymore. This represents Alice’s own personal self-discovery when left unchecked by the conforming demands of Victorian Era England.
Time to put on that new addition they’ve been thinking about
Carroll fully cements his comparison between Alice’s encounters in Wonderland and adolescence early on when Alice is faced with the problem of growing taller and smaller. She constantly grows to different heights and cries in frustration because she is unable to enter the garden. This represents a child’s aggravating confusion with the contradictions of growing older and not yet being old enough. The sporadic growth spurts would then support this notion as they literally symbolize the awkward physical transformation a child undergoes during puberty.
Above all else, Alice herself best defines the intentions of Carroll’s novel. The contradicting fluidity of the laws that govern Wonderland cause Alice to question her identity in the same way children question their identity during adolescence. These circumstances eventually lead her to ask, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle” (Chapter 2). Carroll’s understanding of children’s psychology is displayed in full force here, as this quote defines the very essence of his novel. Childhood is, by definition, a period of self-discovery. By separating Alice from reality and locking her in the depths of her own mind the author allows for her to embark upon the journey all children take in their lifetimes: piecing together the great jigsaw that is their own personality.