The Whirlwind Of Alice Essay, Research Paper
The Whirlwind of Alice
” Curiouser and curiouser!’cried Alice” (Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 9). At the time she was speaking of the fact that her body seemed to be growing to immense proportions before her very eyes; however, she could instead have been speaking about the entire nature of Lewis Carroll’s classic works Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. At first glance, the novels seem easy enough to understand. They are simple children’s stories filled with fantastical language and wonderful worlds. They follow the basic genre of nearly all children’s work, they are written in simple and clear language, feature a young hero and an amazing, unbelievable cast of characters, are set in places of mystery and illusion, and seem far too nonsensical and unusual for adults to enjoy. Even their author, Lewis Carroll, believed them to be children’s stories. Yet Carroll and generations of parents and children have been wrong. While these stories may seem typical children’s fare, they are distinctly different. Their symbolism, content, and message make the Alice books uniquely intended for adults.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born in 1832 in Victorian England. He was a mathematics professor, but he had a very peculiar dual identity. Most of the time he was C. L. Dodgson, the shy, stammering mathematics professor, but on occasion he became Lewis Carroll, the dynamic fantasist and parodist. He began his career in writing by publishing typical and uninspiring tracts about mathematics and politics, but after an inspirational boat ride with three young girls, he began the works which would influence a century of youngsters and inspire decades of critics (Matuz 105). The three girls, Lorina, Edith, and Alice Liddell, gave him “a release of spirits that he found nowhere else” (Hudson 266). He played with them, relaxed with them, and became young again by their acquaintance. Perhaps most importantly though, he told them stories. On July 4, 1862, he told them the story that inspired a classic, the story of “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.” This was a story he had been working on in one way or another for nearly twenty years, but required little Alice’s intervention to write. While many events in the first manifestation of the story inspired by the Liddell s remain in the work we read today, months of planning and research moved the book “away from parochial allusions and mere child’s play toward more advanced and reasoned ingenuity” (Hudson 266). The story expanded from a recanting of friendly outings to a tale of deep symbolism, psychology, and generational satire.
Each character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its companion piece Through the Looking Glass symbolizes something beyond a deck of cards, a storybook character, or a figure of popular rhymes. We will begin with Alice herself. Alice is something more than Carroll’s hero. “She is the free and independent mind” (Empson 262). Alice symbolizes Carroll’s view of women. She was the queen to a man who had from “early youth . . . sought the society of little girls . . . compensating himself in part from his inability to form friendships with women of his own age”(Hudson 265). In the books she “moves from innocence to experience, unconsciousness to consciousness” (Bloomingdale 379) and matures to become the “Queen of the Looking-Glass World” (Bloomingdale 378) by virtue of her “curiosity, courage, kindness, intelligence, courtesy, dignity,. . . sense of humor, humility, sympathy, propriety, respect, imagination, wonder, initiative, gratitude, patience, affection, thoughtfulness, integrity, and . . . sense of justice in the face of an outrageous universe” (Bloomingdale 389). “Alice as a child-heroine undergoes the experiences ascribed by Jung to the mythical child i.e. abandonment, invincibility, and hermaphroditism. The child is all that is abandoned and exposed and at the same time divinely powerful; the insignificant, dubious beginning, and the triumphal end” (Bloomingdale 384). Alice is more than a Victorian girl. She is the Victorian girl. She is a consummate dreamer, an ambitious hero, and an ever-growing young queen. No child can completely comprehend the complexity of her character or what she represents to Carroll and the world. She is the symbol of the Victorian world, and of the Victorian attitude toward children. Carroll wrote the story to satirize the society and its treatment of children, such as Alice. This satirization and criticism can only be appreciated and acted upon by adults. It is the perceptions and attitudes of adults that Carroll was aiming to alter, and adults are story’s genuine audience.
As with Alice, each character in Alice in Wonderland is more than just a character in the story. They all represent personality types and attitudes that Carroll satirized to bring about reform. Carroll wanted to end the ridiculous mannerisms and personality traits of his peers. To do this, he exaggerated the characters beyond the point of respectability or attractiveness so that adults would recognize themselves somewhere in the overbearing characters they hated and, consequently, would attempt to change. In the White Rabbit, we find the epitome of worriers. He incessantly agonizes over lost gloves, missing fans, housemaids, and being “late for a very important date” (Geronimi). “The bustling, spruce, worried Rabbit is at heart a poor, foolish, timid creature” (Hubbell 393). The Rabbit can best be described as nervous. On the other hand, there is nothing nervous about the Queen of Hearts. She is overbearing, unrelenting, and barbaric. Every infraction be it as “serious” as stealing the royal tarts or as trivial as painting white roses red is punished by an immediate and indisputable beheading (Carroll, Alice 73, 116). “The arbitrary, bloody Queen of Hearts is an ineffective, abysmally stupid person” (Hubbell 393). In her mind there is no distinction between what is true and what is false, what is a crime and what is mere folly or mistake. She does not understand what is happening around her, so she chooses simply to punish what is beyond her and keep things at her intellectual level beheading. In a word, she is “ferocious” (Boas 744). The Duchess of Wonderland is a sermonizing pontificator. In her opinion, there is an axiom for everything and everything has its axiom. Her motto is, “Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it” (Carroll, Alice 82). “Not only is the Duchess inconsistent, unpleasant, and pointlessly didactic, but she is of no help to Alice” (Leach 91-92). She plays the role of the “loving and terrible mother” and preaches exactly what Carroll hopes people will not practice (Bloomingdale 385). The Mock Turtle is lugubrious and melancholy (Boas 744). Like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, the Mock Turtle plays the role of the eternal pessimist, suffering through life until it ends. Everything he says is in a deep, mournful tone, accompanied by long sighs and grievous sobs (Carroll 87). His puns, shuns, and misnomers serve to make us feel pity for him as he makes us laugh. The Cheshire Cat is elusive and mysterious (Boas 744). He is one of the only amiable characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and “the only one to admit he is mad” (Leach 92). “The central riddle of Wonderland that must be solved is that which Alice asks the Duchess concerning the Cheshire Cat: Please would you tell me . . . why your cat grins like that?” (Bloomingdale 385). Her
answer, “It’s a Cheshire Cat and that’s why” (Carroll, Alice 49). “The mad grin of the appearing and disappearing gargoyle, which literally hangs over’ the heads of the participants in the game of life is an insane version of the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa,’ the mask of the Sphinx supreme embodiment of the riddle of the universe” (Bloomingdale 385-386). While the Mad Hatter and March Hare are just as mad, they are the worse for thinking themselves sane. “Madness, as usually defined, is a comparative term . . . All the chattering creatures of adultdom, coming in contact with the touchstone mind of Alice, fall to the level of the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. Thus for once we get a sane view of society” (Hubbell 398). It is nothing more than an endless tea party, with too many guests, too little food, riddles with no answers, and stories with no meaning or purpose.
In Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Carroll again employs the technique of using his characters to mimic Victorian society and mannerisms. The Red Queen of the chessboard is far more agreeable than her royal counterpart in the first novel. Rather than attempt to annihilate Alice, she helps her along on her journey from one end of the chessboard to the other; she is Alice’s guide and queen, not her bloody end (Bloomingdale 386). She is very fast moving, noting to Alice that “in her country It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place’” (Hubbell 393). She is strenuous, rapid, and precise (Boas 744). The White Queen is her complement on the other side of the chessboard, and is another guide to Alice. She is vague, disheveled, and somewhat confused. She has trouble keeping her shawl straight on her body and gets her hairbrush tangled in her hair. Perhaps most unusual about the White Queen, though, is her policy on lady’s maids. When Alice commented on her general state of disarray and stated that she ought to have a lady’s maid to keep her in order the White Queen stated:
“I’m sure I’ll take you with a pleasure!” the Queen said. “Twopence a week, and jam
every other day.”
Alice couldn’t help but laughing, as she said “I don’t want you to hire me and I don’t
care for jam.”
“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.
“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have had it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is jam
tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to jam to-day,’” Alice objected.
“No, it can t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to day isn’t any other day,
you know.” (Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There 73-74)
Her bewilderment and muddled life are Carroll’s caveats to the young of what not to become and words to the old of what they may be. The White Knight of the chessboard is Alice’s inventive rescuer (Boas 744). He stresses the distinctions between what something is named, what it is called, and what it is (Holmes 164). The White Knight is:
the “knight in shining armor” of chivalry and romance. Like Chaucer’s “verray, parfit,
gentil knight,” he is the type of Christian hero whose function is to serve his lady [and]
. . . it is his avowed function to conduct Alice safely to the end of the wood . . . [to Alice
he is] the true King of the Looking-Glass World. Not a mighty world conqueror, but
the gentle man, the pure and innocent hero. (Bloomingdale 388)
Finally, we come to Humpty Dumpty. He is grand, complex, and magnificent (Boas 744). Humpty is Lewis Carroll’s ego, “in perpetual peril of falling, never to be put together again” (Bloomingdale 381). He deals with words with a “solipsistic discipline.” As one critic says, “With Humpty Dumpty’s method of dealing with words, chaos is come again.” His ambition is to make communication impossible, and he is completely aware that he is well on his way (Spacks 271). However, “the wordy semblance of profundity which is the essence of Humpty Dumpty turns out to be more amusing than authentic” as much of what he says means nothing (Hubbell 393). “Humpty Dumpty thinks that every simple question is a riddle, something for him to solve triumphantly, and he cannot understand that Alice, standing firmly on the ground, may be wiser than he and may really be giving advice and not seeking the answers to trifling conundrums” (Priestley 194). As George Shelton Hubbell said:
In Lewis Carroll’s nonsense world we are privileged to see our familiar adult society
(somewhat exaggerated, so that we are sure to get the joke) through the thought of the
wise child Alice . . . grown-up stupidity is impressive. The more idiotic we are, the more
impressive we adults have to seem in order to carry our point . . . And in Alice’s prestige are necessary to bolster up the absurd pretentions of the incompetent.
Nevertheless there is in her world the underlying joyful certainty that they are
incompetent, absurd, only a pack of cards after all. (392 – 393)
Besides its characters being symbols neither meant for nor understood by children, there are other symbols in Alice and Through the Looking Glass only comprehensible to adults. These are symbols of a sexual nature. The earliest parts of the novel are considered the most sexual in nature. “In the first part there is no system, the incidents and images are suggested by the subconscious, and their nature is erotic” (Goldschmidt 280). The very beginning of the novel is perhaps the “best-known symbol of coitus,” as, in it, Alice follows the Rabbit in falling down a very deep well(Goldschmidt 280). The next symbol of intercourse is the key Alice finds on a table once she has fallen down the hole. “Here we find the common symbol of lock and key representing coitus; the doors of normal size represent adult women. These are disregarded by [Carroll] and the interest in centered on the little door, which symbolizes a female child; the curtain before it represents a child’s clothes” (Goldschmidt 281). Later in the story, a small house, only around four feet tall, takes the place of the small door as the symbolic child. Also in the rabbit hole are found the next symbols of copulation, the small cakes saying “Eat me,” and the bottle marked “Drink me.” The aforementioned, and the mushroom Alice later nibbles on, result in the growing and shrinking of her body. “The phallic significance of these incidents is clear, and is born out by the illustrations” (Goldschmidt 282). Later in the story are found “two further incidents, of autoerotic significance, those of the sneezing baby and of the flamingo” (Goldschmidt 282). Even Carroll’s characters carried out the sexual symbolism that is clearly unfit for young readers and intended for their elders. “For instance it is an obvious bit of interpretation to say that the Queen of Hearts is a symbol of uncontrolled animal passion’ . . . Dodgson said it himself, to the actress who took the part when the thing was acted” (Empson 233). One critic summed up how Alice herself was an extension of this symbolism when he said:
The symbolic completeness of Alice’s experience is . . . important. She runs the whole
gamut; she is a father in getting down the hole, a foetus at the bottom, and can only be
born by becoming a mother and producing her own amniotic fluid. Whether [Carroll's]
mind played the trick of putting this into the story or not he has the feelings that would
correspond to it. A desire to include all sexuality in the girl child, the least obviously
sexed of human creatures, the one that keeps its sex in the safest place, was an
important part of their fascination for him. He is partly imagining himself as the girl-
child . . . partly as its father . . . partly as its lover. (Empson 272 – 273) “The whole course of the story is perhaps to be explained by the desire for complete virility, conflicting with the desire for abnormal satisfaction” (Goldschmidt 282). The sexual symbols and undertones to these stories make them neither suitable for nor completely understandable by children.
There are many reasons why the stories are not actually for children, but instead for their parents and elders. For instance, as one critic said, Alice in Wonderland “may . . . bore children nowadays . . . Their ringing peals [of laughter at Carroll's jokes and puns] may be a mere affectation . . . , do they . . . really share our delight in Carroll’s philosophic apercus?” (Beerbohm 139). One reason they laugh may be a simple lack of understanding of what Carroll really says and means in the two stories. “Alice in Wonderland is . . . so deep as to yield results in exegesis almost beyond belief. Interwoven in a dream fabric of rare verisimilitude is a psychological study of the reaction of the immature mind to academic training” (Masslich 122). “Lewis went deeper than his contemporaries realized and than he usually gets credit for even today. As studies in dream psychology, the Alice books are most remarkable; they do not suffer by comparison with the best serious performances in this field” (Wilson 201). “Designed as a tale for children, [Alice] is, in fact, an encyclopedic study of adult psychology” (Boas 740). The tales delve into the mind of a dreamer, and explain what they find. Children, again, can neither appreciate nor comprehend the true meanings of Alice or Through the Looking Glass when they read them. The stories may have been meant for children, but they were designed for adults.
None of the features of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There that make the stories classics can be admired by children. Most are neither mature enough nor educated enough to grasp all of the implications of these multifaceted works. Their symbols, characters, meanings, and messages make them inappropriate and ill-advised for children’s literature; they are far more apt for the reading of adults. As Virginia Woolf said: