Alice In Wonderland Interpretations Essay Research Paper

Alice In Wonderland Interpretations Essay, Research Paper

Alice in Wonderland – Critical Review

Philosophy – a subject that had driven people insane for as long as humans know their history. All the time people try to find a meaning, and later controvert it. For example, critics view a novel by Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as a quest for maturity story, Carroll’s view on Victorian Society and even existential meaning on life. All of those interpretations come from philosophical “drive” of the critics. The truth is that anyone can point a finger at the book and come up with their own “deep” meaning of the story, but if one looks at facts, well known, and obvious things – it is clear that the story is simply a children tale intended for entertainment and nothing more.

Of course there is no sure way to prove that Carroll did not intend any deeper meaning into the story, after all, he was a mathematician and a man of great knowledge of children (19th Century Literature Criticism 105), but lets take a look at the most obvious fact – the time, place and audience of the original story of Alice in Wonderland. Here are the words of Lewis Carroll as he recalls that day:

Full many a year has slipped away, since that “golden afternoon” that gave thee birth, but I can call it up almost as clearly as if it were yesterday – the cloudless blue above, the watery mirror below, the boat drifting idly on its way, the tinkle of the drops that fell from the oars, as they waved so sleepily to and fro, and (the one bright gleam of life in all the slumberous scene) the three eager faces, hungry for news of fairyland, and who would not he say ‘nay’ to: from whose lips ‘Tell us a story, please,’ had all the stern immutability of Fate (Hudson 128)!

The “three eager faces” Carroll is talking about are the three Liddell girls – Edith, Alice and Ina. Carroll, the girls and their butler Duckworth were on a boat ride picnic one afternoon when one of the girls, Alice, asked Carroll to tell her the story. And that’s how the story originated. A little girl asked a man to tell her a story during an afternoon boat ride. It is amazing how someone can even attempt to prove this as an existential theory. Duckworth was a person who was there who simply heard the story at the time it was told says, “ it was actually composed and spoken over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell…”(Hudson 128). As you see, the story was told simply to entertain a child.

Critics may argue saying that although it was written for a child, Carroll still had deeper meaning intended when he told it. Now the question that comes to mind is ‘Why?’. Why would Carroll, make up a deep-meaning story over which people are still breaking their minds, while he himself was enjoying a lovely boat ride? The answer is: he would not! And he did not! This answer lies in the first pages of the book…

All in the golden afternoon

Full leisurely we glide;

For both our oars, with little skill,

By little arms are piled,

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:

Thus slowly, one by one,

Its quaint events were hammered out –

And now the tale is done,

And home we steer, a merry crew,

Beneath the setting sun.

Alice! A childish story take,

And with a gentle hand

Lay it where Childhood’s dreams are twined

In memory’s mystic band,

Like pilgrim’s withered wreath of flowers

Plucked an a far off land (Carroll 13)

With this poem by the author, the book is started. It clearly tells in Carroll’s own words how, for whom and why was this story told. In the sixth stanza “Thus grew the tale…” it is told that the story was made up as the trip with the girls went on, and it ended when their trip ended – just like that. No one can argue with the author. If he himself says that the story is for a child – its for a child!

The third argument that contradicts the critics who claim to the deeper meaning of the tale is the fact that the story itself does not make much sense. “Alice’s adventure is a work of nonsense and as such lacks the coherent structure of a conventional literary work” (Kelly 79). Indeed, the content of the story is so crazy, that it even seems sometimes that the author is crazy himself. But he is not crazy, he just had to make up a story in a short period of time. The boat ride only lasted couple of hours, and he was put on a spot to tell it. He had no preparation and as Richard Kelly notices the character of Alice is not developed or changed (79). There is no possibility of deeper meaning without a developed character.

There is another fact that proves that Carroll did not put much thought into his story and that is the fact that Carroll would tell stories like the one he told on the day of the boat ride, very often to the girls. “We used to go to his rooms… escorted by our nurse. When we got there, we used to sit on his big sofa while he told us stories”(Gattegno 15). Its been Carroll’s habit to tell these stories to the girls. The only thing that makes this story of Alice in Wonderland different is that it was the girls’ favorite, and Carroll thought that it would be interesting to other kids and so he published it (Hudson 133).

So here we have it – the story of Alice. So deeply explored by critics each one trying to prove his point, but it seems that they all have went too far into the wonderland and missed the obvious facts on the surface. When you go too far, it is easy to forget where you started. A famous literary critic Richard Kelly points out that:

Critics fall into several categories: bibliographical, psychoanalytical, logical-linguistic, esthetic, Jungian, mythic, existential, sociological, philosophical, theological and literary comparatist. At this juncture in Carroll’s criticism and scholarship, one would do well to be eclectic and to reread the story in the light of the various schools of criticism in so far as they clarify or enrich the story – while recognizing that there is no single meaning to the adventure (79).

Philosophers might disagree with this, but the only way to show truth is through a fact. And the facts show that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were a short story made up by a man for a child to entertain that child. The setting, people involved and the story itself all lean toward that idea. But as was said earlier, it is impossible to stop a person from searching deeper and deeper for an idea.


Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass Signet Classic New York, NY 1960.

Cohen, Morton. Lewis Carroll: A Biography Alfred A. Knopf New York, NY 1996.

England in Literature: MacBeth Edition: Teacher’s Supplement Chapter 8, “Alice in Wonderland” 144-146. Scott Foresman & Co. 1973.

Gattegno, Jean. Lewis Carroll: Fragments of a Looking-Glass “Alice” and “A Carroll Chronology” 4-27. Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 1973 New York, NY.

Hudson, Derek. Lewis Carroll “Alice” 124-149. Folcroft Library Editions 1976.

Kelly, Richard. Lewis Carroll “Alice” 78-97. U of Tenn. Twayne Publishers, G. K. Hall & Co. Boston, Mass 1977.

Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 2 “Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)” 105-121.

Rackin, Donald. Alice’s Journey to the End of Night 132-143 MLA 1966.


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