Lewis Carroll Essay, Research Paper
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, is recognized by all as the silly fairy-tale author of stories such as Alice in Wonderland and it?s sequel Through the Looking Glass. However, little is known about what drove him to write such obviously fantastic stories. Themes such as nonsense and fantasy, education, drug abuse, racism and prejudice, money, malnutrition and public health are touched upon throughout his works. While only speculation can be offered, it is clear that these topics were developed as a result of real life experiences. Carroll?s childhood had a strong impact on his writing, mostly because of his playful nature. ?By this time [age 8] Lewis Carroll was very fond of inventing games for the amusement of his brothers and sisters,? (Kelly 3). As a child, Carroll was very attached to his mother ??Carroll?s love and affection for his mother was exceptional? (Kelly, 2). Her death in 1851 had an enormous negative effect on Carroll?s morale, which was at an all-time low, and when his father died, Carroll stated that it was ?the greatest blow that has ever fallen on my life,? (Gardner 9). During his adolescent years, he secluded himself from others because of his everlasting stammer. Carroll was a part of the wealthier class in Victorian England, but not aristocratic. His father was an Archdeacon at Christ Church in Yorkshire, England. ?From his father, he developed an early love of nonsense. A letter from Archdeacon Dodgson, away in Leeds, to his eight-year-old son, for example, reads (Wullschlager 31): Then what a bawling & a tearing of hair there will be! Pigs and babies, camels and Butterflies, rolling in the Gutter together ? old women rushing up chimneys & Cows after them ? ducks hiding themselves in coffee Cups and fat geese trying to squeeze themselves Into pencil cases ? at last the Mayor of Leeds will Be found covered up with custard & stuck full of Almonds to make him look like a sponge cake that he may escape the dreadful destruction of the town. These such letters from his father was the germ of the Alice books, ?with their babies turning into pigs, bread and butterflies, little girls stuck in chimneys, talking puddings and people leaping into soup tureens? (Wullschlager 31). Education played a large role in Carroll?s writing, as it was his treasure of varied knowledge that allowed him to expand upon the characters and depiction of Victorian England. Throughout the Alice books, Alice constantly refers to her education in a very proud manor. However, what Alice refers back to is either useless or wrong. For example, while she is falling through the hole, she states ?I wonder how many miles I?ve fallen by this time?? she said aloud. ?I must be nearing the center of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think-? ?For, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the school room, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge. As there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over? (Cohen 187). Alice is correct in saying the distance through the earth, but is incorrect when she wonders if everything will be upside down when she arrives at the other side. Here, Carroll combines his aspects of education and humor, perhaps trying to make the former more desirable for his young audiences. It is know that there widespread use of opium during the Victorian age. Carroll?s usage of opium may have been reflected in his writing, specifically the detailed descriptions, such as the growing and shrinking of Alice and of the caterpillar smoking the hookah. ?The complex dream atmosphere which Alice lives through can easily be compared to a mind-altering drug experience. The idea of eating a mushroom or drinking from a bottle that causes one to feel altered in someway is like a drug experience.? (Kelly, 143). In Carroll?s time, five out of six families habitually used opium. Infant mortality was an extremely common result of use of the narcotic. ?It was said that infants ?shrank up into little old men? when they became sick. This is similar to what happens to the duchess?s baby turning into a pig,? (Gardner 328). ?The baby grunted again, and Alice looked very anxiously into it?s face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a very turn-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose; also its eyes were getting extremely small for a baby. Altogether Alice did not like the look of the thing at all. ?But perhaps it was only sobbing,? she thought, and looked into it?s eyes again, to see if there were any tears.? (Wonderland 82) Of course, this is not to imply that Carroll?s works are simply a result of his opium usage, but such evidence and confirmation within the Alice books especially certainly expose such abuse. During the Victorian ages, the upper class looked down upon the Irish and blacks of the lower classes. Both were viewed as unreasonable, irrational, easily excited, and child like. The cook took the cauldron of soup off the fire, and at once set to work throwing every thing within her reach at the Duchess and the baby — the fire-irons came first; then followed a shower of saucepans, plates, and dishes. . . ‘If everyone minded their own business’, the Duchess said, in a hoarse growl, ‘the world would go round a deal faster than it does’. . . ‘Which would not be an advantage’, said Alice, who felt very glad to get an opportunity of showing off a little of her knowledge. ‘Just think of what work it would make of day and night! You see the earth takes 24 hours to turn round on its axis’. . . ‘Talking of axes’, said the Duchess, ‘chop off their heads!’ (Wonderland 48) This passage from Alice in Wonderland is ?almost identical to Herbert Spencer?s argument that ?intellectual traits of the uncivilized?are the traits recurring in the children of the civilized??(Kelly 52). Lewis Carroll presents a reality from a child?s extreme fantasy in which adults are cruel, childlike, irresponsible, impulsive, and self-indulgent. These adjectives are almost identical to how the Victorian upper class attributed to the Blacks and lower class. While the cook is hurling pans, the ignorant Duchess mistakes the work ?axis? for ?axed? and orders Alice?s decapitation. Carroll is using the traits that are labeled to the lower class to describe the same trait in which the more authoritative class shows. ?With these images, Alice in Wonderland, at once views the adult world on a child?s level, questions the authority of adults and of royalty, and mocks commonly held prejudices of its day? (Kelly 215). Obviously, Carroll?s writing is completely fantastic nonsense. Throughout Alice in Wonderland, there are thousands of references to a bizarre fantasy-land. Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet ground in her life: it was all ridges and furrows: the croquet balls were live hedgehogs, and the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches. . . The players all played at once, without waiting for turns, quarreling all the while, and fighting for the hedgehogs, and in a very short time the Queen was in a furious passion, and went stamping about, and shouting ‘Off with his head! ‘ or ‘Off with her head!’ about once a minute. (Wonderland 96, 97) This passage from Alice in Wonderland shows why Alice?s adventures are complete fantasy. ?The relationship between the mad croquet game in the world of the Red Queen and a normal croquet game in Alice?s work in many ways parallels the relationship between Fantasy and Reality,? (Wullschlager 298). This may generally distinguish fantasies from other narratives: ?the very nature of the ground rules, of how we know things?the problem of knowing infects Fantasies on all levels, in their settings, in their methods, in their characters,? (Gardner 149). The ground rules at the Queen?s croquet party were very strange, totally absurd from anything Alice has ever experienced in the real world. The Queen makes it impossible for Alice to know the rules of the game, or even the rules of the country no matter how she tries. To her the rules will always appear illogical and inconsistent. Carroll keeps Alice in a fantastic world by making the character which Alice associates with preposterous, such as talking animals, mythical beasts, and playing rules who follow laws that are totally foreign to Alice. ?The Queen?s party is a perfect synopsis of the way in which unusual settings, methods, and characters in this strange kingdom are what set Alice in Wonderland so sharply apart from realistic modes, and what make it the epitome of fantasy,? (Kelly 134). Being a part of the upper middle class in Victorian England, Carroll?s life was strongly influenced by money, and this is evident in much of his writing. “Tickets, please!” said the Guard, putting his head in at the window. In a moment everybody was holding out a ticket: they were about the same size as the people, and quite seemed to fill the carriage. “Now then! Show your ticket, child!” the Guard went on, looking angrily at Alice. And A great many voices all said together (”like the chorus of a song”, thought Alice) “Don’t keep him waiting, child! Why his time is worth a thousand pounds a minute!” “I’m afraid I haven’t got one,” Alice said in a frightened tone: “there wasn’t a ticket office where I came from.” And again the chorus of voices went on. “There wasn’t room for one where she came from. The land is worth a thousand pounds an inch!..Why the smoke is worth a thousand pounds a puff!…Language is worth a thousand pounds a word!” (Looking, 129-130) Here, Carroll portrays that even in Alice?s imaginary world, with all its oddity, represents all the evils of the adult world in which children were thrown. ?One of only two passages in the Alice books that frankly address capitalism and the monetary value of certain objects, this exert reminds an adult reader how foreign the concept of money, buying and selling, must be to a child, and therefore not only how physically and emotionally taking but also how mentally baffling it must have been for young children of the Victorian era suffering in poverty and working under extreme labor conditions? (Cohen 523). No child should have to think or worry about such things. This is a simple theme coming from Carroll due to his obsession of children. Children often have the misconception that ?money makes the world go round? at an alarmingly young age. Carroll seems to be suggesting that this is startling because most children do not even have a source of income. Alice first encounters a need for money when she is boarding the train, and is reproached for not having a ticket. Carroll is showing that it is not Alice?s fault she has not ticket because she was never given one, and he is making the analogy to the disadvantage which child whom are born into poverty are faced with. ?She is extremely distressed by the unkindness of the passengers, while suffering the unfortunate and irreversible loss of childlike purity and innocence that occurs with each bit of knowledge and awareness gained about money? (Wullschlager 228). In Through the Looking Glass, Alice discusses the nutrition of a bread-and-butterfly with the Gnat. The following exert refers to the Victorian Age?s dwindling food supply. ?Crawling at your feet,? said the Gnat (Alice drew back her feet in some alarm), ?you may observe a Bread-and-butter-fly. Its wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter, its body a is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.? ?And what does it live on?? asked Alice. ?Weak tea with cream in it.? A new difficulty came into Alice?s head. ?Supposing it couldn?t fly away?? she suggested. ?Then it would die, of course.? ?But that must happen very often,? Alice rema- ked thoughtfully. ?It always happens,? said the Gnat. (Looking 135) The bread-and-butter-fly cannot survive without his weak tea and cream, a commodity not easily acquired. Similarly, many poor Victorians faced malnutrition and serious illness because of contaminated food. Deadly poisons and food shortages are issues which may have killed many Looking-Glass butterflies. On Carroll?s side of the looking glass, real people were suffering. Carroll led an extraordinary life during the Victorian age and it is evident that these surroundings gave him the background necessary to be an amazing writer. The diversity with which Carroll was faced throughout his life afforded him the opportunity to base his writing on many of his own experiences. Furthermore, he was capable of relating otherwise difficult themes in a consistently playful manner, composing numerous stories that will live forever, touching the lives of all that read them. As Carroll put himself into all of his works, so to does the reader become integrated in his fantastic tales.