This week’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course comes from a familiar face, David Costello. For David’s second post on our blog, he turns his eye to Alice in Wonderland and the often nonsensical nature of growing up.
By David Costello
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.
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.
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.
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.
David is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.