We continue our series of guest posts from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s Golden Age of Children’s Literature class with a post from Alexander Broatch. Alexander traces Alice’s attempts to make meaning out of the nonsense of Wonderland.
By Alexander Broatch
The world known as Wonderland created by Lewis Carroll for his novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is a place where many things do not make sense. Wonderland is a fantasy world that is completely different from our own, where nonsense actually makes plenty of sense and animals have the ability to speak. Undoubtedly, the average person setting foot in such a place would be absolutely baffled by its inhabitants and their surroundings. Thus, the average person would be considered an outsider or out of place if they were one day pulled out of their own world and thrown into Wonderland. Alice is a perfect example of a character that does not belong in Wonderland. She is constantly confused by the new customs introduced to her with every Wonderland inhabitant she meets and she often tries to “correct” them by incorporating her own customs. Therefore, in order to understand the absurdity in this eccentric world, the reader needs a guide or, more specifically, a character that should not exist in Wonderland.
Although one can assume that Alice is aware that she does not belong in Wonderland, she still attempts to fit in by communicating with the inhabitants of Wonderland. Unfortunately for Alice, most of the times she tries to talk with the Wonderland inhabitants they ignore her or are too focused on something else to pay any attention to her. One could make a direct connection of Alice’s attempts to communicate with the Wonderland characters to a child attempting to speak to her parents, sit amongst adults, or try to join in on a conversation with a group. Alice fears losing her existence and, in one instance, literally believes she would disappear by shrinking after consuming the food of Wonderland. However, her existence remains intact after she narrowly escapes vanishing by simply shrinking to a miniature size.
Like Alice, children often put an effort to make their opinion matter and struggle to belong to a group. However, like most characters in Wonderland, they respond to Alice’s approaches by shrugging her off and focus on their own activities. Therefore, Alice’s role in Wonderland becomes meaningless as she is constantly shunned by the Wonderland inhabitants. For example, the White Rabbit is the first character Alice encounters and the one who constantly ignores her because being punctual is way more important than talking to a strange little girl. The White Rabbit eventually acknowledges Alice, only to confuse her for its maid, Mary Ann. Despite the mix-up, she complies and obediently follows the rabbit’s orders to fetch its white gloves and a fan from its house. Although, her role as “Alice” is not established and she is referred to as “Mary Ann” by the White Rabbit, Alice believes she had gained a role in Wonderland by running this errand.
In addition, her encounter with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare made it quite clear that Alice was not needed. As the scene is established, Carroll makes it blatantly obvious that the “table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it,” yet despite the fact that there is plenty of chairs for Alice to sit, the Hatter and the Hare cry out that there is no room (18). Despite the initial rejection, Alice decides to sit in the large arm-chair and attempts to gain a role in the tea party. Unfortunately, the Hatter and Hare are everything but nice to Alice. The Hatter and Hare are rude, sarcastic, and even confuse Alice with their words and actions. Finally, they bluntly point out that she is an unwelcome guest which compels Alice to leave in disgust. Their claim that she is not invited seems to expand to more than just their mad tea party and may indicate that she’s an unwanted guest in Wonderland as well.
The customs introduced in Wonderland are more than absurd and ridiculous to Alice who has already grown habituated to the customs of her own world. She attempts to accentuate her role in Wonderland by pointing out the flaws in their customs and makes attempts to teach them the “right way” to do it. There really is not much of a debate when it comes to imploring your argument, but the Wonderland characters tend to ignore or at times find an absurd excuse to justify their personalities. If Alice truly wanted to exist among the people of Wonderland, she would most likely accept their customs and act more like them. However, one can argue that Alice’s purpose in Wonderland is not to become a Wonderland inhabitant, but to show the nonsensical world through the eyes of an average little girl. It can be inferred that once Alice acknowledges that she does not belong in Wonderland, she wakes up in her own world. A world she belongs in.
Alexander is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.