The last of our guest entries from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course comes from Nicole Georges, who takes us back to Wonderland one last time to ask questions about identity, childhood, and adulthood.
By Nicole Georges
Charles Dodgson, or better known as Lewis Carroll, was a man who never quite grew up from his childlike mindset. Literary sources tell us that he was constantly entertaining children and enjoyed spending time with their uncultivated and inspired minds that saw no bounds or limits. In his tale Alice in Wonderland, he created a literary world full of nonsense and imagination that is parallel to the mind of a child. From the very first scene where Alice is with the Rabbit, Carroll transports his readers to a state of idyllic childhood innocence, where nothing has to be explained, just accepted to be true. Much like the mindset of a child, children do not always understand why things are happening the way they are, but they accept them as undeniable truths because they have no reason not to. They have a trust for society inherently, just as Alice accepts the abnormalities of Wonderland.
Carroll has created the childlike playground of Wonderland to comment on the loss of childhood innocence, for Alice’s lack of identity is a direct juxtaposition to highlight the knowing from the unknown. The structure of Carroll’s story is reminiscent to the mind of a child; it is divergent, not structured, and accepts the idea of the absurd. Unlike other fairy-tales of the period, this book appeals to the mind of the child, rather than the adult. Roni Natov, author of The Persistence of Alice, shows how Carroll uses Alice as not only a motif for coming into adulthood, but also as a metaphor for society as she is described with a “need to define, limit, control the chaos of so many of the Wonderland situations”, which can translate to the rigid societal rules that govern our own behaviors as adults (Natov, 55). There is an “overriding concern… about adolescent preooccupation with identity” in Carroll’s piece that translates with the innocence of children and the transition to adulthood because Alice concerns most of her thoughts with understanding who she is and what she knows (Natov, 55). She has no clear sense of her identity throughout the entire story; she finds it difficult to characterize herself to others, especially when she comes in contact with the caterpillar. As he questions who she is, she “hardly know[s]” for all she can think of is that she “knew who [she] was when [she] got up this morning, but [she] think[s] [she] must have been changed several times since then” (Carroll, 41).
This story serves as an expression of self-discovery; what it is like to have the mindset of a child, yet the social responsibility of an adult. It causes me to wonder if this is a similar dichotomy that Carroll also felt—the pressure to grow up, when it made so much more sense to stay in the adolescent and youthful mind frame of a child. I hope that it is as Carroll said, that as adults we still are able to “find a pleasure in all [our] simple joys, remembering [our] own child-life, and the happy summer days” for those are the times when the world just seemed to make more sense (Carroll, 110).
Nicole is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.