Thursday, February 7

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland plays with conventions of being a child in the very rigid adult world of Victorian England. Alice’s place as a child in Victorian England is to be seen and not heard. She must observe many particular behaviors and her education is made up of methodical verse memorizations and a very hierarchical system of rules and manners. Her adventure in Wonderland sideslips her into a world where she is able to interact with the other characters as an equal rather than as a proper, submissive Victorian child.

I can’t read this text without noticing the nature of Alice’s conversations with the other creatures in Wonderland. They are often composed of presumptuous, demanding, or officious questions, followed by answers that are either non sequiturs or that seem downright hostile. Take for instance, Alice’s conversation with the frog Footman on page 69. “‘How am I to get in?” asked Alice again, in a louder tone. ‘Are you to get in at all?’ said the Footman. ‘That’s the first question, you know.’” The frog’s answer reminds the reader that Alice is rather presumptuous to just assume she can enter this house, which happens to belong to the Duchess. She is, in fact, behaving quite improperly for a Victorian child, for no proper little Victorian girl would march up to a Duchess’s house and demand entry. Wonderland, however, is not governed by these same rules, and Alice simply curses the frog for being argumentative. A moment later she asks him, “‘But what am I to do?’” to which he responds, “‘Anything you like.’” This phrase is definition of Alice’s Wonderland; it is a place wherein she can do whatever she pleases. She can walk right into the Duchess’s house unannounced and unintroduced and begin asking questions about the Cheshire Cat and dispensing childcare advise to the Duchess.

Alice and the Footman’s conversation also plays with children’s perceptions of adults. The first description of this very formal Footman is that he is a frog, and he receives a message from an equally formal fish, and the two are very rigid in stature and wear powdered wigs that get “entangled together” when they both bow at the same time, causing Alice to laugh (67). To a child, such formality in adults would seem just as absurd if the participants were human as if they were a frog and a fish. Through Alice, the reader gets to laugh at the silly rituals that are part of proper society.

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