P2 for Peer Review

Lauren Hanks

Lewis Carroll

Professor Jerome Bump

November 23, 2015


In some areas of my analysis of the two Alice books, I feel like I didn’t do enough close reading. I don’t want to fall into the trap of summarizing rather than analyzing. If there’s a particular area you see that needs more close reading, mention that in the critique. Thanks!

The Humor of Lewis Carroll: Did He Just Say That?

“[Alice] drew her foot as far down the chimney as she could, and waited till she heard a little animal … scratching and scrambling about in the chimney close above her: then, saying to herself, ‘This is Bill,’ she gave one sharp kick.”[1] The audacity! When I first read this passage from Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was horrified, filled with shock that a sweet, seven-year-old girl would brutally kick a poor lizard out of a chimney. It was only after the fact that I realized Carroll intended for this moment to elicit amusement from his young audience, not outrage. When reading Alice’s tales, one may notice that Carroll’s style of humor frequently adopts a sadistic tone. Interestingly, such dark humor is not confined to his fictional work.

Published in 1865 and 1871, respectively, Carroll’s renowned works, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Look-Glass and What Alice Found There, represent two of the most majestic and thought-provoking novels for children. The stories’ pure originality develops in many ways, from their fantastical application of mathematics and logic to their particular brand of humor. Though Carroll’s humor often derives from an excessive display of nonsense (the backbone of Alice’s tales), it occasionally manifests a degree of sadism. Such dark humor does not merely appear in Wonderland but also arises in Charles Dodgson’s personal letters throughout his life. In considering Carroll’s private application of dark wit, along with its appearance in Alice, one may contend that Carroll accompanies humor with pain and death to mitigate the gloomy notion of our inevitable mortality for children.

Texts at Harry Ransom Center provide evidence of the role casual cruelty played in Dodgson’s personal correspondence throughout his life. To begin, the HRC offers a thorough compilation of his private letters in its Warren Weaver collection. Though often given without extensive context, the documents provide insight into Dodgson’s propensity for dark humor. In fact, within his family, such a propensity does not solely reside with him but may originate from his father, the Reverend Charles Dodgson. In January of 1840, Dodgson Senior, while away from home, received a note of request from his eight-year-old son for a file, screwdriver, and ring. In answering his letter, Reverend Dodgson assures young Charles that his wish will be fulfilled:

As soon as I get to Leeds I shall scream out in the middle of the street, Ironmongers,

Ironmongers… I WILL have a file and a screw driver, and a ring, and if they are not

brought directly, in forty seconds, I will leave nothing but one small cat alive in the

whole Town of Leeds, and I shall only leave that, because I am afraid I shall not have

time to kill it.[2]

The father goes on to describe how, until such items are brought, chaos will reign with the “tearing of hair” and “fat geese trying to squeeze themselves into pencil cases.” While his outlandish prose gives insight into the origins of Carroll’s nonsensical writings, it also includes quite a few references to sadistic behavior. For instance, Dodgson Sr. threatens to destroy the entire town if his demands go unmet. The violence appears particularly brutal, for three small trifles serve as “sufficient” instigation for such destruction. Moreover, Dodgson bluntly declares that a single cat will remain, simply because he has no time “to kill it.” While the Reverend is, of course, joking with hyperbolic depravity, the fact remains that he’s writing to his son, only eight years old at the time. According to one Carrollian scholar, Cornell Professor Phyllis Greenacre, the father’s letter “burlesques the terrible importance of the child’s wants, so that the whole town shall be torn down before the father will go back empty-handed.”[3] However, it seems remiss to consider Dodgson Sr.’s words as simply a mockery of his son’s requests without considering other implications. In relation to the letter, Greenacre also comments, “It is apparent that Lewis Carroll had a firm foundation of his sense of fantastic fun in the early years.”[4] However, it seems unlikely that Charles’s “sense of fantastic fun” directly correlated to overt violence, as no evidence suggests that Charles Sr. or Charles Jr. viewed violence with enjoyment. Rather, their use of lethal violence in their writings goes beyond “fantastic fun” to something more meaningful. For instance, humor often serves as a common method for coping with life’s more serious issues, death included. Thus, by referencing death in jest, Charles’s father lightens the preconceived severity it maintains in the eyes of a young boy, employing comedy as an outlet for fear.

In the footsteps of his father, Dodgson Jr. also includes allusions to death and pain in his humor, evidenced by his letters to children, such as Hallam Tennyson and Agnes Hughes.

A photograph of Hallam Tennyson by Charles Dodgson



In January of 1862, Hallam, a young friend of Dodgson’s and an occasional subject of his photography, received a letter from him in reference to a knife Dodgson gave him as a present:

I am glad you liked the knife…perhaps you have begun to use it by this time: if you were allowed to cut your finger with it, once a week, just a little, you know, till it began to bleed, and a good deep cut every birthday, I should think that would be enough.[6]

The relationship between Hallam and Dodgson must have been quite well founded for his suggestions to come across as funny, rather than perverse. Dodgson’s sarcasm may derive from the reality that Hallam, a rambunctious young boy, will accidently cut himself at some point. Thus, by directly suggesting he do so repeatedly, Dodgson prepares him for the inevitable, albeit much less extreme, occurrence. Beyond their sarcastic nature, Dodgson’s words allude to the eventual acceptance of pain, almost as an unavoidable part of life. Curiously, he ends his proposition with “that would be enough.” However, his lack of explanation prompts many questions: It would be enough for what? Enough to recognize the dangers of a knife? To learn the reality of pain? His true meaning, as it often does, remains a mystery.

In addition to the encouragement of self-harm, dark wit appears in another letter by Dodgson to a young girl by the name of Agnes Hughes.

A photograph of Agnes Hughes by Charles Dodgson



In 1871, he wrote to her of a fantastical incident in which three cats knocked on his door:

Why, they were three cats! Wasn’t it curious? However, they all looked so cross and disagreeable that I took up the first thing I could lay my hand on (which happened to be the rolling-pin) and knocked them all down as flat as pancakes! ‘If you come knocking at my door,’ I said, ‘I shall come knocking at your heads.’ That was fair, wasn’t it?[8]

In contrast to his commentary on Hallam’s knife, Dodgson randomly begins this tale simply for the purpose of entertaining young Agnes. For Dodgson, the curious appearance of three cats and their consequential beating serve as viable material for children’s humor. Ultimately, the complete absurdity of the incident supersedes the indifferent brutality of his actions. The rhetorical question at the end of his account, “That was fair, wasn’t it?,” further establishes the sarcastic nature of the content. Another Carrollian scholar even classifies this letter as a “good example of the wild and delightful nonsense with which Lewis Carroll used to amuse his friends.”[9] Nevertheless, readers should consider Dodgson’s motivation behind writing such a savage account. As later letters reveal, the three cats do indeed survive.[10] Under the “umbrella of nonsense,”[11] Dodgson’s words indirectly suggest that if three cats, squished into pancakes, can elude death, then young boys, almost as impervious to damage, shouldn’t worry. Thus, perhaps he incorporates animal cruelty in conjunction with humor to alleviate the gravity of suffering and death, for despite their terrible odds, the cats live to see another day.

Before delving into Alice, it’s important to note that Victorian authors for children did not avoid the subject of death as modern writers do. In a poll conducted by the Pall Mall Gazette in July of 1898, the most popular books for children included Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairytales, and Robinson Crusoe.[12] Alice has nothing on Grimm’s tales, of course, which often include dying, deceased, or murdered characters, and in his tale, Robinson Crusoe encounters nations of native cannibals, a good number of whom he kills. Even the pre-Victorian mother of morality, Sarah Trimmer, included death in her didactic tales for children. For instance, in her influential novel, Fabulous Histories (1786), she recounts the demise of a poor mother robin at the cruel hands of young boys.[13] Additionally, in Elementary English, an educational journal for English teachers, scholar Judith Moss, confirms, “Writers of the [19th] century reflected in their works the high rates of infant and young-adult mortality. Further, they reflected the fact that children were not shielded from death scenes and funerals as they are today.”[14] Children in the Victorian era could not avoid the reality of death entirely as it surrounded their physical reality. Thus, authors of children literature did not shy away from addressing such issues. Rather, they used often the guise of “enchantment to create ways for children to survive in an otherwise cruel and deadly Victorian world.”[15] Few authors did this better than Lewis Carroll, the master of enchantment. His incorporation of death, evident in his humor, offers young readers a very unique, non-threatening perception of mortality.

While Dodgson employs sadistic wit in his letters to young children, his alter persona, Lewis Carroll, does the same, but with a much wider audience. In his brilliant tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, one manifestation of his unique humor emerges from the Duchess’s lullaby.

An illustration of the Duchess’s house by John Tenniel



During her journey, Alice enters the home of a Duchess, where she hears the Duchess singing to her baby:

[S]he began nursing her child again, singing a sort of lullaby to it as she did so, and giving it a violent shake at the end of every line: ‘Speak roughly to your little boy, / And beat him when he sneezes: / He only does it to annoy, / Because he knows it teases.’[17]

While the verse is a parody of the morally didactic poem, “Speak Gently,” by David Bates, [18] it still appears alarmingly abusive. Comedic surprise develops from the juxtaposition of the poem’s classification as a “lullaby” (i.e. a soothing song) and its disturbing content. Furthermore, physical brutality augments the poetic assault as the Duchess “violent[ly] shake[s]” her baby throughout her recitation of the verse, the child’s pain evident upon his crying face in Tenniel’s illustration of the event. Though Carroll’s parody may humorously deride the excessively sweet nature of some Victorian lullabies, the Duchess’s maltreatment of her child by “shak[ing],” “tossing,” and “flinging” him reaches an unprecedented level of severity.[19] Though such abuse would potentially result in death in the real world, Carroll does not kill the child but turns him into a pig.[20] Similar to the unexpected durability of the three cats in Dodgson’s letter to young Agnes, the baby’s survival softens the severity of suffering and mortality in the eyes of children. Additionally, in her analysis of Carroll, Greenacre comments, “But in general, the sadism of the Adventures is so outspoken and so grotesque a caricature that it protects rather than stimulates.”[21] The duchess’s cruel lullaby does not evoke outrage but humor, for Carroll oversteps the strict confines of humans’ mortal limitations, using magic as a loophole.

For many readers, when considering Carroll, humor, and death, the first idea to come to mind would naturally be the Red Queen’s mantra, “Off with their heads!” After all, the Queen’s cry for multiple beheadings represents a primary source of amusement due to the contrast between her adamant demands and her total lack of follow-through. Even in Tenniel’s illustration, the Queen of Hearts appears humorously ridiculous.

An illustration of the Queen of Hearts by John Tenniel



During her time with the Queen, Alice becomes the victim of her fury, but she refuses to abide by the Queen’s ridiculous orders. Through suggestive syntax, Carroll conveys the novel’s view of death:

The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at [Alice] for a moment like a wild beast, screamed ‘Off with her head! Off— ’

‘Nonsense!’ said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.[23]

Through Alice’s interruption of the Queen’s murderous orders with the exclamation, “Nonsense!,” Carroll cleverly surmises the meaning of death in Alice: death is nonsense. Alice may experience temporary fear of a white Rabbit, a raving mad Hatter, or a royal procession, but in the face of death, she fearlessly unmasks its true nature.[24] In fact, Carroll may be trying to tell his young readers that fearing death is ultimately nonsensical, for we cannot avoid our mortality. We must simply journey through Wonderland and make the most of our adventures.

Carroll further depicts death as nonsensical when the Queen, King, and executioner argue over the beheading of the Cheshire-Cat. Deeply offended by the cat’s refusal to kiss his hand, the King demands the animal’s execution. However, because only the cat’s head appears, an argument ensues as to the logistics of a beheading:

The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from…The King’s argument was that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense. The Queen’s argument was that, if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time, she’d have everybody executed, all round.[25]

Carroll interweaves humor, logic, and death to produce a witty ensemble of ideas, all culminating in a ridiculous discussion on killing. While the subject of their argument – the beheading of the Cheshire-Cat – is quite serious, the characters’ bizarre dialogue elicits amusement, not fear, from the audience. This complies with Greenacre’s commentary that “the sadism of the Adventures is so outspoken and so grotesque a caricature that it protects rather than stimulates,” for what is more “outspoken” and “grotesque” than an open discussion of a cat’s execution in front of the animal, itself? Tenniel’s illustration further supports Greenacre’s deduction as it visually highlights the absurd nature of the characters’ debate. The Queen appears with her bottom lip sticking out in a petulant pout, and the surrounding court members look on in humorous shock with their mouths in the shape of small Os.

An illustration of the court and Cheshire-Cat by John Tenniel



All the while, the Cheshire-Cat looks down upon them with an enigmatic grin, suggesting that he does not fear his potential execution. He eludes death by having a head with no body – a possibility allowed by magic. In this fantastical world, death holds little power, as childish nonsense reigns.

In addition to Alice’s Adventures, Through the Looking-Glass offers multiple instances of Carroll’s dark humor. The sequel begins with a lighthearted tone, as Alice plays with her little black kitten. However, when the kitten unravels her ball of worsted, Alice responds with a flippant death threat:

‘Do you know, I was so angry, Kitty,’ Alice went on, as soon as they were comfortably settled again, ‘when I saw all the mischief you had been doing, I was very nearly opening the window, and putting you out into the snow! And you’d have deserved it, you little mischievous darling!’[27]

Alice’s subtly violent words starkly contrast with Tenniel’s illustration which radiates innocence and purity.









An illustration of Alice and the black kitten by John Tenniel


As the two companions snuggle in the cushioned chair, Alice declares that just moments before she had considered throwing the kitten out into the snow (into certain death). However, such teasing amuses, rather than frightens, the reader because both Carroll and Tenniel go to great lengths to establish a comfortable, safe setting. Alice only makes her dark threat after she and the kitty are “comfortably settled again,” and she refers to the kitten as her “mischievous darling,” an endearing moniker. Similarly, Tenniel depicts the two lounging in a large, cozy chair with no window in sight. The verbal and visual rhetoric suggest that no real danger exists. Rather, Carroll’s casual reference to mortality leads the reader to disregard death as a current possibility.

As the narrative progress, one can find further evidence of Carroll’s dark humor. For instance, the “battle” between Tweedledum and Tweedledee is rife with such comedy. To prepare for battle, the two brothers don their armor of miscellaneous household items, from “bolsters,” “blankets,” and “hearth-rugs” to “table-cloths, dish-covers, and coal-scuttles.”[29]

An illustration of Tweedledee and Tweedledum by John Tenniel



As Alice helps Tweedledee put a bolster around his neck, he informs her of the importance of protecting one’s neck: “‘You know,’ he added very gravely, ‘it’s one of the most serious things that can possible happen to one in a battle—to get one’s head cut off.’”[31] In response, Alice “laughed loud: but she managed to turn it into a cough, for fear of hurting his feelings.”[32] Once again, Carroll uses the threat of lethal violence to create humor. Tweedledee’s ridiculous understatement on decapitation places death in a somewhat humorous light. Complementing such dialogue, Tenniel’s illustration presents a laughable depiction of the two brothers in which they look more like stationary marshmallows than armed fighters. The entire episode may remind modern readers of the violent, yet ultimately harmless, shenanigans generated by Wile E. Coyote and the Three Stooges. Similar to these shows, the twin brothers’ outrageous guises and comical dialogue supersede the underlying violence of the situation. Subsequently, Alice responds to Tweedledee’s silly understatement by laughing, just as children did then and now. Moreover, just as the roadrunner and the three stooges never died, neither Tweedledee nor Tweedledum gets his head cut off. Carroll burlesques the notion of decapitation, using humor to assure his young readers that such an occurrence remains unlikely to befall them. In this way, death becomes a subject of amusement for young readers, easing their budding fears of mortality.

This slapstick, yet dark, form of humor reappears in Carroll’s description of the White Knight. Alice and the reader witness one catastrophe after another, as the Knight falls off his horse in every way possible:

‘The great art of riding,’ the Knight suddenly began in a loud voice, waving his right arm as he spoke, ‘is to keep—’ Here the sentence ended as suddenly as it had began, as the Knight fell heavily on the top of his head exactly in the path where Alice was walking.[33]

Humor arises from the fact that the Knight falls during his recitation of what encompasses the “the great art of riding.” Obviously, he is not a master at the great art. Furthermore, just as the Duchess’s abuse of her infant may have been fatal in the real world, the Knight’s headfirst fall would surely have resulted in severe spinal injury, if not immediate death. However, in the story the Knight simply gets up and reassures Alice that he didn’t break any bones. His indestructible nature reflects that of young children, capable of bouncing back from almost anything. Carroll couples humor and pain to once again diminish the harshness of death for young children. After seeing a Knight fall on his head, on his back, and into a ditch yet still remain alive, adolescent readers are disinclined to see death as some imminent doom.

Overall, an examination of Lewis Carroll’s personal letters and published novels for children reveal his generous application of dark humor. Though death represents an accepted subject for children’s literature during the Victorian era, Carroll’s unique incorporation of human mortality intertwines closely with humor. Perhaps emulating his father, Carroll plays upon the death and suffering of children and animals as a comedic medium. While such prose initially seems perversely sadistic, further consideration suggests that Carroll uses cruel humor to alter a child’s perception of death. Instead of portraying death as a fear-inducing fate, he outwits it, calling it nonsense. Death may serve as the conclusion of all mortals, but children should not dwell upon the severity of the inevitable. They should enjoy life. They should laugh.


Word Count with Quotations: 3,586

Word Count without Quotations: 2,807

[1] Lewis Carroll. The Annotated Alice. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2000), 43-44.

[2] Morton Cohen, ed., The Letters of Lewis Carroll Vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 4.

[3] Phyllis Greenacre, Swift and Carroll: A Psychoanalytic Study of Two Lives (New York: International Universities Press, 1995), 128.

[4] Greenacre, Swift, 128.

[5] Charles Dodgson, “Hallam Tennyson,” in Photograph Album 5, Weld Album. (HRC, 1850-1860), 19.

[6] Cohen, The Letters, 53.

[7] Charles Dodgson, “Agnes Hughes,” in Album 3 (Photographs Vol. III). (HRC, circa 1859-1875), 65.

[8] Cohen, The Letters, 160.

[9] Stuart D. Collingwood. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll. (New York: The Century Co., 1898), 420.

[10] Cohen, The Letters, 162.

[11] Greenacre, Swift, 261.

[12] Anne Lundin. “Victorian Horizons: The Reception of Children’s Books in England and America, 1880-1900,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 64.1 (1994): 30-59, 41.

[13] Sarah Trimmer. The History of The Robins. (New York: D.C. Heath & Co., 1869), 36-37.

[14] Judith Moss. “Death in Children’s Literature,” Elementary English 49.4 (1972): 530-532, 530.

[15] Marvin Sasser. “Advent of Denial of Death in Children’s Literature.” (Electronic Theses & Dissertations, 2008).

[16] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 60.

[17] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 62.

[18] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 62, note 4.

[19] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 62.

[20] Carroll, Annotated Alice 64.

[21] Greenacre, Swift, 258.

[22] Carroll, Annotated Alice 82.

[23] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 82.

[24] Carroll, Annotated Alice, (Rabbit) 40, (Hatter) 67, (procession) 81.

[25] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 88-89.

[26] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 88.

[27] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 139.

[28] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 139.

[29] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 191.

[30] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 192.

[31] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 191-92.

[32] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 192.

[33] Carroll, Annotated Alice, 239.



1. “Parents will often give their child a special totem animal, such as a teddy bear, for protection. Through the child’s belief in the animal she holds in her hands, she’s unwittingly calling in the spirit of that animal and its associated powers” (328).

Mind blown. I never realized the deeper significance behind stuffed animals! But this passage really makes sense. I always imagined that the gentle softness of my childhood stuffed animals provided the emotional/physical comfort, but it really goes beyond that, doesn’t it? I never had stuff toys shaped like humans or foods or plants. They were always animals. I carried a stuffed golden lab named Silly Sally (don’t ask) for years as a child. I distinctly remember picking her out at Toys“R”Us and carefully choosing a name for her. It was a huge ordeal. In reflection, there were even very specific dog-like characteristics I associated with her (e.g. kindness, cheerfulness, obedience, etc.). Totems really do exist in all walks and times of life.

Silly Sally - not an exact replica but close enough
Silly Sally – not an exact replica but close enough

2. “Most ancient societies studied the natural world in order to understand the supernatural. Gods and goddesses were often depicted as animals” (333).

This passage reminded me of the mythology I’ve read in which gods possess the ability to transform into animals – such as the Greek Zeus, who turns into a white bull and a swan during his dalliances with human women and the Norse god/trickster Loki who turned into a horse and a fish upon two occasions. Even in Christianity, the Holy Spirit is often represented as a white dove.

Europa (human) upon a white bull (Zeus)
Europa (human) upon a white bull (Zeus)
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit


1. “Joe Shiner said if that steer loved his home enough to walk back to it all the way from Wyoming, he wasn’t going to drive him off again” (387).

I continue to be amazed by the intense loyalty and persistence of animals. In addition to Sancho’s tale, I’ve heard numerous stories about the extraordinary lengths to which animals go in order to maintain their loyalty to their human companions and their home. My favorite is the amazing story of Hachiko, a dog who, for nine years, waited for his deceased owner at a train station. Even though Hachiko perhaps waited due to his inability to comprehend the death of his owner, his constant loyalty is still inspiring. Imagine if we, as humans, applied a 1/3 of such perseverance and love to our lives?

Bronze statue commemorating Hachiko in Tokyo
Bronze statue commemorating Hachiko in Tokyo

2. “Hindu scriptures tell us that the cow is a gift of the gods to the human race. It is a celestial being born of the churning of the cosmic ocean” (428).

Wow, I knew Hindus considered cows as sacred, but I never understood the depth of their reverence. The disparity between the treatment of cows in the west and in the east astounds me. While the reading covers the spiritual significance of cows from Egyptian to Celtic mythology, all I can think about is the brutal indifference we often show cows in America. While I’m not ready to light protective fires and fashion cows with ornaments like the Nuer people did (417) or give up leather shoes like the Jains (427), I definitely believe a middle ground can be reached in the west. Cows do provide us with significant assets, and we should appreciate their contribution.

Hindu follower prays to a sacred cow
Hindu follower prays to a sacred cow

Indian Mutiny part 2

1. “Mrs. Kirke … had that instant seen her husband [Dr. Winlow Kirke] shot before her eyes; and on her crying ‘Kill me too!’ they answered, ‘No, we have killed you in killing him.’ They spared her little boy” (Anthology 906).

I know that this is not the main point of the reading, but I couldn’t help but react strongly to the individual representations provided in this account of the Indian rebels’ attack on an English family. First off, the rebels declared that in killing Mrs. Kirke’s husband, they killed her, as well. How terrible for a women’s very survival to be so dependent upon her husband! Could she truly not survive without a man in the 19th century society of imperial Britain? Secondly, why is Mrs. Kirke asking to die?! She has a son who’s standing right next to her. Is her financial, emotional, or social despair at losing her husband so great that it eclipses her maternal instincts?

As an outside party living in the 21st century who didn’t have to witness the death of loved ones, I, of course, can afford to be judgmental, but I really did have issues with this passage.

2. John Nicholson, quoted in John Kaye, History of the Sepoy War in India: “It is necessary to all Eastern lands to establish a fear and awe of the Government…” (Anthology 909).

Nicholson ends his account with this line, using it as one justification for showing no mercy to the Indian rebels who murdered the women and children at Delhi. By painfully punishing the rebels, Nicholson hopes to achieve obedience and submission through fear. To maintain power through fear or love is often a question which those in power must consider. In Tim Burton’s Alice, the Red Queen ponders this very issue, and after she discovers that those in her court have been deceiving her, she tells her henchman, “You’re right Stayne. It is far better to be feared than loved.” Because the Red Queen is the “bad guy” in the film, Burton suggests that using fear is not the correct method. However, returning to the English and Indian rebels, Nicholosn is also promoting the use of ruling through fear due to the atrocities that the rebels committed. Does this make it an acceptable exception?

The Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton's Alice film
The Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton’s Alice film

3. Sita Ram, From Sepoy to Subedar: “The prisoners were to be shot at four o’clock in the afternoon and I must be my son’s executioner!” (Anthology 910).

This horrific account of Sita Ram, an Indian solider in the British army, who had to beg not to kill his own mutinous son, reminded me of the Civil War in America. Family members fought against one another to prove their loyalty to either the Union or the Confederacy. It seems almost worse for Ram. Here he is, in his own country of India, and he’s forced to prove his loyalty to the imperialistic English Government by not just killing his own people but potentially his son, as well.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 3.36.15 PM
American Civil War

4. Thomas Babington Macaulay, Life and Letters: “But [it] is painful to be so revengeful as I feel myself … [S]hall we not hold human life generally cheaper than we have done? Having brought ourselves to exult in the misery of the guilty, shall we not feel less sympathy for the sufferings of the innocent?” (Anthology 911).

I really liked Thomas Macaulay’s account because he seemed very sincere and pensive with his thoughts. While he acknowledged his own desire for retribution against the Indian rebels, he also considered the moral ramifications on the English people. He poses a difficult question. Honestly, if hundreds of American women and children were murdered, I would possibly want revenge, too.

Also, this account reminded me a little bit of Carroll’s discussion on vivisection. Yes, one can argue that there are justifications for experimenting on animals, but what about the moral souls of those doing the experiments?

11/10 Indian Mutiny: Banquet Scene

1. “The dominant group or social fear in this situation appears to be that basic fear of all those who try to control others: fear of the mutiny of those who have been subordinate” (Anthology 979).

When reading this passage, I was reminded of the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, particularly the scene in which Caesar (the animal protagonist) leads an uprising of monkeys who’ve endured experimentation. I remember sitting in the theatre as the scene progressed and actually feeling an unexpected fear of such a mutiny.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

2. “Chapattis circulated mysteriously through the northern regions, perhaps as a secret message, during the first few months of 1857” (Anthology 890).

This line seemed so random and unexplained that I was compelled to research the issue further. An article by Mike Dash on Smithsonian.com described the occurrence. Apparently, chapattis, loaves of Indian unleavened bread, were carried from one village to another in the early months of 1857. Though they provided no explicit message, the breads were seen as a “culinary chain letter” (Dash). British officials made several inquiries as to the source and meaning of the “movement,” but only theories surfaced. After the Mutiny of 1857, it was generally believed that the circulation of the breads had been a warning; however, the article concludes, “The irony is that all this effort actually supplied historians with evidence that chupatty movement had nothing at all to do with the outbreak of disorder some months later …[but] was nothing more than a bizarre coincidence” (Dash). Even though the article said that the two incidents were unrelated, I find it difficult to believe that potentially thousands of Indians would circulate bread for no ostensible reason. I think that in times of suppression and surveillance, people find extremely creative ways to communicate.

Chipatti bread
Chapatti bread

3. “The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked” (Anthology 903).

I think that there’s a lot of truth to the idea that the bourgeois act respectable at home but turn vicious when abroad or out in public. In fact, I think it may be a coping mechanism to a certain extent. In order to betray, suppress, and beat other people, one would need to create some sort of justification for their actions, and what better justification is there than the safety and financial health of one’s family?

I’ve seen multiple mob/gangster films where mob bosses are these generous, loving family men at home yet violent, brutal criminals on the street. Actually, after I read this passage in the anthology, I immediately thought of The Godfather, when Michael Corleone is attending his nephew’s baptism while his henchman are killing off other mob bosses under his order.

4. “Before being taken out to the gallows, each [rebel Indian solider] was forced to clean up with his own hands or to lick up a small square of dried blood from the courtyard pavement where the prisoners had been slaughtered — an appalling pollution for a high-caste Hindu, as most of the sepoys were” (Anthology 943).

This passage details the punishment endured by Indian rebel troops who participated in the massacre at Bibighar, where more than 200 British women and children prisoners were killed (943). While the description of the Bibighar massacre was truly horrific, mentioning the remaining “blood…and shreds of women’s clothing and clumps of hair,” the punishments enforced by the British seem almost equally sickening. In defiling the Hindu sepoys by forcing them to clean up or lick blood, the British simply perpetuated the merciless cycle of brutality and cruelty. In their mind, the Indian rebels stole the lives of British women and children, so, in turn, they stole their spiritual purity. Violence begets violence.

HRC Analysis of Window Artwork

Caricature of Arthur Wing Pinero by Max Beerbohm, 1906

Photo at HRC
Photo at HRC
Print version
Print version
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Pinero Portrait

Max Beerbohm, an English parodist, often drew caricatures of late Victorian political, literary, and theatrical personalities. One of his subjects was Arthur Pinero, a contemporary English actor and director. I was drawn to this window image because of the physical impossibilities of the man’s frame. His elongated nose, enormous eyebrows, and tiny feet reminded me of Carroll’s manipulation of bodily size in Alice. From her serpentine neck to her giant growth, Alice takes on similarly nonsensical forms in Tenniel’s illustrations. Additionally, Tim Burton’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter also came to mind when considering the caricature. However, I think the primary effect between the art of Beerbohm and that of Tenniel and Burton differs. While Beerbohm’s caricature exaggerates Pinero’s actually large nose and eyebrows for comedic effect, Tenniel and Burton’s physical embellishments contribute to the otherworldly nature of Wonderland where anything is possible.

Alice - impossibly large
Tenniel’s Alice with an impossibly large body
Burton's Mad Hatter with impossibly large eyes
Burton’s Mad Hatter with impossibly large eyes

Manuscript of “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, ca. 1951

Photo at HRC

I was ecstatic when I first saw this image of Dylan Thomas’s manuscript because I really love the poem. But, after a moment, I reconsidered using the poem. After all, how could I connect a poem about resisting death to a little girl’s fantastical adventures in Wonderland?

After reading the poem a few times, I realized that the sadness it evokes reminds me of the sadness I felt when reading the final stanza of Carroll’s “Golden Afternoon” poem or the final page of Alice’s Adventures. Both deal with the loss and, in part, the death of childhood. At the end of Carroll’s first tale, Alice’s older sister reminisces on the wonder and magic of childhood imagination. Inducing potential despair, “she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman” (AA 126). Of course, neither the sister nor the audience wants Alice to lose her wonderful imagination. Thus, just as Dylan addresses his dying father in his poem, the sister seems to be addressing Alice, silently wishing that Alice does not go into the “goodnight” of “dull reality,” but that she rage on with the “loving heart of her childhood” and continue “remembering her own child-life” (AA 126-27).

For 10/15

1. “It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed. – Buddha” (Anthology 950).

Initially, I was bit shocked by the severity of the words “crushes” and “destroys” in the context of compassion, but then I realized what, in part, the Buddha was implying: Compassion is active, not passive. If you want to be a compassionate person, you can’t just sit around, saying nice things to passerbys. You have to go out, seeking out those in pain and alleviating their suffering.

2. “Compassion is the antidote to the self-chosen poison of anger” (Anthology 951).

I like the inclusion of the adjective “self-chosen” because while one cannot help an initial reaction of anger or frustration to something, remaining in that state of mind is a choice. Additionally, white I agree with this statement, I think compassion goes beyond curing anger. It can cure self-pity, disappointment, dissatisfaction, and selfishness, as well.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

3. “Because these worldviews [associated with the Western Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] are largely anthropocentric, nature is viewed as being of secondary importance. This is reinforced by a strong sense of the transcendence of God above nature” (Anthology 955).

I must be missing something, because in my past religious studies, I don’t remember learning of God’s “transcendence” above nature. Rather, nature was always presented as a manifestation of God’s beauty and power, as a means of connecting with the spiritual being within one’s soul. Perhaps I just had nature-loving teachers.

4. “You have to destroy life in order to live” (Anthology 962).

When I first read this, I thought it was incredibly sad, but after some thought, I realized that it actually just confirms the circle of life. Yes, I have to destroy life (e.g. plants) in order to live, but my body, too, will be destroyed for the betterment of the ecosystem. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the circle of life. I don’t mean to be crude, but I’ve often thought that once I die, I want my body to be used for science and then my remains dumped in an ecologically beneficial place in a biodegradable bag. I don’t want to be a thousand-dollar casket.

5. “Carefulness in all actions became the norm for the Jain way of life” (Anthology 969).

I think this quote really encompasses what’s necessary for one to be compassionate and care for the world’s ecosystem. It’s simply being careful – thinking through the consequences and considering possible alternatives (971). We often act for immediate gratification or in considering potential consequences, we only think about the personal repercussions of our actions. Life shouldn’t be this all-consuming race with only one goal in mind. It should be a walk in park, where we can observe our surroundings, consider our steps, and go where we’re needed.

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10/3 – Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows

1. “The primary tool of the system is psychic numbing…The mechanisms of psychic numbing include: denial, avoidance, routinization, justification, objectification, deindividualization, dichotomization, rationalization, and dissociation” (Anthology 616).

I found Melanie Joy’s description of psychic numbing to be very relatable. In fact, it perfectly describes what I often feel (and felt even more so as a child) when I eat meat. I use to not eat eggs because whenever I would eat them, I couldn’t stop thinking about baby chicks, and I’d feel sick. Now, I like eggs, but I still eat them very quickly, and I try not to think too much about it. I struggle even more when eating anything with bones. They inhibit my ability to “dissociate” and “deny” that I’m eating a once living, breathing animal. I remember going to Pluckers for the first time a few weeks ago. I was with a huge group, and since everyone else ordered wings, I decided to go ahead and try them. I got the regular wings with bones, but when they came, I could only eat the very outside of the meat. Once my teeth hit bone or I saw the bone, I was done with that wing. I couldn’t finish them. My friend got upset that I was leaving so much meat on the bone, and I agreed with him. I didn’t feel loving or in tune with the world. I felt like a wasteful pansy.

2. “Cruelty is often more disturbing than killing” (Anthology 617).

I don’t believe that I’ve heard this idea before (or at least phrased like this), but I think it’s incredibly accurate. After reading this line, I wondered why I find cruelty more disturbing, and I think it’s because while death remains an inevitable part of life, the intentional infliction of pain as a byproduct of cruelty is avoidable. In certain situations, killing becomes a necessary means of survival. But exhibiting cruelty? I don’t see how that would ever be necessary to one’s survival.

3. “Dogs are neither wild animals nor livestock. … Everyone all over the world must act now” (Anthology 622).

Joy includes this blog post from a member of the ASPCA concerning the consumption of dogs in South Korea. I was horrified when reading this chapter. I couldn’t imagine dogs, man’s best friend, being abused, stuffed in cages, and skinned. I was repulsed beyond measure. However, I think Joy’s inclusion of this section causes us to question why don’t we feel a similar repulsion towards the killing and consumption of cows, pigs, chickens, etc… Sure, “dogs are neither wild animals nor livestock,” but who made cows livestock? We did. Humans decided to label certain animals as livestock, thus justifying their classification as “food.” We freak out over abused cats and dogs, but we disregard abused cattle and chickens simply because of our learned emotions (or lack thereof) towards them.

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Boy with “livestock.”
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Boy with dog.

It all comes down to how we perceive them. Dichotomization – Who do we deem worthy of our compassion?

4. “He concluded that obedience to authority overrides one’s conscience” (Anthology 626).

I think there’s a lot of truth to this, but I wonder if such obedience derives from a belief in the authority’s honorable power or fear of potential consequences.

5. “I won’t eat something that is raw or half raw. … The sight of blood — I don’t like blood, so I sure won’t want it running out of my food when I’m eating it…It’s not healthy” (Anthology 628).

I, too, dislike rare meat. I always ask for my hamburgers well-done. I have no illusions, though, as to why I do it. It’s not for any false health reasons; it’s because blood reminds me all too well that I’m eating something that was once alive, that had blood – just like me.

6. “Why must the system go to such lengths to keep itself intact? The answer is simple. Because we care about animals, and we care about the truth” (Anthology 637).

After reading Joy’s argument, it seems as if those in the carnistic system are fighting against their inherent nature of compassion and union with other living creatures. Must we constantly convince ourselves that eating meat is normal, natural, and necessary because not eating meat is actually more in line with our innermost being?

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 1.25.25 PMst_francis_animals

Girl: “I don’t like that farmers chop people up.”
Father: “They don’t chop people up.”
Girl: “I don’t like that they chop animal-people up.” (Youtube video 1:15).

I was struck by the little girl’s connection between people and chickens cows, and pigs. To her, both humans and animals occupy the same level of worth. In her mind, just as farmers shouldn’t kill humans, they shouldn’t kill animals. This makes sense. After all, it wasn’t until I learned that humans have more advanced intellectual capabilities than animals that I began to see humans as superior.

1. “Alice was the next target of the rebellion: ‘the soup ladle was walking up the table towards Alice’s chair’ … Finally, Alice ‘can’t stand this any longer!’ so she jumps up and seizes ‘the table-cloth with both hands: one good pull, and plates, dishes, guests, and candles came crashing down together in a heap on the floor,’ ending not only the mutiny but the stories of Wonderland and the Looking-Glass creatures” (Anthology 314).

I never considered it this way, but the final line of this passage reveals how Alice’s dramatic display of authority ends the entire Alice series. Perhaps, this final scene provides subtle indications as to why Alice left Wonderland. In her previous refusal to abide by the rules of etiquette between humans and food (she cuts the pudding AA 262), Alice demonstrates a sense of dominance over food and a disregard of Wonderland’s mores.
In upheaving the food dishes and guests, Alice further presents herself as more powerful than the other Wonderland creatures. One could contend that her display of superiority represents her departure from the inherent kindness of a child to the learned power complex of an adult. Thus, when she declares, “I can’t stand this any longer!,” Alice is referring to both the chaotic mutiny and her stay in this imagined world. Filled with pride, she is no longer able to remain in the harmonious world of Wonderland, a fabrication of childhood innocence and equality.

2. “In 1859 The Origin of Species proved to many Victorians that the lineage of all living beings could be traced back to common ancestors, demonstrating that animals are indeed our ‘kindred’: members, like us, of the ‘household’ we now call the world ecosystem” (Anthology 315-16).

I really liked this extension of the conventional idea of a “family” to include the entire ecosystem. In my experience, it feels quite natural to love my immediate family (animals included), but it becomes increasingly harder when I consider strangers or people who I don’t instantly identify with. But Darwin is right — under the definition of a “family” as those descended from a common ancestor, both animals and humans constitute a family. If we want to get theological, one could even argue that the entire world – plants, water, creatures – comprise a family, originating from a single creator (i.e. God).

My nephew, Skunk!  It's pretty crazy how much I love him, and he's not even mine.
My nephew, Skunk!
It’s pretty crazy how much I love him, and he’s not even mine.

3. “If one Alice is loving, the other is afraid” (Anthology 317).

How incredibly, horribly true of all humans! Just as Alice’s love subsides when her fear rises, humans, myself included, often turn to anger and cruelty when we become fearful. I suppose it’s a biological reaction for self-preservation, but it’s a terrible reality in today’s world because not only threats to our survival instigate fear but also threats to our pride and physical comfort.

4. “Of course ‘love,’ as vague a term as it is in English, is still a popular term for one set of emotions” (Biophilia and Ethics 60).

As my vocabulary of the English language has expanded in recent years, I’ve become increasingly disappointed with the limited availability of words that indicate “love.” We can use it flippantly – “I love Oreos – or in complete seriousness – “I love my mother.” I desperately wish English offered a greater variety of words to express the different forms of love which exist. I’m by no means an expert in Spanish, but after taking it for 5 years, I’ve come to understand the different ways of saying “I love you,” two of which are “te quiero” and “te amo.” “Te quiero” often signifies a more informal “love,” almost signifying “I like you,” while “te amo” is reserved for sincere love for partners and family. This reminds me of Jenna’s link to the website where people create new words for existing states of emotions.

5. “A reader may wonder: if I could free myself momentarily from the net of language, would I feel as free as a child who need not obey the dictates of civilizations and its irrational fears?” (Biophilia and Ethics 63).

While reading, I was struck by the significance of the phrase, “net of language,” which the author uses four times. In our world, language is a two-faced Janus – both enabling and restricting our ability to express ourselves. Of course, in Alice Carroll finds a loophole: creating new words.

Moreover, I think one can extend this idea to humans’ sense of sight. Just as language can inhibit individuals’ ability to convey their true emotions/ideas, sight can prevent them from seeing the world without prejudice and aesthetic judgments.

One of my favorite Youtubers is TommyEdisonXP,  a blind man, who discusses the pros, cons, and all-around realities of being blind. In one clip he says, “You know what’s cool about being blind? There’s no race. I don’t know from beauty. I know people from what comes out of their mouth and what’s in their heart.”

For 10/22 Fabulous Histories Part 2

1. “‘Well,’ he said, ‘I will come, too. But let me advise you not to pay too much heed to their fears, — that will only make matters worse’” (Anthology 794).

When I first read this, I thought the father robin was being a bit harsh in suggesting that the mother not seriously consider her children’s fears. However, after some consideration, I do realize the truth of his words. I remember that as a child the severity of my fears/sadness/pain often correlated with the amount of concern my mother gave me. If she was there to dote upon me, I completely gave in to whatever anxiety I was feeling. However, if I was alone, there was an inherent sense of apathy that arose, as I merely got up and moved on with the day.

This reminds me of a video I once saw, where a kid only cries in front of his mother. Must see:

2. “Though they are good to a great many birds, I am sure that they like us best” (Anthology 798).

I thought this was a bit presumptuous of the father – to presume that the humans liked them best. However, I guess it’s a common narrative strategy to distinguish your main characters as different from the others.

3. “The old bird, finding that Dicky would not venture to fly, went round him while Dicky was not looking. He waited till the little bird had once more spread his wings, and then came suddenly up behind and pushed him off the branch” (Anthology 802).

While I was initially put off by the father’s actions, I realized that he did the right wrong (at least, that’s how I interpret it). If I was on some sort of cliff and I to jump off in order to ensure my survival, I would be grateful that someone else had the courage to push me if I could not do it. However, at the same time, some encouragement by the father would’ve gone a long way in helping poor Dicky.

cliff jumping

4. “They will be all the better friends for being sometimes apart” (Anthology 806).

The father’s remark appears similar to the common testament that many siblings become better friends after one leaves for college. Living in close quarters with others can often spark battles for territory and control. Once these issues no longer pose a problem, many are able to better appreciate their siblings. For my sister and me, this wasn’t entirely true. We bonded early on over TV shows, so her departure for college actually put a strain on our relationship.

5. “See that new-fledged wren; it only left the nest yesterday, and yet how bravely it skims along! Do not let it be said that a redbreast lies groveling on the earth, afraid to fly, while a little baby wren soars above him” (Anthology 808-9).

Another tactic for encouragement: comparison. Personally, I really dislike comparing as a measurement for worth because I’m often disheartened, not inspired, by it. Unfortunately, most of the world runs on comparison. Most things are judged as relative to one another: one is rewarded for surpassing “the average.”

It’s interesting to note that the father’s words do achieve their intended result: Dicky flies to the next. However, Dicky does so after “he felt ashamed of himself” (809).

6. “I quite dread the day when I must take care of myself, and never go back to the nest again” (Anthology 821).

Pecksy’s fear of the future reminded me of the final page in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when her older sister nostalgically considers the loss of childhood imagination and wonder. In Pecksy’s case, it is carefree irresponsibility that she does not want to lose. Leaving “the nest” represents a sad, yet essential, step in personal development for both human and avian children. In the Wikipedia entry, it mentions that Trimmer agreed that “children should not be forced to become adults too early,” but Pecksy’s commentary serves as a slight nudge of what is to come (738).