9-8 Carroll Introduction

  1. “‘Well!’ thought Alice to herself. ‘After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling downstairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!’ (Which was very likely true.)” (Carroll 13)

Beyond the somewhat morbid joke Carroll offers at the end, this passage provides valuable insight into the significance of Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole. In having Alice descend underground, Carroll implies transference to another world. Underworlds usually serve as mythical places where earthly laws do not always apply. Additionally, in Greek mythology, living individuals who entered the underworld often returned enlightened, such as Odysseus who seeks advice from Tiresias, the blind prophet, in the Underworld. In a similar fashion, Alice’s adventure to Wonderland teaches her many things about life and her own identity. In fact, her personal growth begins before she even lands, for, instead of drowning in fear as she falls, Alice soberly contemplates the benefits of her current, precarious situation. From the mere experience of falling, Alice already acquires a new sense of bravery, as the length of the fall, in particular, gives her a unique perspective.

Tiresias speaks to Odysseus in the Underworld. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiresias
Tiresias speaks to Odysseus in the Underworld.

2. “How doth the little crocodile

Improve his shining tail,

And pour the waters of the Nile

On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,

How neatly spreads his claws,

And welcomes little fishes in,

With gently smiling jaws!”

(Carroll 23)

I love this parody of a children’s poem because while Alice recites it in a fervent attempt to convince herself of her own intelligence and proper upbringing, she ultimately cannot help but be in conflict with the strict Victorian culture. I actually first encountered this poetic parody on a placard at the HRC’s Lewis Carroll exhibition, where it discussed Carroll’s use of parodies, so I wasn’t completely thrown by its inappropriate content. The placard commented that this poetic example (a parody of Isaac Watt’s poem, “Against Idleness and Mischief”) actually “reflects Carroll’s larger effort throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to parody and satirize polite Victorian society and the expectations of Victorian children’s literature.” Though I’ve only read to chapter five, I can already see other potential moments of satire and defiance of Victorian society, such as when Alice violently kicks poor lizard Bill out of the chimney – an act quite out of character for an accomplished, cultured young girl (Carroll 43).

Photo by Lauren. Placard at the HRC.
Photo by Lauren. Placard at the HRC.

3. “‘I wish I hadn’t cried so much!’ said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. ‘I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day’” (Carroll 25).

While I initially found the concept of poor Alice drowning in her own tears to be simply tragic, further consideration led me to realize the deeper meaning behind such irony. Perhaps, Carroll is suggesting that wallowing in one’s sorrows ultimately leads to their own detriment. While mourning one’s losses/mistakes is, of course, emotionally healthy and can be quite cathartic, it is an essentially self-absorbing act. It is only after Alice meets the mouse and tries to connect with another creature (though admittedly with poor execution) that she is able to actually lead the way and swim to shore (Carroll 27).

4. “She drew her foot as far down the chimney as she could, and waited till she heard a little animal (she couldn’t guess of what sort it was) scratching and scrambling about in the chimney close above her: then saying to herself, “This is Bill,” she gave one sharp kick, and waited to see what would happen next” (Carroll 42 – 43).

I was surprised by Alice’s behavior during this episode in the White Rabbit’s house. Though I understand her fear at being trapped in a room, she seemed particularly hostile towards the other animals and the owner of house (whose “DRINK ME” bottle she drank without permission). I wonder what Carroll is trying to accomplish with Alice’s behavior in this scene. Does her somewhat violent actions serve to defy the Victorian rigidity impressed upon young children?

5. “From henceforth therefore I resolve to take events as they occur, to adapt my conduct to circumstances, to endure with fortitude the blows and kicks my employers may think fit to bestow upon me, and only to repay them by the most enduring obstinacy!” (Anthology 389).

In his “Thoughts on Thistles,” Carroll includes these thoughts of a donkey which he believes we (as humans) should echo. These ideas, particularly “tak[ing] events as they occur,” strongly remind me of our past discussions and texts related to being present in the moment in order to achieve acceptance and joy. The concepts also transfer quite noticeably to the character of Alice. Alice, after all, is excellent at adapting to her circumstances – When she’s falling down a mysterious tunnel, her greatest disappointment is an empty can of marmalade, and after she shrinks herself, she’s overjoyed that her new size allows her to enter the beautiful garden. Her obstinacy is also evident in her perseverance despite the many “out-of-the-way things” she happens upon (Carroll 19).

Source: http://ircamera.as.arizona.edu/NatSci102/NatSci102/images/extwormhole.htm
Source: http://ircamera.as.arizona.edu/NatSci102/NatSci102/images/extwormhole.htm

6. “Another form of migraine aura, Alice in Wonderland syndrome, has been named after Dodgson’s little heroine, because its manifestation can resemble the sudden size-changes in the book … Some authors have suggested that Dodgson may have suffered from this type of aura, and used it as an inspiration in his work, but there is no evidence that he did” (Anthology 1003).

I was amazed that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has achieved such notoriety as to warrant the name of a medical condition. Concerning Dodgson’s supposed affliction of this sort, I would feel incredibly sympathetic to his disorienting condition if it proved true. However, if false, such an attribution to his character undermines his true natural ability to create fantastical and imaginative worlds.


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