“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll is probably the most popular children’s fantasy novel of the nineteenth century. The book gave way to a brand new era of children’s English literature: books that did not intend to impart lessons and morals to the children. These books just inaugurated imaginative worlds where the ‘mind is without fear’ and can wander off to places. This led to the emergence of a writing style that simultaneously embraced logic and nonsense. While books like Tom Brown’s Schooldays offered rules for the right way of life, these other books, on the other hand, just gave a free space to live. Children’s literature owes its elements of fantasy, silliness, and curiosity to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel “Through the Looking-Glass.” These two stand apart from the typical cautionary tales for children. Without these texts, the literature would not have branched out and flourished in the world of imagination.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Review)
While the Alice books insinuate that the primary intention is to gain the children’s attention as the audience, the main themes are contrary to the readers’ expectations. As one scrolls through the pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, it becomes crystal clear that the violent themes are undermining the societal moral codes that we typically believe that children should adopt. Throughout these texts, there is a constant feeling of fright of being in a strange place occupied by strange creatures. It is quite terrifying to find out how adults human figures in Alice in the Wonderland behave.
Alice exists in a violent, aggressive world that is different from the world of Maggie Tulliver and Jane Eyre. Images of Alice that we come across are often melancholic and sinister. Interestingly, Wonderland is devoid of certain threats that Alice introduces. These would include death, sickness, and rationality. In a world devoid of logic, there is neither any real threat nor the fear of death. William Empson even points out the death jokes present in the text. Alice, while mentioning the burnt candle, muses about death. The text is loaded with morbid jokes and, at times, wanders through the possibilities of death. Conflict, battle, and even warfare are seen as inevitable but pointless. The violent moments of Wonderland stand in sharp contrast to the lighthearted fantastical moments. People are shown to be bloodthirsty and irrational, resorting to violence, even when it is clearly unnecessary. There is no attempt to make sense of violent or brutal behavior, although it is deplored and resisted. Violence and pain do not illustrate any moral point about the world; they are simply something to be noticed and avoided.
Carroll uses ineffectual and diluted violence to entertain his young readers. For something to be truly violent, there has to be a physical force that results in damage or injury. However, the violent acts projected in the Wonderland lack the aspect of damage and injuries, making the violence fizzle out and turn ineffective. Through this kind of ineffectual violence, the author attempts to preserve the Wonderland’s unrealistic appearance, where the pains and injuries of the harsh reality are kept at bay.
One of the most distinct examples of such ineffectual violence is the instance of the cook and the Duchess. The actions of the cook towards the Duchess, at first glance, appear to be very violent. The author describes her actions, “at once [the cook] set to work throwing everything within her reach at the duchess and the baby. The fire-iron came first; then followed a shower of saucepans, plates, and dishes”. The lullaby that the Duchess sings for her baby also has violent lyrics like “And beat him (baby) when he sneezes.” Even while singing, the Duchess keeps tossing the baby up and down while he kept howling."By implementing ineffectual violence instead of real violence, the author was able to both use violent actions while preserving its surreal appearance." Click To Tweet
You must be picturizing a very violent scene by reading this. However, Carroll does not let real violence take place as it would crumble apart his magical sanctuary for children from reality. “Pain is one of the most powerful sensations in real life, and by showing the pain of any kind, the author would have brought a strong sense of unwanted reality into the stories.” Carroll designed his stories in a way that they acted as a passage to escape for the kids from the big bad world and its hardships. Therefore, for preventing his wonderful world from shattering, he added, “The Duchess took no notice of them even when they hit her.” By telling the reader that the cook’s violent actions did not cause any pain or discomfort, the author can preserve his fanciful universe. Also, by implementing ineffectual violence instead of real violence, the author was able to both use violent actions while preserving its surreal appearance.
In the chapter ‘A Mad-Tea Party,’ we see the Hatter, March Hare, and the Dormouse being rude, ill-mannered, and snappy at each other. While moving out, Alice saw the Dormouse being forced into the teapot by Hatter and March Hare. Sounds bizarre, right? Well, that’s Wonderland for you!
Savage matriarchs dominate the Wonderland. The Queen is in direct contrast with Alice. Comments such as “chop her head off” and “you deserve to be beheaded” are very common commands that frequently come from the Queen. Even in the croquet game, the Queen kept shouting “Off with his head” or “Off with her head” every now and then. The inhabitants of Wonderland were apparently obsessed with the idea of beheading people. Yet, surprisingly, everyone was always left unharmed. Even the Gryphon states that “It’s all her (Queen) fancy, that: they never execute anybody…”
In one of the weirdest instances, the cheering guinea pigs at the court were “suppressed” by the court officers. And by “suppressed,” they literally mean SUPPRESS! They stuffed the guinea pigs in a huge canvas bag, tied its string, and then sat on it! Later, the Queen, as usual, keeps screaming to get the Dormouse beheaded, pinched, or his whiskers to be chopped off!
Throughout the text, we come across numerous instances where violence is shown as a casual matter, orders of killing and beheading people are passed just randomly, and yet, there are no lives lost. That is what makes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland such an intriguing and fascinating text. The creatures talk of violence all the time, they even indulged in fights, but there is no grave violence that actually takes place. This text, with all its interesting elements, makes for a delightful read for people across ages.