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Bookreview: Lewis Carroll´s "Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland"
The novel „Alice in Wonderland“ by Lewis Carroll deals with the little girl Alice of about seven in Victorian England which starts to drift off to sleep while she is sitting under a tree with her sister.
Alice sees a White Rabbit with a pocket-watch and follows it down the hole.
She falls down for a long time and finds herself in a long hallway full of doors. She unlocks a tiny door with a key and looks into a beautiful garden, but it´s too small to go in. With a drink and a cake she is able to change her size but she is always either too large to get through the door or to small to reach the key. She falls into a salty lake created by the tears she wept when she was huge. There she meets a number of creatures and after climbing out, they tell stories and have a Caucus Race to dry off. Alice offends everyone by talking about her cat´s ability to catch birds and mice. Left alone, she meets the White Rabbit which mistakes her for his maid and sends her to fetch some things from his house. In the house, Alice drinks from a bottle and becomes too huge to get out through the door. The White Rabbit and several other animals throw pepples through the window to get rid of her. The pepples turn into cakes which make her small again.
In the wood, she comes across a Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom. It gives her some advice, saying that the two sides of the mushroom can make her grow larger and smaller as she wishes. She comes to the house of the Duchess where a grinning cat sits on the hearth and a cook keeps throwing things at everyone and the air is full of pepper. They ignore the safety of the baby that the Duchess is nursing. Alice takes the baby with her, but it turns into a pig and runs away.
She meets the grinning Cheshire Cat again which helps her to find her way through the woods but it warns her that everyone she meets will be mad. She reaches the March Hare´s house and ist treated to a Mad Tea Party with the March Hare, the Hatter and the Dormouse. Alice learns that time stands still at the tea party, so it is therefore always teatime. She realizes that her companions are really crazy, rude and impolite, so she leaves.
She finds the beautiful garden which she saw earlier, it´s the garden of the Queen of Hearts.There, three gardenes, with bodies shaped like cards, are painiting white roses red, because if the Queen finds out, that they planted white roses, she´ll have them beheaded. The Queen soon arrives herself and gives the order to execute them, but Alice helps to hide them.
She is invited by the Queen to play croquet which is played with living hedgehogs and flamingos, so it is very difficult. The game is interupted by the Cheshire Cat but the Queen finds it impossible to execute an animal without a body. She takes Alice to the Gryphon who goes to the Mock Turtle with her. They tell her stories about their school under the sea and sing and demonstrate the Lobster Quadrille until the trial of the Knave of Heart is starting, to which they drag Alice off. The Knave of Hearts has been accused of stealing the tarts from the Queen of Hearts. Alice is shocked by the ridculous proceedings and begins to grow larger to a giant size as she is called to the witness stand. She refuses to be intimidated by the bad logic of the court and the bluster of the King and Queen of Hearts. Suddenly, the cards all rise up and attack her, at which point she wakes up. Her adventures in Wonderland have all been a fantastic dream.
Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, is born in 1832 and died in 1898. The original title of the children´s book“Alice´sAdventures in Wonderland” was “Adventures Underground”and was published 1856 with the illustrations by John Tenniel. Carroll was professor of mathematics at Oxford University, England. He became a clergyman and a deacon of the Church of England and never married. His religious beliefs were othodox anglican, he was a typical Victorian.
In the summer of 1862, the story of “Alice Adventure´s in Wonderland”is invented. Carroll was with a friend, an Oxford clergyman and the three daughters (Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell) of the dean of their college, on a river trip in a rawboat. Usually, Lewis made up stories for the children and this time, Alice Liddell asked him to write it down for her and he did so.
The main characters and there meanings
She is the main character in the novel and leads through the plot. Her education is very good, so she is polite (p.77). Her knowledge is often lacking, for example in geography (p.26). She is also brave and headstrong, because she follows through whenever she gets an idea, for example to reach the beautiful garden. She is on a journey from childhood to adulthood because she is confronted with a lot of new situations in wonderland like for example to be alone and to come across curious situations like the Mad Tea Party. In the beginning, Alice is crying a lot and she is very desperate (p. 25) but in the end of the novel, she reacts very self-confident (p. 113-114) and is able to hold her own against the whole Wonderland logic. Another proof for this point is the beginning, where Alice can only change her size with the help of several dishes. In the end, she is able to grow to a giant size on her own without realizing it. So she learnt to act without any help of other people and things. Another step to adulthood is to learn rules. In Wonderland this is represented by games. Alice has to learn the rules for example of the Caucus Race and the Croquet Match, never mind how curious and unlogical they are for her. She gets to know the consequences, if she doesn´t take these rules into account, like to be executed by the Queen of Hearts.
The White Rabbit is a very nervous character because he is generally in a hurry (p.17). He has a kind of important job like consulting the King of Hearts and is selfconfident concerning his job, even to the point of contradicting the King (p. 103 and 110). The White Rabbit also symbolizes time. Time is always running and the Rabbit is always is in a hurry, you can never stop neither of them. It starts the story because Alice follows it and comes to Wonderland. The reader notices a criticism of the Victorian era, because of its hard rules. To be late was (and is ) very unpolite and the laws of the Queen of Hearts make the The White Rabbit fear. It even might be a kind of help for Carrol to get Alice to different places in Wonderland (p. 25-26,38).
It is the grinning cat of the Duchess with the ability to appear an disappear whenever it wants to. Because of this, it seems to be mad, but it is the only character in Wonderland, which listens to Alice and gives her good advice (p.62-64). It becomes something of a friend of Alice (p.80-81).
It is a Hookah-smoking insect who doesn´t talk very much and is kind of unfriendly (p.47- 52), but it gives Alice the means to change size at will with the help of a mushroom. With its help, Alice can reach several places, like the house of the Duchess and the beautiful garden (p. 65,74). It can also be seen as criticism on the Victorian lifestyle, the drug abuse. =>see: p. 7
She is an odd, spiteful woman who mistreats her baby and doesn’t make the cook stop throwing things at her. She has a changing temper, perhaps because of the pepper, which is also a hint to the drug abuse in the Victorian period. She can be very unfriendly (p.59) and in the same way superficially sweet to someone (p.87). You can notice a criticism on the way parents treat their children during that time. => see: p. 6
Queen of Hearts:
She is a violent, dominating woman. She has the authority in Wonderland and acts like a dictator with a lot of power (p.76,78). She is the opposite to the chaotic Wonderland (e.g. the Mad Tea Party, where the time stands still), because of her rules and laws, which everyone fears. If someone doesn’t do what she says, he will be beheaded. Thus Carroll criticizes the royalty in England during this time and especially Queen Victoria. => see: p. 6
Carroll´s critizism of the Victorian era
Caucus Race (p. 33):
The rules of a Caucus Race are as following: The competitors have to run around and start and stop whenever they like. It seems to have no real order and no real winner, because it´s impossible to find it out, it´s too confusing. To simplify matters erverybody is the winner of the race. Perhaps, Carroll wanted to point out the confusion in the politics during that time.
Because of several new reforms, like the right to vote for woman (1869) and the abolition of slavery (1833), the people had to change there way of thinking completely and everybody was really confused. Not erveryone was content with these laws (e.g. the employers feared a financial loss). Probably the new reforms were to early for this time.
Mad Tea Party (p. 66-73):
At this tea party, the time stands still at 6 o´clock in the evening, so it is always tea time. the March Hare, the Hatter and the Dormouse are very unpolite and don´t want Alice to sit down at the big table, which has enough seats for more than three persons.
Carroll criticises the Victorian habit to be always on time and have a regular order in your everyday life, where every day is like the other. It doesn´t matter how ridiculous the themes are, that you are talking about, important is that you have a tea time, whatever will happen. He criticises the need to have tea and throught the three characters we get the impression that they don’t care about anything except their tea. Their grandmother could die, but they would just keep having tea, because it is tea-time.
He hints at a class society, because not everyone was able to have a tea time, like the working class. The Dormouse, the Hatter and the Hare don’t want Alice to take part, which is another hint at that.
Beautiful Garden (p.75-78):
The three gardeners are painting white roses red, because they made a mistake. They planted white roses instead of red roses and they fear to be beheaded. They make things different and change nature, so to speak, they manipulate to have a perfect result.
It´s a criticism of the whole behaviour of the people during that time. Because of strong laws, people were in a way forced to act like this. Another important point is, that the people were very conservative and everything had to be perfect, especially in upper class. Scandals were (often still are) very bad for the image, so a lot was covered up. It was the same in politics. Consultans often didn´t say the truth in order not to blame important people. The people weren’t informed correctely either. For example the mystery about Jack the Ripper. He was a brutal murderer and killed prostitutes in 1888. Who the murderer really was is not even clear today. One theory is that Prince Albert Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria, was the criminal. Apart from that, the fact that there were prostitutes in England at all was also a scandal and taboo. Everyone knew, but noone talked about it.
Court of justice (p. 100-115):
The court of justice is very chaotic. There are stupid jurors (p. 102), which are putting down their own names in order not to forget them before the end of the trial, and other senseless things (p.103).
Noticeable is, that the judge is the King of Hearts, that means, that there exists no separation of powers and the chances for every defendant is pretty bad. Especially because the jury doesn’t seem to be very intelligent and the King doesen´t really know what he has to do. He is adviced by the White Rabbit. It is confirmed by the strange looks of the King. He judges with predjudices and without having any proofs (p. 103).
Also the crowd has nothing to say, the guinea-pig cheers and is supressed in the same moment (p. 105).
Caroll criticizes the whole system of law and their enforcement. Even though the parliament was supposed to take a big part in the government and be consulted about important decisions during that time, the monarchy had the unrestricted power.
Queen of Hearts:
The Queen of Hearts wants to chop off everybody´s head most of the time for no real reason. That has to be a criticism of Queen Victoria, who was a very powerful woman, also prudish, repressed and old-fashioned. If Carroll had like his Queen and though her to be perfect and great, he would have never invented such a hysterical, unpleasant and cruel character.The fact that she never succeeds in executing Alice or another creature shows that she isn’t a person, who really is cruel and likes seeing other people suffer, but that she only wants to shock and warn the people to have a nation without crime.
The Duchess who is nursing a baby, doesn´t care about it´s safety. She gives it to Alice and it turns into a pig. Carroll criticises, how parents treat their children, namely like animals. It is, as if babies were able to care for themselves, like the pig, which runs away and can eat alone. They forget that children also need love to exist.
More important for parents in Victorian England was the education at school. Alice is very proud to have learnt so much and shows it, but only to herself, when she is alone and talking to herself (p. 18-19). Another point is to be polite. You were not supposed to speak unless someone asked you a question, and you have to keep the temper. Several people tell Alice this in the book (p. 48).
Drug abuse and it´s consequences
The widespread use of opium during the Victorian period may have influenced or been reflected in Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland. The whole dream can be compared to a mindaltering drug experience, like a delirium.
Alice tastes a lot of drinks and cookies to reach her aim, to come to the Beautiful Garden. In the beginning she has doubts about the drinks, because it could be poisson (p.21). She trusts the label “Drink me” and notices the unexpected effect of growing larger or smaller. Later, she thinks that she can handle these drinks but she fails. She grows to a giant size and is not able to leave the house, because she doesn´t fit through the door (p. 39).
Another example is the Caterpillar, who is smoking the Hookah and is sitting on a mushroom, which changes Alice’s size. Here she has to be careful with its effect and has to test it as well(p.52-53).
It is an allusion to the use of opium during the Victorian period. Opium became part of British culture, because the British imported opium into China from its colonies in India. There were even opium wars in the earliy 1840s because of different opinions about opium between British merchants, sailors and their Chinese counterparts.
In the Duchess´s house the air is full of pepper. It has the effect that the Duchess has a changing temper, that means, she reacts very aggressive by smelling pepper (p. 59-60,87). It gives the impression that she is not always in this temper, only in the house. The proof for this is that she can be totally friendly, when she goes out of the house, for example to the Queen of Hearts, whom she is flattering (p. 87). It is a warning that drugs can change your whole personality in an extreme way.
The Mad Tea Party reminds one of drugs like alcohol, and its different effects. The Hatter and the March Hare talk a lot of nonsens and the Dormouse sleeps most of the time. Because of the reason that it´s always 6 o´clock in the evening and because of that always tea time, it can be a hint, that drugs can make you dependent and that they let you loose the feeling for reality (p.103).
Children´s book or not
The book “Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland” is written for kids. It is one of the most popular and because of that one of the most frequently sold children´s book in the world. The fantastic story is perfect for the children, because of the funny and crazy inhabitants of Wonderland. The kids have a good imagination and are able to understand it. Because of Carroll’s new invented characters, it makes the story also interesting and curious. The children can learn a lot from Alice, for example to be polite and to be exceptional powerful like Alice is. She won´t stand any nonsense from anyone and does her own thing. But you have to be careful as well. The Queen of Hearts can scare the children. She is very cruel and unpleasant and wants everyone to be beheaded. That is not easy to understand for children, because they can´t see the criticism behind it.
So there is a deeper meaning, which just adults can notice, like the criticsm of the Victorian era. It is also an interesting book for adults, who want to get to know the Victorian lifestyle through a critical person´s eyes. So you can think about the author´s ideas for a long time and you can make your own thoughts about them.
Altogether it is a book for adults and children. But you should help your child to understand the cruel and difficult scenes (e.g. when the baby turns into a pig).
My first impression of the book is, that it is very confusing. The different characters act in a very strange and unexpected way, which seems to be unusual to me and every once in a while I was not really able to follow the convesation of the characters, because it was simply too fantastic for my imagination (e.g. March Hare and Mad Hatter at the tea party). But at the same time the characters are funny and I admire the Carroll’s versatility. It makes the story interesting and exciting. I didn’t notice time going by, while I was reading the book, because every page brings a new character and an unexpected incident of the plot. There are no boring repetitions and everything seems to be worked out well to me.
The main character Alice is also thinking about the whole Wonderland and its inhabitants. This trait of character makes her really sympathetic. She becomes an ally for the reader and helps him to build up his own opinion about good and bad.
Carroll invented a new world with new rules, which is almost comparable to J.R.R Tolkien’s “Lord of the rings”. Tolkien’s world is a lot more complicated and not as strange, but I like both books.
Quelle: Lewis Carroll
Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass A Signet Classic from The New American Library
- Quote paper
- Berit Stehr (Author), 2002, Carroll, Lewis - Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland - Bookreview, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/107171