Madness and insanity in the novel “Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice found there” by Lewis Carroll in Comparison to the Filmic Adaptation produced by Tim Burton

Hausarbeit, 2016

17 Seiten


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition, Characteristics and Historical Background

3. Comparison of the Novel and the Filmic Adaptation
3.1. Storyline and Narrative Events
3.2. Mad and Insane Characters
3.2.1. Alice
3.2.2. The Mad Tea Party
3.2.3 Iracebeth of Crims and Mirana Marmoreal

4. Visualisation of Wonderland

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Madness is when one dwells in the in-between space of self and other, […] where one forgets what is impossible. It is in this space that one may be called mad, […] but it is the same space from which resistance to that discourse can emerge. (Callen 123)

This term paper will focus on the differences in the general storyline and narrative events, on different characters and what makes them seem mad or insane, as well as the visual aspects of the ‘Wonderland'.

In order to have a more similar storyline in terms of certain events and descriptions of characters, the author will also use arguments and examples regarding the prequel to Alice Through the Looking-Glass (2016), namely Alice in Wonderland (2010) directed by Tim Burton, and at some points may refer to scenes from the original first novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, which marks one of the first fantasy novels written for children and “were among the first to offer […] Victorians stories for children with a purpose other than to educate them in how to behave” (Beckman 7).

By doing so, the author will proof the thesis, that madness and insanity do not always have to be bad. Moreover they seem to be a great way to deal with unpleasing or traumatic events in order to make the seemingly impossible possible by believing in its possibility, as well as an opportunity to build up a resistance against society’s cruelty and moral norms and ideals. In addition the author will show why Alice and the Mad Hatter are the heroes based on their madness and what makes Alice a role model for feminism.

2. Definition, Characteristics and Historical Background

Before beginning with the actual comparison of the novel versus the filmic adaptation, the author wants to give brief overview on the terms of madness and insanity, as well as the understanding of those terms during the Victorian Era.

While in general the terms madness and insanity describe the same spectrum of abnormal mental and/or behavioral patterns, they especially differentiate in their usage and practice in law.[1]

Insanity describes the legal term and covers a wide range of mental disorders now diagnosed as bipolar disorder, organic brain syndromes, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders (cf. Tierney 1078-1086). It “has been seen as […] “the opposite to reason and good sense“ [to which] would seem to follow that madmen must be […] deficient in essential qualities of humanity“ (Sass 1).

Although madness is in terms of law the non-legal word for insanity, and therefore does not provide any medical information, common usage is different as “we think about [it] either with the nosology of medical psychiatry or with the dynamic concepts of psychic conflict proposed by psychoanalysis” (Thiher 224) and “as a form of inner experience that can be interpreted at times as an inner world” (ibid. 228).

It is moreover defined as “irrationality, [and] a condition involving decline or even disappearance of the role of rational factors in the organization of human conduct and experience” (Sass 1), although “madness really only reinforces societal norms, not universal principles” (Pernicano 5).

Regarding the Victorian Era madness and insanity did not refer to the same as they do today. Instead they were often linked to suicidal tendencies and self-mutilation, as “a general idea that self-inflicted injuries might indicate insanity in an individual is evident early in the English asylum movement” (Chaney 280) and “attempted suicide, and the threat of suicide, were important criteria in the determination and clasification of insanity” (Shepherd 179). Important to notice is, that “the Victorians […] sought to segregate the insane from the rest of the population, [but] they were also terrified by the prospect of the wrongful confinement of sane people.” (Beveridge 411) and they believed “it [to be] crucial […] to separate the mad person from the environment that engendered or exacerbated suicidal propensities” (Shepherd 188).

Victorian society lived with “a wide spread belief in the late nineteenth century that suicide, like insanity, was a price society was paying for a higher level of civilization” (ibid. 178). During that time “with [in] the Victoria[n] Era, female voices fell under the label of madness” (Pernicano 6) so much that “the female gender has become the epitome of madness” (ibid. 7).

All of those are so important for the realization of madness and insanity in all Alice in Wonderland [2] stories, as its most important message is, that it is indeed possible to make the impossible possible if you just believe in it.

3. Comparison of the Novel and the Filmic Adaptation

3.1. Storyline and Narrative Events

While Carroll’s texts have been examined to the point where it is hard to think one has anything to contribute […], something new happens when they can be discussed in relation to Burton’s film[s]. […] Carroll’s original texts and Burton’s adaptation[s] are positioned at either end of the spectrum of narrative continuity. (Beckman 7)

After giving an overview about the terms of madness and insanity in general and as seen in the Victorian Era, the following passage will outline the differences in the storyline and narrative events.

While “the central idea of the Carroll stories [is] that the dream world is more interesting, as well as more playful and dangerous, than the real one” (Bonner 41) with its main focus on nonsensical structure and unpredictable narrative events with characters appearing and disappearing to make it impossible to foretell any consequences, Burton’s films send “Alice in an Underland[3] where predictability rather than unpredictability is the main concern” (Beckman 2) to mark “the idea of choice alongside complete determinism” (ibid. 18).

Lewis Carroll emerges “the temporal relation […] rather through the suspension of Alice’s Victorian judgement […] and cleanses Alice from her fixed morals […] at the same time as prevent[ing] her from adopting new ones” (ibid. 15) to force Alice “to act on the plurality of creatures and happenings not according to past events but according to […] a string of “presents”” (ibid.) without her realizing that she, through the Looking-Glass, returned to Wonderland.

Tim Burton on the other hand represents a clear, causal and systematized reality “within the fixed regulation of morals and narrative structure” (ibid. 10) by introducing a grown-up Alice to an overview of her past, present and future in Alice in Wonderland and allowing her to believe in Wonderland’s reality after returning back to England, so that in Alice Through the Looking-Glass she remembers Wonderland and realizes that she has returned.

The main differences about the storyline in the novel versus the film are that firstly in the film Alice returns to Wonderland as an adult to flee from a reality she does not like at all, while in the novel Alice, still a child, returns to Wonderland out of pure curiosity about the Looking-Glass House, and secondly how Tim Burton again links past, present and future events with each other through the concept of time travel, while Carroll mainly focuses on the present.
Moreover Burton casts his version around a more significant presence of the Mad Hatter and the royal sisters[4], whereas Carroll makes it almost all about Alice.

Another very distinguishing aspect is the theme and reasoning of madness, as well as aftereffects of madness. Burton wants his audience to “consider madness to be intrinsic to being a good person” (Callen 120) with madness not being “nonsense [but…] very much non-nonsense” (ibid.), since under the power and cruelty of the Red Queen “reason has no pull […], leaving madness as the means of resistance” (ibid. 122), while Carroll shows madness as a coping mechanism to get rid of one’s learned judgemental ideas and morals of the past in order to be able to decide what is right solemnly based on present events.[5]

3.2. Mad and Insane Characters

If we don’t actually think of Wonderland creatures as lunatics, […] it is because so much of their affective and intellectual behavior makes acceptably good sense.” (Callen 121)

The next chapters will focus on traits that make different characters seem mad and insane based on their resistance against either Victorian society or the reign and cruelty of the Red Queen and the Time in Wonderland, as well as how this madness makes them a heroic character or evil opponent.

3.2.1. Alice

“A hero may be mad if madness is only a social construct.” (Pernicano 4)

Since Alice marks the main character of the novel and the film, as well as being part of the resistance against the Victorian society and the cruel reign of the Red Queen and the Time, her madness and insanity seems to be the most important one and her character a good starting point.

Alice (1872) has to learn “that neither events nor her own role in them can be predicted” (Beckman 2) as “the constant, unpredictable movement that throws Alice from space to space makes choosing between two existent options impossible” (ibid. 14) as seen for example in the disappearance of the boat after she was offered “plenty of choice” (Carroll 178) or her not being able to reach the Garden of Live Flowers just because she wants to see it so badly (ibid. 135). In this “Alice becomes the link between past and future […] by [being] the initiative that sets in motion something new” (Beckman 14). Alice’s movement therefore is characterized that “deterritorialize space and time” (ibid. 23).

Alice (1872) is afraid about losing her identity, as becomes clear, for example, in her forgetting her name in the “wood where things have no names” (Carroll 152) or in her crying at Tweedledee and Tweedledum’s suggestion that she is not real although she knows that they are talking nonsense. (Cf. ibid. 165) This worry about losing her identity and being afraid to get an ugly new one instead, as seen in Alice being afraid of getting an ugly name in exchange for her own (Cf. ibid. 152), underlines Alice’s struggle in growing up with Victorian ideals she does not quite believe in, but being unable to change her own beliefs just yet because in this she could be seen as mad.


[1] The practice in law as it is used in the United States of America.

[2] This applies to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, as well as to the filmic adaptations Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass.

[3] The term ‘Underland’ refers to Wonderland.

[4] The royal sisters are the Red Queen and the White Queen.

[5] To distinct between the different characters the author will upcoming refer to them with the year in brackets afterwards. Alice (1872) therefore means the author is talking about Carroll’s Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, while Alice (1865) means Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, whereas Alice (2010) refers to Alice in Burton’s first movie, and Alice (2016) to the one in Burton’s second movie.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 17 Seiten


Madness and insanity in the novel “Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice found there” by Lewis Carroll in Comparison to the Filmic Adaptation produced by Tim Burton
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madness, through, looking-glass, alice, lewis, carroll, comparison, filmic, adaptation, burton
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Jessica Schur (Autor:in), 2016, Madness and insanity in the novel “Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice found there” by Lewis Carroll in Comparison to the Filmic Adaptation produced by Tim Burton, München, GRIN Verlag,


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