The rushing White Rabbit, the grinning Cheshire cat, the wise hookah-smoker Absolem, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, Victorian tea parties, cricket games with flamingos and hedgehogs. More than 150 years have passed since Alice, jumping into the rabbit hole, fell into a wonderland full of surreal characters and events. But there is never an end to the hidden meanings and discoveries about this amazing story. Is this work, written as a children's book, really only for children? Or are the symbolism and sub-messages present actually for adults? There is only one way to understand this immortal work: follow the White Rabbit!
The Mad Hatter's Tea Party. Original Illustration by John Tenniel.
The mathematician Charles Dodgson, who worked at Christ Church, one of the colleges of the University of Oxford, invented a story one summer day in 1862 to entertain Alice Lidell and her two sisters during a river cruise. Dodgson, who later put this story on paper, called it“Alice's Adventures in Underground”. The writer, using the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, later expanded the story at the urging of his friends, and the book was published by Macmillan in 1865 as “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland''. The story, which attracts attention with its plot and characters, has become a cult over time. There have also been a lot of films, books, TV series, and music using the characters from the novel or referring to its subtext. Alice, who discovered the Underground in a dream she saw, has opened a door for her readers to explore life and themselves.
What Kind of Story is This?
Alice in Wonderland, which pushes one to question many things about society, politics, and life, also contains dozens of metaphors and philosophical thoughts. One of the reasons it is so popular is undoubtedly the chain of metaphors the writer uses and their introspective effect. The book, which is full of word games, contains simple, but very interesting dialogues that make one thinks. For example:
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to. Alice: I don't much care where. The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go. ''
Dodgson does not forget to include Logic, a subject of mathematics, in this story:
`Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see"!'
`You might just as well say,' added the March Hare, `that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!'
“Off with her head!” 1885. Image Credit: John Tenniel. Hand-colored proof.
As can be seen, the author has absorbed philosophy into his work. Alice, a questioning child, adorns her reader's mind with her enriched imagination. In his work where characters are animals, objects, fruits, and playing cards, the author seems to use the symbolic expression to share an indirect message. So much so that the rabbit trying to catch up, the wise caterpillar smoking hookah, the "mad" Hatter stuck in the tea time because his clock stopped, and the grinning cat seemed to be winking at the reader and trying to say something. In addition, with contrasts such as good-evil, rude behavior-kindness, small-big, short-long, the difference in perceiving the facts is emphasized.
While Carroll and his book, which was categorized as absurd literature, have become famous, the interpretations of the work also diversified. In the book, Alice's growth-degrowth and her wide imagination made some people think that Carroll was a drug addict. It was also alleged that he was actually a pedophile and was in love with Alice. Some critics said that the key and lock evoked sexual intercourse, and the caterpillar, to a lesser extent, the male genitalia. Others associated Alice's increase in length with Freud's definition of penis envy and revealed that the book contained references to sexuality. Finally, one other interpretation claimed that the work was actually a political satire and that Dodgson, who lived in the Victorian era, was actually criticizing England and the Queen through the character of Queen of Hearts. Although interpretations of the work vary, none of the claims have been proven, so Carroll's realm of the absurd is left to the reader's interpretation.
Lewis Carroll, 1863. Photograph by Oscar Gustav Rejlander.
Is it possible to call this book a crazy work written by a genius mathematician? Maybe. Wonderland is a boundless world where everything is possible, logic and irrationality find themselves intertwined, and there are no rules. Perhaps Carroll wanted to tell his reader that nothing is as it seems, and life goes much differently than expectations. Of course, the human mind needs such books, because sometimes the answer one is looking for can be found in confusion. Or in such cases, it is useful to consult Alice. As Jefferson Airplane sang in the song White Rabbit:
''And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice,
I think she will know''.
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Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Italy, Ladybird Classics, 2013.
“Victorian Interpretations.” Curiouser and Curiouser: The Evolution of Wonderland, www.carleton.edu/departments/ENGL/Alice/CritVict.html#:%7E:text=One%20popular%20approach%20to%20Alice%20has%20been%20to,over-awed%20by%20the%20Queen%20%28%20Lurie%205%20%29. Accessed 8 Jan. 2022.
Tenniel, John. ''The Mad Hatter's Tea Party''. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, https://londonist.com/london/museums-and-galleries/alice-in-wonderland-exhibition-v-and-a-2020
Tenniel, John. “Off with her head!”. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/65763/12-absurd-facts-about-alice-wonderland
Rejlander, Oscar. ''Lewis Carroll with Lens''. The Morgan Library & Museum, 1863, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/65763/12-absurd-facts-about-alice-wonderland