Charles Lutwedge Dodgson, surname Lewis Carroll, never married and was very fond of children, especially girls (O’Niell, 1), perhaps most evidenced by his photograph of Alice Liddel as the Beggar-Child (Collingwood). As strange as the aforementioned may sound, it exemplifies one facet of Lewis’ teachings, that through adopting and adapting to the norm of society his fascination with children may be interpreted as a Freudian neurological, psychological disorder of some sort of pedophilia. However, explicating his story of Alice through her cycle of growth and curiosity shows that his fascination was definitely not a sexual attraction but rather a fascination with the preservation of childlike curiosity in which binaries exist in order to create a self. This idea that he had an unhealthy obsession with little girls is believed to have come from Lewis’ life being handled by “inexperienced psychologists,” who would have had “a field day analyzing Carroll’s relationship with small girls…But there is no reason to believe that his conscious affection was ever impure.” (O’Niell, 1).
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is Carroll’s soft proclamation to readers to hold on to “the simple and loving heart of her childhood,” (Carroll, chapter 12) and for those who hold on to that lesson to spread if along. It is through this, the preservation of childhood illusion and ability to produce fantasy, in a sense a heightened curiosity, that learning is the most productive. Though his story was not scripted off of a logical and analytical process in order to convey the Freudian Lacan theories of maturation and learning, it is the very example of how the binary thinking, basically the separation of self and other, works to create a harmony of self identification and a confident interior reality separated from the exterior objects.
His prologue to his tale outlines his awareness of a child’s more selfish actions for the sake of feeling an emotion in a satirical jab, describing the Liddels, Prima, Secunda (Alice Liddel, the one that the story is based on), and Tertia, with “Ah, cruel Three!” for prodding him to tell them a tale without rest. He foreshadows certain instances that will happen in Alice’s adventures, such as the smiling cat, and describe the sisters to “half believe it true” (Collingwood), pointing out both a child’s sense of growing awareness coupled with their ability to create a fantasy world of illusions. This sets up the tone of a satire, in which Carroll crafts the argument that in a way, formal and official education is actually harmful to education itself since it quells and suppresses curiosity, “kills the curiosity belonging to the culture of children” (Wah, 26), one that celebrates the fantasy and the questioning and creation of reality.
Carroll’s journey that Alice sets off on is one of education, which in turn crafts her realization of self. Once she finds her voice and can cognitively analyze objects, she can escape her fear. For example, when she begins to grow again at the end of her journey in the courtroom, and says, “You are all a bunch of cards!” (Carroll, chapter 12), she seems to have found her courage through her education and is able to assert herself, whereas prior to the trial scene, she was unsure of how to claim an identity when answering the Caterpillar. Her experiences in the exterior world, such as falling through the tunnel, shrinking, meeting strange creatures, and being compared to a serpent because of the length of her neck, all work to define her and convince her that she is not Alice, Dinah’s owner. What Carroll does is reflect to readers the journey that a child’s brain is most lively in in order to learn and create an image of self.
One proposed explanation to the sequence of events is that Alice starts in a birth tunnel, the tunnel she falls through, and ends up in the end being “socialized with mixed results” (Frey, 2). However, this explanation would eliminate the possibility of revival of the childhood pattern of curiosity. Though Alice has in a sense become socialized, it is not the end result that should be questioned but rather the process through which she came to attain socialization and identity that should be studied. There is always room to question the results, but those questions will arise from an individual’s growth and learning experience. With the proposed idea above, Alice becomes a social subject rather than a human being, which leads to the loss of innocence with knowledge. This has the potential to become the death of society, since without the existence of curiosity or vitality, a sort of neurological death occurs. This idea reflects “Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle that “the aim of all life is death” (Wah, 28).
A better explanation of Alice’s end result and connection with her interior self, rejecting the exterior reality, is that she started with binaries. One scene that displayed this effect well is the scene in which she half assuredly argues her existence as a serpent. This occurs right after her encounter with the Caterpillar, in which she is convinced that the physical size she is in at any given moment changes her identity during that moment, therefore her identity, her self and reality, is constantly changing. Carroll then takes her in to the classroom, in which her theory is questioned and refuted. Her neck elongates due to the mushroom, and she is mistaken for a serpent, yet she says to the Pigeon, “I’m not a serpent! I’m a little girl,” and adds to that “I have tasted eggs” (Carroll, chapter 5) which momentarily confuses her of her own identity as a human being. In this case of object-usage, in which an individual “ acknowledges the fact that the external world is separate from, and at the same time linked to, the subjective mind” (Wah, 28), Alice has the chance to realize that though a serpent exists, and her neck might look like a serpent to the Pigeon, who possesses a less analytical mind than Alice the human being, that the serpent is exterior of her identity and therefore her body. She is in the process of learning what her body is and what she herself is. The external reality, which in this case is the existence of the serpent and the Pigeon’s point of view, are fixed, as described by Winnicott (Wah, 28). What Alice must do, as she has to in the rest of her journey before she has a firmer grasp of her self and identity, is unincorporated her interior from the fixed exterior.
This goes along with another aspect of Alice’s learning process in which she learns what is wrong and why it is wrong. She begins by constantly mentioning Dinah to a number of creatures who fear cats, knowing that cats consume the creatures such as the mouse, yet continues to do so. Toward the end, however, she seems to have learned and has connected the fact that a cat exists and part of its existence is to eat mice, and that she should not mention the fact that she has tasted a lobster to the Mock Turtle and Gryphon. While learning what she herself is, a little girl, she is learning what others are and their existence as well, which hinges on the existence or absence of other creatures, such as the mouse and cat relationship.
Carroll introduces an element of rejuvenation and infinitude of the process of learning, paralleling the theme of preservation of what is forever young. He includes the scene of the baby, in which Alice is told by the moralistic Duchess, who, like most other characters, is a creature of pride and other ills of society, to take care of. This in terms of psychological growth of learning speaks to Alice’s inability still yet to separating and rejecting external influences on what she knows is right. The illustration shows Alice holding a pig, yet for a while she believes it still to be a baby, though she describes it to have an upturned nose and beady black eyes. She also notes that “ the poor little thing was snorting like a steam-engine when she caught it” (Carroll, chapter 7), yet still is unable to let go of external, or societal, influences attempting to convince her that the pig is the baby, since they genuinely believe it to be so. What this does to readers is worth exploring as well. Since the tale is obviously based in a fantasy world, in which creativity is bursting, readers depending on age can become indecisive in what they should believe. Those who have adopted the norm of reality will be quick to analyze this scene as aforementioned or perhaps see the pig as a magical pig that was a baby until it reached Alice’s arms. However, a child, who is more accepting to the unrealities, the illusions and fantasies, and is actually more prone to live in that world, might see the pig as the latter, the magical pig, and accept it to perhaps be reality.
Another relevancy of this scene is to insert the idea of curiosity in a child and the path to growth in learning and curiosity. The pig’s environment, if it had been a baby, was destructive. The people around it were linear and inflexible in their way of thinking. The cook was simply a cook and rarely uttered much, and the Duchess was viewed first as rude and obstinate, then a highly moralistic character. What these characters did to the pig (who is assumed to have been a baby before Alice touched it) was to suppress any possibility of it being able to question. Like all the other characters, who represented just one facet of society, and were not so open to questioning, a young baby in the hands of such an oppressive rule, its mother, might as well have turned in to a pig, who possesses less of a cognitive ability than humans do to perceive reality.
At the end of the novel Alice is told to have woken up from a dream and was covered in “some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face” instead of the cards that attacked her in the courtroom after her triumphant self-assertion. However, Carroll does not end the novel by destroying the possibility and world of fantasy created through his words, but propels it through the older sister, who wishes to stay eyes closed, though she, like the Liddels described in his prologue, only “half believed herself in Wonderland”. The novel provides an escapism away from society’s implemented process of teaching, which differs from the Tortoise who taught “the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision” (Carroll, chapter 9) for both the adults who have perhaps been taught by formal education, and for the children who crave and thrive on the education provided by the Tortoise, and Carroll’s book.
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland explores the protagonist Alice’s journey through Wonderland, or Underland, in which she initially only accepts as a dream and has completely separated as an external reality, if it even could be considered a reality to her in the beginning. She has become a social subject, and has been shaped by society’s needs and restraints and constraints on her since the death of her father, whom she said would have laughed at her joke about codfishes being a social norm which her mother simply scorned at. What Burton takes her on is a journey to reconcile not only her own identity away from the external society of high class England, but also to be able to learn and accept with a child’s level of curiosity a fantasy world, and believe in something the polar opposite of what she has been taught. This split existence of the external world is where Alice’s vitality is restored, the vitality and energy of a child.
Hamish, her suitor who has been completely integrated and accepted the culture of high society England, or anywhere else in the world, is one of the most obvious contrasts to Alice’s still innate thirst for adventure which has been suppressed by living her years of adolescence and youth under the shadow of society. While her mother possesses the fears instilled by society, such as raising a daughter who is wanted as a wife, of raising a family who follows the social construction of “what is proper,” Hamish is the character who exists as the opposite of what her father was, the one who encouraged her and told her that all the great people are mad. Hamish questions Alice’s curiosity, and is repulsed by her fantasies of “all the men in dresses and the women in trousers” or “how it’d be like to fly,” all things that are opposite of what is accepted as normal and real in society. His sense of self is so far immersed in what the external, fixed world has defined to be real.
In Alice’s adventure, which contains a surprising amount of violence, she starts from simply going along with the actions control her because she believes it to be a dream, to taking control and deciding her own actions while all at the same time gaining confidence in her own identity. She gains her “muchness,” and is very much herself, shorn of the doubts both in terms of courage and in terms of the reality of the high-class England, and the rest of the external world itself. The violence shakes her from her disbelief of the world and allows her to realize that it is in fact able to harm her, which anchors her in reality. Her transitional space, which is the part of the psyche that is testing reality (Wah, 25), is working on evaluating her experiences. Winnicott theorizes in order for an object to switch from existing in a person’s interior mind to existing only in their exterior reality, it must be destroyed in fantasy, much like an infant who despises the mother for not soothing all its needs, and destroys through aggression the mother in its fantasy, thus placing her outside of it. Alice in Burton’s film destroys the jabberwocky, thus in a way places it in her reality, since the jabberwocky at the time exists inside another realm, her realm that contradicts reality. She goes through the process of accepting what she believes to be a dream through the process of aggression, which is natural to human beings during growth and maturation.
Alice exhibits tendencies that may categorize her as masculine, such as her ability to lead battle, her muscle tone shown during her face off with the Bloody Red Queen, and her ability to become infiltrate the business world, which is very much the public sphere. However, the film adds a level to this in order to destruct this notion of masculinity, and equalizes gender, and pushes audiences to accept that the mentioned traits are not masculine and do not make a woman special if she possesses these traits, but rather makes her stronger. These concepts important to maturation are also explored, questioning how and why she adopted these traits, which are elucidated through her journey. Her strength and courage, her muchness, are extracted through her constant defiance toward the characters that possess a linear existence and are concerned with only certain things in life.
Alice is able to use both her knowledge and nurture of high class society with her wit and curiosity in order to defeat the red queen. On first meeting the red queen, she has enough sense to pretend her name is Um, and remains quiet and polite while at the same time scheming an escape from the red queen. Her dealing with suitors such as Hamish opened her up to the not so innocent advances of Stain, the red queen’s assistant and love interest. Stain, who embodies villainy, violence, and insincerity, is the opposite of Hamish who has become a product of society, and has learned to control his libidinal desires. Alice puts to practice what she has learned is to be a good man and completely rejects Stain.
The changing of attire emphasizes both the state she is in, whether she is with the red queen or white queen, and also the physical size of Alice. The dresses are easily manipulated, and can be quickly snipped in to a little blue dress or a larger red one, noting Alice’s constant changing identity. However, the armor at the end cannot be changed and will only fit Alice when she becomes herself, or rather, her own size. After she meets Absolem again and experiences flashbacks of herself when she was little in what she referred to as Underland, she regains her identity and realizes that the she is not in a dream, but rather actually in a tunnel leading to an abnormal world- that is, a world opposing the norms of society’s realism. When she regains her sense of purpose and muchness, of amounting to some substance of usefulness and existence, she can fit in the suit in her actual size.
The addition of Alice branching off of the normal life style of a woman in her era and becoming an explorer and business woman further develops the idea that the curiosity of a child in the process of learning can lead to bigger ideas, especially those considered mad. Burton also officially plucks Alice out of the land of childhood, while still keeping the objects of Wonderland in the reality of England, such as Absolem landing on Hamish’s shoulder or Absolem the butterfly on the ship, and places her in the adult world. She doesn’t stop her adventure in Wonderland but continues her learning and curiosity in China and other proposed countries of business trade. Alice grasps the idea of money and survival while imbuing with them her sense of child-like wonder.
Burton successfully stays true to Carroll’s unintentional exploration of a child’s psyche, and puts Alice in the same path as little Alice of Carroll’s original, but twists the world in to a darker world with more graphic violence, and stronger relationships between the characters. Whereas Carroll’s creatures were not an integral part in helping Alice through Wonderland, Alice in Burton’s world become her friends and work with her. This is perhaps to show the disparity between a child and adult’s mind, in that the child’s mind is still focused on the self, whereas Burton’s Alice who is 20 years old is more integrated with her external world, objects, experiences, and people. Both Alices, despite the differences between their interaction and relationships with the external beings, go through a learning experience to find the definition of self. Carroll’s Alice seems to be going on it for the first time, whereas Burton’s Alice has forgotten her sense of self since the death of her father.
Since the film was made with more violence and themes of love, and dangerous love at that, it seems to be catered more toward an older audience, not one that Carroll’s story was initially told to. There are elements that only an older, more experienced crowd would identify with, such as Alice’s flee from Stain and Hamish and her career path at the end of the movie, which is such an integral part of maturation and creating an identity. In this way, the adaptation differs since it seems more like a rite of passage into adulthood whereas Carroll’s, if anything, is advocating staying in a childhood state and does not explore an adulthood. In this way, Burton’s adaptation strays from the original intention and focuses more on a growth, and perhaps can even be seen to contradict Carroll’s proposed idea of blossoming one’s thoughts yet staying still innocent.
Burton uses the Caterpillar’s conversation with Alice about size to introduce the idea of blooming and blossoming in to an adult. In both the adaptation and novel, Alice compares her size change to the Caterpillar’s chrysalis formation in which he would change form and size in to a butterfly. The Caterpillar, in the novel, denies that this will affect him and accepts it as a norm of life, whereas Alice sees it as changing identities. What is portrayed in the novel then is the disparity between Alice’s definition of identity, in which the size is the only thing that matters in defining an identity, whereas for the Caterpillar it is how oneself defines one’s own self, regarding the external and exterior changes as integral to learning experience. In the movie, this changing of Absolem in to a chrysalis parallels exactly Alice’s realization of who and what she is. She “chrysalizes” mentally, and reemerges as a butterfly. The issues are different than that of the novel, in which Alice deals with finding out which creature she might be, such as her confusion of whether or not she is a serpent. In the movie, she deals with finding out what the quintessence of her existence as a human being is, and is a quest for the interior self rather than exterior shell. She still, in a faithful adaptation to Carroll’s Alice, remains herself and keeps her curiosity without changing her size, but rather grows by changing her mind through the education she receives underground in Wonderland.
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