The widespread use of opium during the Victorian period may have influenced or been reflected in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. Mind altering experiences resulting from narcotics relate nicely to some of the detailed descriptions in the Alice books, such as the growing and shrinking and the image of the caterpillar smoking the hookah.
The complex dream atmosphere which Alice lives through can easily be compared to a mind-altering drug experience. The idea of eating a mushroom or drinking from a bottle that causes one to feel altered in some way parallels drug experience as well. In Carroll's time five out of six families used opium habitually (Wohl 34-35) Infant mortality was an extremely common result of use of the narcotic. It was said that infants "shrank up into little old men" when they became sick (Wohl 34-35). This image is strangely similiar to that of the duchess's baby turning into a pig.
The baby grunted again, and Alice looked very anxiously into it's face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a very turn-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose; also its eyes were getting extremely small for a baby. altogether Alice did not like the look of the thing at all. 'But perhaps it was only sobbing,' she thought, and looked into its eyes again, to see if there were any tears.
No, there were no tears. 'If you're going to turn into a pig, my dear,' said Alice, seriously, 'I'll have nothing more to do with you. Mind now!' The poor little thing sobbed again (or grunted it was impossible to say which), and they went on for some while in silence.
Regardless of whether or not the books are written as a result of opium use, it seems very likely that they refer to various aspects of its use. Perhaps Carroll, who loved children, argued its harmfulness to children. Or maybe it was included simply as a sign of the times — a reflection of the age.
Last modified December 1993