Introduction

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll crafted literary work of amazing staying power. They have proven relevant to audiences of all ages, have been translated into over one hundred languages, and are referenced and cited in academic works and popular culture to this day. They are enigmatic pieces of literature, a source of constant debate over meanings and the context of their creation. For over a century, readers have been puzzled and delighted by the language and logic of Wonderland, and the frequent references to Carroll’s works attest to a lasting interest in his subject matter, comical and philosophical content, and novel use of language throughout the Alice books.

Exchanges in Wonderland are conducted in a language that sounds much like English yet is governed by a very different logic. Words are given leeway to escape their dictionary-defined boundaries, and patterns of accepted speech and communication are manipulated and inverted. Instead of concerning himself with the message words carry as a part of phrases and sentences, Carroll unlocks words from their contexts and gives them an identity of their own; in Wonderland, a word is as much a condition as a thing, no matter what other words form a sentence around it. It has substance beyond its context, and the denizens of Wonderland move words freely from one context to the next as they build communication. Humpty Dumpty may best express how language functions in Wonderland when he explains to Alice:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that's all.”

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

“Would you tell me please,” said Alice, “what that means?'

“Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. “I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”

Alice strikes a rather central concept to the language of Wonderland when she notices a peculiarity in Humpty Dumpty’s use of language and inquires, accusatorily, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty, and perhaps Carroll as author and creator of Wonderland’s language, responds with a statement of his power, in the form of a parallel question: “which is to be master — that is all.” With this terse and disjointed thought, Humpty Dumpty reveals that the only requirement to define meaning in Wonderland is to assert oneself as master of words. Carroll, through the voice of Humpty Dumpty, proceeds to illustrate this “master” principle as he de-contextualizes the word “impenetrability” from both its socially-accepted definition and usage, as well as its meaning in the context of Humpty Dumpty’s dialogue, and employs it, tongue-in-cheek, to conclude the conversation about words and transition to the next topic.

If we were to apply this principle outside of Wonderland in order to examine the appearance of Carroll’s Wonderland words in books and academic journals, what are the implications created by other authors who become “masters” of Carroll’s words when they use them in new contexts?

Many authors have taken Carroll’s words, often cited as nonsense, and re-applied them to theory and concepts that they claim exist in reality. These applications extend far beyond the literary sphere into psychoanalysis, child psychology and education, and technology, among other fields. Because Carroll explores the substance of words and the relationship of meaning and context with the language of his Alice books, I raise the question, what happens when the content of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass is de-contextualized and inserted into new contexts within academic work.

This essay concerns itself with four types of study related to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass:

1. Psychoanalytical works that look to the Alice books as research material by which to shed light on Lewis Carroll in an attempt to provide context and raise discussions about the implications of the books’ possible meanings.

2. Psychoanalytic works that reference the Alice books to provide pertinent information related to patient case studies, or that associate Wonderland phenomena to clinical practice.

3. Psychological and related works focusing on human behavior, communication and interaction, and cognitive development that use the Alice books as teaching tools to illustrate examples of concepts and theory.

4. Works in other fields (including but not limited to medicine, engineering, physics, and mathematics) that reference the Alice books and widen the scope of its applications to the natural world.

Early psychoanalytical studies of Carroll and his Alice books heralded deeper discussions of their relationship and meaning, generating more interest and helping to preserve them as a part of popular culture and garner increasing attention as relevant to academic work. Intellectuals long after Carroll’s era have dug in and around his writings to unlock the secrets of Wonderland. Their cultural significance have made the Alice books continued to penetrate new academic fields, and new meaning is continually born from the fantasy of Carroll’s fiction.

Psychoanalyzing Lewis Carroll through the Looking-Glass of the Alice Books

Paul Schilder conducted one of the first psychological examinations of Carroll’s works in his “Psychoanalytic Remarks on Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll,” which appeared in a 1938 issue of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Schilder’s work attempts to assess the value of the Alice books to children by psychoanalyzing its author via his fictional work. He posits: “One would expect that the men writing for children should have or should have had a rich life and that this richness of experience might transmit something valuable to the child. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (this is the real name of the author) lived a rather narrow and distorted life” (159). This approach plays at the timeless question of the relationship between author and work as he, lacking sufficient biographical information for a proper psychoanalytic case-study, turns to Carroll’s works for evidence.

Schilder approaches the Alice books with the intent of psychoanalyzing the character of Alice and using aspects of character and symbolism within the books to understand the personas of Carroll and Dodgson, emphasizing their separate entities while noting that “Carroll himself has pointed this way by choosing a pseudonym and holding Charles Lutwidge Dodgson strictly separated from Lewis Carroll” (167). Alice faces the peculiar world that Carroll has dropped her into, a world filled with stressors that contribute to her many anxieties. In Wonderland, among a host of other factors, “there is a continuous threat to the integrity to the body in general,” and “an extreme aggressiveness finally distorts spaceÉThe stability of space is guaranteed by the vestibular apparatus and by postural reflexes. The stability of space is continually threatened in W. and L.G. . . . Time does not escape distortion” (162). These aggressions, Schilder explains, are manifestations of repressed sentiments and extensions of Carroll’s psyche into the work. The resulting atmosphere is one where “there is not much certaintyÉone does not wonder that Alice is rather afraid she might be a dream of the red king” (162).

These factors compound Alice’s anxieties, which he summarizes thus:

Most of her anxieties are connected with a change of her body (body image). It is either “too small” or “too big.” When it is too big she gets “squeezed,” or she “fills the room” [for instance at the end scene in Alice in Wonderland (W.)]. She feels “separated from her feet.” “She does not find the gloves of the rabbit.” She is frightened when she hears continually “about cutting heads off.” She is “threatened by the duchess and by the Queen of Hearts.” “Time either stops” (W.) or “goes in the complete opposite direction” (L.G.). She has “not the right ticket in the train.” “Animals pass remarks about her” (L.G.). “The mutton she wants to eat starts talking.” “The food is taken away from her” and the banquet scene (L.G.) ends in an uproar in which she is “threatened by the candles, by the ladle and by the bottles which have become birds.” These are indeed nightmares full of anxiety. We are accustomed to find such dreams in persons with strong repressions which prevent final satisfactions. Alice, although bewildered, remains passive. “Things happen to her.” Only towards the end she revolts against the King and Queen of Hearts (W.) and she even “shakes the red queen which turns out to be the black kitten” (L.G.). [161]

While Schilder certainly succeeds in illustrating the sheer concentration of anxieties that Alice faces in Wonderland, the means by which he does so renders the original text as a collage of snippets removed from their contexts. It appears that Schilder’s analysis takes on qualities similar to the source text in the way he collapses time and space across the Alice books to force together a narrative of her anxieties. Schilder even goes as far as to directly juxtapose events from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, noting shifts from one to the other with only parenthetical acronyms for the book titles. Rather than physical space or time, Schilder’s manipulation deals with the rearranging of a narrative that, no matter how disjointed and episodic, Carroll designed and set in place. One might argue that the resulting quotation is even more disorienting to follow than the dialogues between Alice and the Mad Hatter or Humpty Dumpty, and by that vehicle Schilder expresses what he believes the extent of Alice’s anxiety in the hostile environment of Wonderland.

Assessing the relationship between Carroll’s literary and Schilder’s psychoanalytical works, however, a more pressing question than orientation or logic is that of context. To a certain extent, every written work is subject to this sort of de- and re-contextualization as authors cite and use other writers’ words to convey their own message. This process is naturally perpetuated as articles and reviews express interpretations and opinions regarding written works, and other readers respond with their own new interpretations of both the original text and pieces written about it. Examining such widely-cited works as the Alice books, we can observe this single pair of texts as a wellspring that has inspired other writers to take Carroll’s words from their context and build new meaning, a process illustrated clearly in the language of the books themselves. Though this language is often deemed nonsensical and illogical, over a hundred years later new ideas and conclusions continue to build onto and out from concepts Carroll wrote into the original text.

The question of Carroll’s context when writing Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass has spawned a host of intellectual work. Schilder’s, which reaches through the Alice books to their origins in Carroll, seeks to illuminate the meaning he finds in the books with context from the author’s life and psyche. Other studies also seek to tie the literary work to its creator in attempts to understand Carroll’s motivations for writing and the inspirations for his work. Some point to his neurological condition and others to his psychological condition, especially regarding his social life and relationships with young girls.

Lippman, in his study “Certain Hallucinations Peculiar to Migraine,” posits that Carroll’s experience with migraines influenced his writing by temporarily distorting his perceptions of reality and causing him to see “fortifications” that did not actually exist. In later correspondence, Blau and Podoll/Robinson proceed to debate these findings, piecing together biographical information through Carroll’s letters and journals in order to accurately timeline their occurrence with respect to his writing activity (Blau 562; Podoll and Robinson 1366). In the debate over the influence of migraine on Carroll’s writing we find readers defending their perceptions of the books’ context; it is likely that they have done so because that context has some kind of bearing on the meaning they attribute to the work.

Hubbell, more focused on Carroll’s life and personality, carefully illustrates the personality of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll’s Alice, and delves in the details of her relationship with Carroll. In doing so, he raises questions of Carroll’s social life, sexual preferences, and conceptions of relationships. Describing Carroll’s social habits, he explains: “A bachelor all his days, held by a strict conscience to super-chastity, Lewis Carroll found in a sublimated friendship with little girls the emotional release which most men look for in love and marriageÉHis letters to children often reveal, but thinly disguised under playful nonsense, the essential spirit of romantic love” (189). Hubbell’s complex analysis of Carroll’s life and the Alice books links both the author’s and Alice Liddell’s personality traits to aspects of the Alice character and Wonderland. Such a treatment of the work pushes the reality of Carroll’s life and the fantasy of his fiction into close proximity. The proximity of the two worlds contextualizes the work as Hubbell interprets biographical information and excerpts from Alice in Wonderland to convey his perspective on Carroll’s characters and use of language; revealing this information feasibly alters the way people approach the book because it grounds the fantasy world in the context of its inspirations and the motivations of its writer.

Schilder explores both cognitive and relational aspects of Carroll’s psychological composition. He postulates a somatic rationale for Carroll’s interest in mirror writing and reversals that stemmed from his problems with stammering (163), relating the wordplay of Wonderland and its denizens to Carroll’s experience with speaking and language. Subsequently, he also attempts to divine the source of Wonderland’s hostile nature by examining the relationship between Carroll and his family, and Carroll and himself. Schilder asks: “What was [Carroll’s] relation to his sex organ anyhow? Fenichel has lately pointed to the possibility that little girls might become symbols for the phallus. Alice changes her form continually; she is continually threatened and continually in danger. There may have been in the wish for feminine passivity and a protest against it. He plays the part of the mother to little girls but the little girl is for him also the completion of his own body” (166). The concept of Alice as a kind of phallic projection is a rather bold statement, especially given the fact that “these are complicated discussions and are not fully justified since we do not know enough about the fantasy life of Carroll; (166). Nevertheless, it is a statement that has spawned further discussion and controversy, deepening the perceived context of the Alice books and bringing the realm of Wonderland closer to reality in that respect. In an issue of American Imago a decade thereafter, articles by Skinner and Grotjahn expand on Schilder’s pioneering observations, the former by further biographical psychoanalysis and the latter by a study of the symbolization of the Alice books.

Martin Grotjahn’s “About the Symbolization of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” discusses the regression of symbols in Alice in Wonderland as “Words assume more and more their own meaning and finally have lost their object cathexis like in a schizophrenic psychosisÉWhat in the beginning of the story seemed to have been a re-discovery of an old childhood enjoyment, to ridicule intelligence, logic, time and space, becomes later a world of its own, again resembling a psychotic break with reality or at least presenting the scars of such a break” (37). He sees that breakdown of symbolization occur within the “Mock Turtle’s Story” and “Lobster-Quadrille,” where “disintegrated symbolisms” are united with what the Duchess calls “morals:”

“Tut, tut, child!” said the Duchess. “Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.” And she squeezed herself up closer to Alice's side as she spoke. . . .

“Tis so,” said the Duchess: “and the moral of that is — “Oh, ‘tis love,’ tis love, that makes the world go round!’” . . .

“Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves.” [37-38]

Analytical studies of Carroll’s use of language in the Alice books often concern themselves with this breakdown of definition and the traditional applications of words. In this case, the Duchess’s use of the word “morals” disintegrates its significant cultural context. Typically, a story is told in order to illuminate some sort of accepted moral value or quality; however, the Duchess’s morals are simply mutations of famous quotations; it is difficult to even determine what “that” the moral is derived from, and much less how the moral relates to it. When the mind faces this dilemma it must process the symbolic regression and come to terms with the break in language standard.

Unlike Schilder, however, Grotjahn concludes that this regression is ultimately beneficial for mental health:

Such books as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland lead to an artistic and testing regression; they open a temporary guilt-free and relatively anxiety-free communication to the unconscious. Necessary repression and sublimation are achieved easier and with healthier results when the communication with the creative unconscious is kept alive, free and open. [37]

Comparing the two works, we see that varying interpretations of the Alice books across psychoanalytic studies over time illustrate an evolution of both perceptions of the Alice books and also of psychology and psychoanalytic theory as a whole.

Even this limited sample of writings that focus on grounding the Alice books in biographical and psychological context raises many questions regarding context and the relationship between writer and work. Does the context change the meaning of the text? Wonderland is on one hand a fantasy world, and its characters are quite happy rejecting the language and logic of our reality; however, this fantasy world was certainly crafted by a man. To what extent does the psychological makeup of the man who wrote the books produce their meaning? How does learning about the writer’s life and mind influence how his audience reads and derives meaning from them? These are questions that are by no means exclusive to Carroll and his Alice books, yet are relevant to them as pervasive literary work and pop-culture symbol. Conversely, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have likely retained their relevance precisely because of their ability to create such a lasting impression through their novel linguistic, psychological, and logical implications.

Contextualizing the Psychoanalytical Study of Lewis Carroll

In moving from psychoanalytic works that reach back through the Looking-Glass to Carroll to works that refer to Carroll’s works in order to explain psychological cases, it would perhaps be prudent to provide some context for Schilder’s study of Carroll and how his psychoanalytic work was received. In “Beyond the Bounds of the Basic Rule — Some Recent Contributions to Applied Psychoanalysis,” Kohut summarizes and discusses Greenacre’s analysis of the public reaction to Schilder’s article:

One newspaper editorial suggested that anyone who sought to understand symbolism or hidden meanings should be kicked downstairs in the manner of the inquisitive young man and Father William; another made a 'declaration of war' and warned psychiatrists 'to take their hands off our Alice, ' . . . Several turned the tables and accused him [Paul Schilder] of being a sadist" (p. 259). And Greenacre asserts that "the reaction of stormy touchiness seemed to indicate an almost religious protectiveness, especially since the main counterassertion was that the writings should not be examined or investigated at all" (p. 259).

The outraged public reaction to these psychoanalytic works, which attests to their significance to the field of psychoanalytic biography, also reveals an interesting development in the evolution of the Alice adventures as a part of popular culture. After its inception, Carroll’s work became a canonical work of child literature beloved by people of all ages. These studies of Carroll and Wonderland threatened this paradigmatic image by painting Carroll as a man different in character than the public expected him to be and by manipulating the playful atmosphere associated with Wonderland into a hostile, aggressive space. Greenacre argues that people experience in “Carroll’s supreme artÉan unconscious outlet through humor for . . . destructive pressures without a provocation to action” (568). “By implication,” Kohut responds, “Greenacre interprets the outcries of the Alice defenders as a manifestation of an insecure capacity to sublimate those deep aggressions for which the nonsense created by Carroll's genius provides such a delightful catharsis” (568). This exchange, yet another psychological interpretation of Carroll’s work, hones in on the question of the Alice books’ impact on readers with renewed relevance to Carroll’s use of language and logic and even extends the psychological study to Carroll’s readers in positing what they might gain experientially from reading of Alice’s adventures.

Carroll’s literary work sits at the center of this discussion precisely because he chose to break culturally and socially accepted language, logic, and communication norms in the crafting of Wonderland; nevertheless, in doing so his work and use of language became a part of the canon of literary works, a part of an established order much like the language and logic he disassembled in Wonderland. In a sense, Schilder and the psychoanalytic biographers who follow him accomplish a similar paradigm-breaking feat in contextualizing Alice’s adventures and Carroll’s de-contextualized Wonderland language. They shatter the clear and definite conception of Alice and Wonderland and impose another lens from which to examine Carroll and his fantastic world.

Carroll and Alice as Reference for Clinical Cases

Lewis Carroll and the Alice books are relevant to psychology not only in the psychoanalytic biographical studies that attempt to contextualize them but also within psychoanalytic studies that reference them in order to illustrate certain conditions within case studies.

Joseph C. Solomon, in a study titled “Alice and the Red King — The Psycho-Analytic View of Existence,” relates the discussion of Alice as a dream of the Red King to an experience of one of his patients. She described a dream to him: “'There is a giant lying on the grass. There is a big round circle above him indicating that he is dreaming (like in the comic strips). I'm in that dream just doing ordinary things. I get the idea that I exist only in his dream. It is important for him to stay asleep, because if he wakes up, I will disappear. This is a tremendous fear” (65). Undoubtedly, this dream shares a similar form with the dream of the Red King incident in Through the Looking-Glass, which Solomon relates following a discussion of the patient’s psychological condition:

“Isn't he a lovely sight?” said Tweedledum. Alice couldn't say honestly that he was. He had a tall red night-cap on with a tassel, and he was lying crumpled up into a sort of untidy heap and snoring loud — “fit to snore his head off!” as Tweedledum remarked.

“I'm afraid he'll catch cold with lying on the damp grass,” said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl. “He's dreaming now,” said Tweedledee: “and what do you think he's dreaming about?” Alice said, “Nobody can guess that.” “Why, about you!” Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you'd be?” “Where I am now, of course,” said Alice. “Not you!” Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. “You'd be nowhere. Why, you're only a sort of thing in his dream!”

“If that there King was to wake,” added Tweedledum, “you'd go out — bang! — just like a candle!” “I shouldn't!” Alice exclaimed indignantly. “Besides, if I'm only a sort of thing in his dream, what are you, I should like to know?”

“Ditto,” said Tweedledum.

“Ditto, ditto!” cried Tweedledee.

He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn't help saying “Hush! You'll be waking him, I'm afraid, if you make so much noise.” “Well, it's no use your talking about waking him,” said Tweedledum, “when you're only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you're not real.”

“I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.

At its base, Alice’s reaction to the possibility of being just a dream in the sleeping mind of the Red King concerns itself with “the primitive concept of existence” (65). Solomon explains, “The basic 'need for attention' which is a universal motivation in childhood is actually a search for reassurance that one's image appears in the mind of a person important in the life of the individual” (65). This is certainly a valid interpretation that Solomon has made based on the open-ended anecdote Carroll created to have any number of philosophical and psychological implications.

Solomon additionally postulates that the Red King “represents the projected thoughts of a little girl into the mind of a powerful father-person,” and looks to Greenacre’s Swift and Carroll; a psychoanalytic study of two lives for biographical information he might use to explain the inspiration for writing of such a dream and how his patient may share a similar experience (65). Thus he derives meaning from the Red King passage based on the context created by Greenacre and Schilder and applies that meaning to psychoanalytical theories in order to shed light on his patient’s condition. When this study was published, it became a permanent link between Carroll’s fiction and Solomon’s patient, two separate realms of existence. Does this use of Carroll’s text, in some fashion, pull our reality towards the fantasy of Wonderland? As Carroll’s Alice books continue to manifest in other subject area and permeate popular culture, the nonsense and absurdity of Wonderland is continuously inserted into theories that govern how we perceive ourselves and our society.

In an unrelated yet contemporary study, Barchilon compares some drawings made by a young girl over a two-year period, beginning when she was four-and-a-half years old. This study is interesting because it provides an instance of a passing reference to Lewis Carroll’s works, which raises a discussion of the nuanced impact of the iconic work on his psychological study. For confidentiality purposes, Barchilon explains that his subject “will somewhat arbitrarily be named Alice, after Alice in Wonderland” (257). The choice of Alice seems fitting, as Carroll’s Alice books have much to say about child psychology and development, but one cannot help to wonder how associating the subject with Carroll’s Alice may color a reader’s perception of the study. When Barchilon later discusses the child’s drawings and development as reflected in her style and subject, he asks: “If we can witness this rapid, changing symbolization and creation occurring in a child, over a two-year period, what could happen when a mature artist uses all his skill and art to express some of his archaic conflicts, repressed, transformed, yet seeking expression?” (264-65). Though the discussed medium is visual rather than literary, this statement calls to mind some of the psychoanalytical studies focused on Carroll and the Alice books, and the repressed conflicts that Carroll may have expressed through Alice’s interactions with Wonderland’s inhabitants.

The Alice Books as Teaching Tools

Although psychoanalytical studies of Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland abound, psychological analyses of Carroll and his masterworks also delve into their applications to human communication and behavior, cognitive development, and group dynamics. Many articles use Alice episodes to illustrate examples of theories and concepts. Books that are so frequently referred to because of their strangeness, absurdity, and the nonsense language within them have over time become valuable teaching tools of child development and human interaction.

In a chapter titled “Pathological Communication” in Pragmatics of Human Communication, Watzlawick, Bavelas and Jackson describe behavioral patterns that defy typical models of communication and are symptomatic of mental illness. While discussing the communicative tendencies of schizophrenics, Watzlawick et al. define “Schizophrenese” as “a language which leaves it up to the listener to take his choice from among many possible meanings which are not only different from but may even be incompatible with one another. Thus, it becomes possible to deny any or all aspects of a message” (73). They proceed to explain the converse situation, called “brainwashing,” with the example of a conversation between Alice and the Red and White Queens (74):

“I'm sure I didn't mean — “ Alice was beginning, but the Red Queen interrupted her impatiently.

“That's just what I complain of! You should have meant! What do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning? Even a joke should have some meaning — and a child's more important than a joke, I hope. You couldn't deny that, even if you tried with both hands.”

“I don't deny things with my hands,” Alice objected.

“Nobody said you did,” said the Red Queen. “I said you couldn't if you tried.”

“She's in that state of mind,” said the White Queen “that she wants to deny something — only she doesn't know what to deny!”

“A nasty, vicious temper,” the Red Queen remarked; and then there was an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two.

The Red and White Queen “brainwash” Alice by taking the things she says and applying any meaning they choose to her words. This technique is essential to the language of the characters of Wonderland, who are always puzzling Alice by assessing different meanings to her words than she had intended. The use of the above dialogue as an example of this type of communication speaks to the relevance of the Alice books to studies of interactional patterns, and also to their value as teaching tools. The stories of Alice’s adventures are widely known and offer an easily-relatable way to explain complex topics through the playful situations that Carroll crafted.

Lough too sees educational value in Carroll’s work as he traces lessons in logic and behavior through Alice in Wonderland, illustrating various concepts related to adolescent psychology with Alice’s interactions in Wonderland. The Cheshire Cat introduces Alice to syllogistic reasoning, and the Queen of Hearts provides training in dealing with authority figures (312-13). At the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Alice learns a lesson in impulsivity and over-confidence (309-10):

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“I've had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can't take more.”

“You mean you can't take less,” said the Hatter: “it's very easy to take more than nothing.”

“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.

Lough reveals how impulsiveness leads Alice into a logical trap here, for a simple “Yes, thank you” would have avoided the Hatter’s backlash; instead, over-confidence acquired from other lessons in Wonderland causes her to act impulsively and fall into the March Hare’s trap (310). Carroll’s Alice enters Wonderland with a preexisting set of behavioral patterns that reflect her child-rearing and social conditioning, and as she comes into contact with many characters whose ways of thinking differ from her own she learns valuable lessons about communication. Lough projects theories of cognitive development onto the conversations between Alice and the Wonderland creatures, teaching by using Carroll’s work as examples to illustrate theory.

As a result of his productive usage of the text in building from Carroll’s writing and mixing in his own intentions to use the text as a teaching tool, Lough’s conclusion regarding the impact of Alice’s Wonderland travels on her life is far different from those of the psychoanalysts: “ . . . she re-enters [the everyday world] as a new person with new skills and strengths. Alice’s newly-acquired cognitive, moral, and ego development enable her to rise out of the unconscious” (314). Indeed, this re-contextualizing of Alice in Wonderland takes on a very different tone than the psychoanalytic studies concerned with contextualizing a hostile and disconcerting Wonderland in the details of Carroll’s life. This is further evidence of how authors over time continue to infuse their own readings and perceptions of meaning into Carroll’s work, continually widening its scope and allowing it to take on new meanings. The audience of Carroll’s books, in effect, is much like the Red and White Queen; Carroll has set out his words in conversation with his readers, and they are free to “brainwash” them as they will, assessing any variety of meanings to them.

Alice, in her interactions with the characters of Wonderland, also presents a novel case study of group dynamics. Maharajh examines Alice as a foreigner of the multi-racial group of Tea Party members, stressing the differences in thinking patterns that cause friction between her and the Mad Hatter’s group, as well as the psychological and cognitive adaptations that she makes when she attempts to become a part of it. Alice initially rejects the group, leaving with an exasperated sigh of “at any rate I'll never go there again! . . . It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!” Nevertheless, Maharajh inquires: “What would happen if Alice went for afternoon tea once per week for a couple of years? She will, perhaps, learn to function there in a stable enduring way. She must alter her previous 'perception and logic' in order to accept this new 'crazy' system” (86). Studying the Tea Party as an example of group dynamics, Maharajh ponders Alice’s possible integration as a member of the group, and in the process infuses Carroll’s Wonderland with a dose of real-world logic. From a literary standpoint, Maharajh’s later discussion of the Mad Hatter as a group leader who “questions his own role in allowing Alice to feel that she does not belong” (86) is peculiar. Given the manner in which Carroll characterizes the Hatter with a pension for logical traps and unsolvable riddles, it is a wonder the Hatter would question his own role in anything, let alone his treatment of Alice. For the purposes of the study, however, Maharajh injects his own intentions into the Hatter, re-contextualizing the fiction to suit his selected topic. In the end, Maharajh applies the concepts conveyed through his Tea Party case study to multi-racial group dynamics in the United Kingdom, relating concepts born of Carroll’s fiction to relationships and interactions that occur in the natural world (87).

Beyond Psychology: Manifestations of Wonderland in the Natural and Applied Sciences

Beyond literary, linguistic, psychoanalytical, and cognitive developmental discussions of Lewis Carroll and the Alice books, articles written and studies conducted in a wide range of other fields illuminate the massive scope of their possible applications and offer more grounds for the works’ continued presence in academic circles and popular culture to this day. Just as Carroll strove to break language free of its accepted context and logic in the speech of the characters of Wonderland, his work succeeds in escaping its own contexts and finding life, through the ongoing efforts of other authors, in countless new domains.

In medicine, Whitelaw and Black present “examples from the history of sleep apnea to illustrate the far-reaching principle known as the Fundamental Interconnectedness of Everything” (210). During the Mad Tea Party the character of the Dormouse, they explain, expresses his disability with a riddle:

You may as well say that “I sleep when I breathe” is the same as “I breathe when I sleep.”

Although the Dormouse and his Tea Party compatriots would likely object to being diagnosed with any sort of apnea, or any condition other than another cup of tea for that matter, Whitelaw and Black have identified what they deem a clinical observation of sleep apnea within Alice in Wonderland. Furthermore, they note that “the incident closes when the Mad Hatter and March Hare get tired of a tedious story being told by the Dormouse and deal with him by thrusting him head first into a teapot that fits tightly around his neck, thus compressing the air in the pot and producing continuous positive airway pressure, which is the best treatment for obstructive sleep apnea” (211). Whether Carroll actually had knowledge of sleep apnea long before its discovery in medical science (210), or Whitelaw and Black simply wanted to use the Dormouse as a clever analogy to explain sleep apnea and a possible treatment, the continued citation of Carroll’s work in the 21st century speaks to is staying power and how far it has traveled from its initial context as children’s literature.

Hazelrigg links the Alice books to Engineering Design theory, identifying the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat as something like an interaction between a program and an application user. When Alice is lost and asks the Cheshire Cat for direction,

. . . the Cat instead offers advice on making decisions in general, and its statement forms the underlying tenet of all modern normative decision theory. The rational choice is that alternative whose outcome is most preferred by the decision maker. This is an incredibly important concept, yet utterly simple.

In any decision, it is only the preference of the decision maker that matters. The Cat did not say to Alice, ÔThat depends on where your mother wants you to go,’ or ÔThat depends on where your stakeholders want you to go,” or “That depends on where your customers want you to go.” The Cat is precise and clear, ÔThat depends on where you [Alice, and nobody else] want to get to.” We conclude, from the Cat’s advice, that, in the analysis of any decision situation, we should be concerned only with the preference of the decision maker, and no one else. [760]

Alice’s new context within an engineering text is yet another application of the Alice books to teaching concepts from a diverse range of fields by example. Hazelrigg even substitutes other options for alternative decision-makers, altering Carroll’s original text, in order to clearly convey the central concept that “the rational choice is that alternative whose outcome is most preferred by the decision maker” (760). By taking up a logical reading of the interaction between Alice and the Cat, Hazelrigg illustrates how the Cheshire Cat responds to Alice’s rather unclear statements of preference by only trying to clarify those preferences and helping her to reach an optimal decision, a model of normative decision theory (761). The discussion that follows, which juxtaposes the Cheshire Cat’s advice with mathematical functions and the charts of outcome, probability, and utility, fuse the so-called nonsense of Wonderland with real, logical decision theory.

This manifestation of Wonderland in the natural world continues as papers reference occurrences in the Alice books to explain real-world phenomena. Looking to medical and physics research, we find additional references to Carroll’s work, to the extent of medical terminology and physics theory named after phenomena in the Alice books. English Psychiatrist John Todd identified a family of symptoms characterized by “illusory changes in the size, distance, or position of stationary objects in the subject’s visual field” which he deemed “the syndrome of Alice in Wonderland” on the basis of their similarity to Alice’s changing size and the added fact that “Carol himself suffered from migraine” (701-2). He details cases of patients who have experienced sensations similar to Alice’s many size transformations in Alice in Wonderland:

A single woman, aged 39 . . . complained of recurrent attacks during which she feels that her body is growing larger and larger until it seems to occupy the whole room . . .

A single man, aged 40 . . . [experienced] a recurrent feeling that he was much taller or shorter than was actually the case. Sometimes he felt that he was eight feet tallh, but at other times he felt as though he had shrunk to a mere three feet. In addition, he was often conscious of a feeling that his head was “twice its normal size and light as a feather” . . .

A housewife, aged 24 . . . Periodically she felt that her stature had altered — “the ground comes up and I go down or vice versa, so that sometimes I feel myself to be six inches tall and sometimes twelve feet.” [702]

These cases share clear similarities to the size-shifting incidents in “Down the Rabbit Hole,” “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill,” and “Advice from a Caterpillar,” in which Alice shrinks and expands and physically confronts the issue of body image through her alterations in size. Todd associates Alice’s experience with his patients’ conditions, and in doing so cements Carroll’s work into accepted psychiatric and medical terminology.

De Magalhaes produces a similar manifestation of Wonderland phenomena in the natural world in his paper “Alice’s Dilemma,” which cites Carroll using his stories to introduce the concept of wormholes, theorized to exist within the singularity of a black hole (85). This type of singularity is analogous to what he describes as “Alice’s Dilemma,” the singularity of technological advances accelerating at an increasingly improbable rate that we will face in the near future, one that might either destroy us or “open a glorious future for humankindk” (87). The works of both Todd and de Magalhaes call upon the Alice books as tools for explanation because of their iconic status, their identifiable characters, atmospheres, and motifs. At the same time, they re-contextualize Carroll’s writings and insert Wonderland and its fantasy back into reality, creating in terminology and concepts based on his fiction that remain permanent and pervasive in academic and public consciousness.

The Alice books’ relevance extends even into politics and discussions of policy. Johnson-Freese, in “Alice in Licenseland: US satellite export controls since 1990” uses excerpts from Carroll’s work to influence the tone of her work and provide a context for the way she views export licensing policy. She argues that as a result of events leading up to the Cox Committee in 1998 and following its report in 1999, international aerospace commerce has become encumbered by regulations (195). Throughout her article she intersperses passages from Alice in Wonderland which serve as subheadings and break up the body of her text. Among the passages she includes are:

Said Alice to the King and Queen . . . “that’s not a regular rule: you invented it just now.”

Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. “I don’t quite understand you,” she said as politely as she could.

“Contrarywise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

These citations, an interesting de- and re-contextualization of Carroll’s words, are notable because Johnson-Freese uses them to evoke qualities of nonsense, faulty logic, and failures of communication that are associated with the Alice books. She does not once refer to the Alice passages in the body of her policy discussion, but their satirical presence is felt as she questions the logic responsible for the Cox Report and expresses frustrations with regards to the ultimate effects of resultant licensing policies (195-204). The presence of the Alice passages seems to suggest that the failures in logic and apparent nonsense spoken by Wonderland denizens are not so far from reality as one might think; failures of communication are an everyday occurrence, and it is rare for a human being to possess perfect logic. These realizations of absurdity in the real world look to Carroll’s renowned works for relatable examples of such experiences, and in turn make Alice and Wonderland an enduring and genuine part of our reality.

Examining all of the works together, across time and field of study, there is a certain evolution of perceptions of Carroll’s work and expansion of academic spheres referencing the Alice books over time. Though we cannot be certain of a casual relationship, this expansion into a vast number of unrelated academic spheres followed the pioneering psychoanalytical studies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

All of the aforementioned works stemmed from two initial texts, the stories Lewis Carroll created for Alice Liddell and her sisters over a century ago. The psychoanalytic research that contextualized the Alice books in the former half of the twentieth century added a layer of other authors’ meanings and perspectives to the original work, and established additional controversy and discussion surrounding the text that deepened Alice’s cultural hold. It is possible that the iconic status of Carroll’s work, re-contextualized by its references in psychological studies, made it an attractive teaching tool for concepts and theories in psychology, cognitive development, communication, and human interaction, and from that base expanded into new academic spheres at the latter end of the 20th century and into the present era.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are works that defy their own scope, and are pervasive because they pushed boundaries of the literary form by exploring space, time, logic, and psychology in a paradigm-shattering manner. Lewis Carroll stole language and logic from its culture and society in the natural world, manipulating it into the communication patterns of Wonderland. His writings built new meaning by tearing old language into its constituent pieces, and playing with the seams, the logics, that assemble them.

The works that examine the Alice books take Wonderland’s language and logic from their context, and apply them back to reality. Carroll’s work, eternally present within the realm of literature, theater, film, and entertainment, has further invaded our world by its continued relevance in psychology and both formal and applied sciences, which reference it to explain relevant concepts and theories. As academic works increasingly move from determining the meaning and context of the Alice books to defining and explaining real-world phenomena, Wonderland becomes less of a fantasy and more a tangible part of our reality.

Works Cited

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Maharajh, H. "Alice in Wonderland: the Multi-Racial Small Group in Clinical Practice." The International Journal of Social Psychiatry 30.1-2 (1984): 85-87

Podoll, K. and D Robinson. "Lewis Carroll's Migraine Experiences." Lancet 353. 9161 (1999): 1366

Schilder, Paul. “Psychoanalytic Remarks on Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 87.2 (1938) 159-168

Skinner, J. “Lewis Carroll's Adventures in Wonderland.” American Imago 4 (1947): 3-31

Solomon, J.C. “Alice and the Red King — The Psycho-Analytic View of Existence.” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 44 (1963): 63-73.

Todd, J. "The Syndrome of Alice in Wonderland " Canadian Medical Association Journal 73. 9 (1955): 701-4

Watzlawick, Paul, Janet Beavin Bavelas, and Don D. Jackson. Pragmatics of Human Communication; A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes New York: Norton, 1967

Whitelaw, W.A. and A.J. Black. "Sleep of the Great." Respiration Physiology 119. 2-3 (2000): 209-17


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll

Last modified 17 May 2010