The absurdity of the nonsense genre makes violence in texts and media intended for children comical and so lacks the repercussions violent acts would bring in the real world. Fantastical by nature, nonsense literature creates characters who suffer no ill effects from violence either done to them or that they perpetrate upon others. Lewis Carroll, a prominent writer of nonsense literature, demonstrates this effect in his novel Alice in Wonderland, as the protagonist Alice continually smashes things in arbitrary fits of pique.

Alice heard it [the Rabbit] say to itself "Then I'll go round and get in at the window."

"That you wo'n't!" thought Alice, and after waiting till she fancied she heard the Rabbit just under the window, she suddenly spread out her hand, and made a snatch in the air. She did not get hold of anything, but she heard a little shriek and a fall, and a crash of broken glass, from which she concluded it was just possible it had fallen into a cucumber-frame, or something of the sort. (29)

Alice, though a young girl, constantly demonstrates violent behaviors as she wanders in Wonderland; although she looks innocent, the reader soon becomes repulsed by her rude attitude and capricious violence.

She spread out her hand again, and made another snatch in the air. This time there were two little shrieks, and more sounds of broken glass. [30]

Although she demonstrates a complete lack of empathy towards the characters she encounters, which may explain her carefree use of violence, Alice is a very young girl, a factor which subconsciously endears her to the reader even when she acts quite rudely. And since Alice does represent at least the figure of a child, wandering this completely fantastical place that has little bearing to reality and encountering no repercussions for her actions, the reader becomes amused by the brutality, rather than appalled. Alice herself thinks little of the atrocities she commits, instead finding her assaults amusing and entertaining. Much like children of the twenty-first century watching extremely violent cartoons, Alice laughs at the vicious acts, for they have no consequences.

A modern example, such as the cartoon Tom and Jerry, illustrates just how much the nonsense genre's acceptance of casual violence has infiltrated our childhood culture. In this example, the cat and mouse constantly pull stunts that would, in reality, kill them. But they both always survive unscathed, an interesting effect that only works in nonsense fantasy literature.

All Alice really knows has to do with violence, for even the verses she recites from school foreground aggression. Carroll has gotten rid of the morality that comes with grotesque brutality and replaced it with nonsense. As nonsense challenges the established system of writing and action, assault lacking repercussions challenges the boundaries of reality verses fiction. And as readers have become so desensitized to violence as to find it entertaining, nonsensical violence, in writing and otherwise, remain firmly implanted in the media world.

Questions

1. In modern youth culture, violence most often comes in the form of savage, first-person shooter video games. What effects do these games filled with destruction and bloodshed have on the youth of our culture? Do you think the Alice Books had the same effect on children who read them before violence became humorous and popular in other forms of media?

2. Children in particular, in any era, seem to care little about the violent acts they commit on others. Why?

3. Nonsense literature may have facilitated the move of desensitization of violence into popular culture, but was it the main factor? Would brutality have become amusing in writing and other forms of media if it hadn't been included in the nonsense genre?

4. Carroll himself adored the children he worked with. Would he have wanted them amused by violence, or receiving the message that brutality was ok? If not, why did he have Alice assault other characters with little to no provocation?

5. One would think that Carroll, as a mathematician, would prefer logical thought, rather than emotions, to control the actions, of his characters. So why did he include this much violence in The Alice books?


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll Leading Questions

Last modified 19 March 2009