Lewis Carroll's titular heroine of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland does not exhibit extraordinary intelligence for a young child. She has an amusing propensity for intellectual fallacies, such as when she thinks she will "come out among the people that walk with their heads downward" if she falls through the earth. She also makes social blunders best exemplified by her constant mentioning of her cat in the presence of small creatures. The inhabitants of Wonderland often treat Alice with comical contempt because of her naiveté,, condescending to her when she displays any sort of ignorance. In one case, Alice and the Duchess discuss the peculiar Cheshire Cat:

'I didn't know that Cheshire cats always grinned; in fact, I didn't know that cats COULD grin.'

'They all can,' said the Duchess; 'and most of 'em do.'

'I don't know of any that do,' Alice said very politely, feeling quite pleased to have got into a conversation.

'You don't know much,' said the Duchess; 'and that's a fact.'

Alice did not at all like the tone of this remark, and thought it would be as well to introduce some other subject of conversation.

The Duchess, who represents authority as a mother, speaks bluntly to Alice about her ignorance; for her part, Alice says nothing to defend herself from the brusque remark. When faced with such rudeness, she withdraws from the conflict by searching for another topic of conversation and does not challenge the Duchess. Alice, despite her mounting impatience, says nothing to defend herself from its brusque remarks. When faced with such rudeness, she withdraws from the conflict verbally instead of challenging her antagonist. As the story progresses, however, Alice begins to assert herself more often, culminating in the trial scene, where she argues directly with the Kingbecause he tries to impose the ridiculous “Rule Forty-two” on her. When he claims she is too tall for the courtroom — more than amile high — Alice objects defiantly:

'Well, I shan't go, at any rate,' said Alice: 'besides, that's not a regular rule: you invented it just now.'

'It's the oldest rule in the book,' said the King.

'Then it ought to be Number One,' said Alice.

The King turned pale, and shut his note-book hastily.

Later in the story's climax, Alice finally speaks out against the ludicrous procedures of the courtroom with definitive results. The Queen demands that the verdict come after the sentence, to which Alice vocalizes her objection. She refuses to keep quiet even after the Queen calls for her execution, a threat Alice knows contains no meaning:

'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

'Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

Alice wakes up back in her own world once she manages to confront the absurd authorities in Wonderland. Her journey concludes with the challenge against royalty, the ultimate source of power in the physical world. When Alice narrates the events of her tale to her sister, she listens attentively and even drifts into her own short dream inspired by Alice’s story. The first authority figure Alice encounters when she returns to her own domain understands rather than condescends to her; the older sister, much closer to the cusp of adulthood than young Alice, empathizes with and envisions the child’s fantasies instead of patronizing her youth.

Questions

1. Lewis Carroll particularly liked children. Did he write the Alice books with the idea of encouraging children to challenge authority, or perhaps imploring adults to not patronize those children (if adults commonly read his works)? Did he intend for the story to be didactic in any way?

2. Alice’s nameless sister appears to be the only older character in the story who appreciates Alice’s childlike nature. How does the sister, who even daydreams about Wonderland herself, contribute to the theme of challenging authority? Does Carroll subordinate the authority figure to the child in this regard, or does he instead equalize them? How does the sister’s age (she is neither an adult nor a young child) affect this idea?

3. Like Alice, Anodos of Phantastes experiences a physical attack that ultimately draws him out of the Fairy Land; this occurs immediately after he reaches an important milestone in his journey by abandoning his selfish nature. Why must both characters come under violent attack before they can return to their own worlds? Also, what significance lies in the fact that Anodos disappeared physically for weeks whereas Alice merely fell asleep for a short period of time? Why do these details differ?

4. Why does Carroll make Alice's final attackers "just a pack of cards" as opposed to any other inanimate objects? What do these playing cards possibly symbolize?

5. The transition from Alice's attack to her waking up in her sister's lap reads as very abrupt—the shift occurs mid-sentence. What purpose does this serve in the overall narrative?


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll Leading Questions

Last modified 12 March 2009