In Lewis Carroll's stories, poems, and biographical accounts, the concepts of punishment, justice, and logic intertwine. Carroll manifests his own childhood experience of independent thought and defiance of authority in the growth of Alice. Carroll introduces Alice, whose concern with doing things right and proper causes her distress. Alice scolds herself constantly in the beginning of Alice in Wonderland and similarly reprimands her cats in "Through the Looking Glass." At one point she even makes herself cry. "Sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet." Alice struggles with rules constantly, trying to follow the ones she finds acceptable (or is forced into following) and rejecting those she disagrees with. She often feels as though she can never keep up with the ever-morphing logic in Wonderland.

Alice was rather doubtful whether she ought not to lie down on her face...but she could not remember ever having heard of such a rule at processions; 'and besides, what would be the use of a procession,' thought she, 'if people had all to lie down upon their faces, so that they couldn't see it?' So she stood still where she was, and waited. (63)

Alice logically analyzes all of the preposterous and unexplainable events that go on around her and tries to act accordingly. Her thought process and actions mirror Carroll's own experiences as a child, when he refused to take lessons as they were commonly accepted and required a full and logical understanding of them, even when his views breach normalcy;

He was, in the words of his headmaster [James Tate II], marvelously ingenious in replacing ordinary inflexions of nouns and verbs, as detailed in our grammars, by more exact analogies, or convenient forms of his own devising, and when he read aloud from Virgil or Ovid, failed to observe the correct scansion... he will not rest satisfied without a most exact solution of whatever appears to him obscure. [Anne Clarke 244]

Carroll's childhood character of one seeking a logical solution among obscure concepts grows in Alice. The last two chapters in Alice in Wonderland present an analogous situation to the one described above. Alice finds herself in a courtroom where a strange hearing occurs. She does not understand the logic that the judge and jury employ to prosecute the Knave for stealing tarts. Alice refuses to adhere to the rules she finds obscure, despite being the only one in the courtroom who thinks in opposition. Carroll, likewise, ignored the authority of the English language in favor of his own logical conclusions. Roger Henkle, author of the essay "Comedy from Inside" describes his interpretation of Alice's experiences with illogical superiors.

The individuals who assert power in society, Carroll is suggesting, decide what things shall mean. Their whims, prompted and carried out by an irrational fury against people who would be free, dictate our responsibilities, our duties, our guilts, out sins, out punishment. Here, the adult victim's view nicely corresponds to the child's view of grown-up authority" (361)

Carroll clearly values independent thought and the ability to rise above the constraining senseless rules of superiors. He displays this value in the physical and metaphorical growth of Alice upon asserting her beliefs. At one point Alice defies the queen and says "Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'... 'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'' (97) By employing her own logic against the queen, Alice grows in size, a metaphorical representation of her growth in courage and character.

Carroll becomes a teacher and helps to foster the same independence of thought in others. A student of his wrote "by his own real wish to know what I was thinking Mr. Dodgson compelled me to that independence of thought I had never before tried to exercise...I felt myself able in some measure to judge for myself, to select, and if need be, to reject." (E.M. Rowell 308) The logical and independent thought process described here matches Carroll's and manifests itself in Alice's character.

Questions

1. How would Alice have been treated if she disobeyed authority in real life? How does Carroll reject the widely held view of his time that children should be "seen but not heard"? How were children in the Victorian era treated?

2. The sense of injustice from a child's perspective is a theme in Alice in Wonderland. The same struggle with authority appears in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Both Jane and Pip in these stories are mistreated by adults who exert power over them. How does the concept of justice in the eyes of the child compare in these three stories?

3. Why does Carroll illustrate the theme of justice with the clearly illogical and unjust rules of Wonderland? It doesn't appear to take much moral reasoning to side with Alice in her disagreements with the characters of Wonderland. In every case, to a reasonable person, Alice seems right and other characters seem ridiculous. In real life, such distinctions between right and wrong, logic and illogic are not as clear cut. Does the dichotomy in Carroll's story help the theme of independent thought in real life or mask it?

4. How does Alice's reaction towards rules evolve over the course of her adventure?

5. The beliefs that Carroll held about rules in his own life show up in Alice's adventures. What other biographical experiences are portrayed in Carroll's work?

6. What political messages, if any, does Carroll imply in his Alice stories?

7. Why does Carroll rely so heavily on Alice's dialogue throughout her adventures? How does the use of dialogue contribute to the tone and themes of the story?


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll Leading Questions

Last modified 8 March 2009