Alice in Wonderland: It’s all about the identity.
Woke up in a critical/ intellectual mood. Do not miss writing essays at uni at all [um, does anyone?] but I feel like getting my teeth into something. So here it is, a little look at one of the most debated topics in one of my favourite childhood books ever.
Now everyone knows that Alice in Wonderland has a very colourful background. Apparently Alice was modelled on an 11 year old girl that Lewis Carroll [real name Charles Dodgson] knew, there are connections between the novel and modernity and romantic theory, and some critics have even argued that it was the first piece of children’s literature where the child takes the main stage. Yep, it’s not all about drugs and the alleged paedophilia of the author [lets not go there.] But truthfully, Alice in Wonderland struck me because of its vivid portrayal of the female struggle for identity in the changeover between childhood and adolescence. Something that everyone at some point must experience, growing up is a bewildering and unstable stage of our lives, and we are forced to question our identity as so many things about us change [ahem. As you all know, and as Alice finds out once she goes down the rabbit hole].
Obviously Alice’s physical body change is an example of her having to deal with the physical side of growing up. Her body grows bigger and smaller and her neck stretches to a ridiculous height; while we all know that our necks don’t usually grow to the size of a giraffe’s during adolescence, Carroll is hitting home just how bizarre growing up can be, and how our bodies don’t even feel like our own. Poor Alice is a typical adolescent girl who is a stranger to her own body and doesn’t grasp what’s going on, which is a very discomforting experience.
Alice is also torn between being a child and an adult- her changing identity means that she doesn’t know who and what she is. At the Mad Hatter’s tea party she takes on the attitude and behaviour that adults have in the real world. She challenges or objects to some of the comments of the hatter and the hare, [how she didn’t go crazy in those 10 minutes I’ll never know], often asks questions and is not afraid to speak her mind. She might try acting like an adult but there are times when she’s more like a child- I don’t know if you’ve noticed but in comparison to the Disney film where her character seems very innocent, the book Alice can be a bit of a shit. She knows she is superior to the other characters and isn’t scared to show it; her middle class upbringing is especially clear in the tea party scene. She gets frustrated and plain rude when she is contradicted, and sulks in silence when she doesn’t know what to say. This contrast of being both child and adult however might suggest that Alice is unsure of which of the two she belongs as she is growing and changing.
As if this wasn’t daunting enough, Alice must come to terms with her changing identity in the crazy world of wonderland, which I believe depicts real life. Everything around her is unstable; there’s a smoking caterpillar, the Cheshire cat appears and disappears, the Queen of hearts is lopping off heads left right and centre and she is never given any order in the confusing world she has suddenly inhabited. Her confusion over her identity which relates to many girls going through adolescence ultimately means she cannot answer the caterpillar when he asks, ‘who are you?’