Alice in Wonderland Study

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An essay that was written for English class. It's a literary analysis of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Submitted: April 19, 2017

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Submitted: April 19, 2017

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Alice in Wonderland

1. Psychoanalytical Theory

Most critics of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll focus on the psychological aspects of the novel. There are definitely many different events and euphemisms for psychologically oriented discussions. Freud’s ideas of psychosexual development also fit well.

In Freudian psychology, there are five stages of psychosexual development. According to McLeod, “each stage represents the fixation of libido (roughly translated as sexual drives or instincts) on a different area of the body” (1). The stages are: oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital. While not outright stated, Alice’s journey throughout Wonderland reflects the passage through these stages.

The first psychosexual stage is the oral stage. In this stage, Freud believes that the child has a sexual fixation on the mouth. This is very blatantly expressed through Alice eating and drinking the strange things available in Wonderland. First there is the little bottle that is labeled “DRINK ME” on the table. Most people wouldn’t trust such a thing, and while Alice shows some hesitation, she eventually “ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice” (Carroll 20). And the drink has an effect on her. In this case, Alice shrinks. Later, she eats a small cake that ends up helping her grow. This fixation on eating and drinking things, which is similar to an infant, remains important throughout the book. However, it carries the most significance in the beginning, when Alice is first experiencing Wonderland.

Next is the anal stage of psychosexual development. This is when the aspect of potty training is introduced to the child, and they have to control their instinctual needs. In this case, Alice is restraining herself from speaking. In the beginning, Alice offended certain Wonderland residents with her words. For example, with the Mouse and the other congregation of animals, she insults them with how she talks of her pet cat, Dinah. However, at one point, she learns to hold her tongue. As the animals are presenting her with a prize, “Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh” (34). This shows that she has learned to keep her words to herself, and she is mindful of what she says for the rest of the story.

The third stage is the phallic stage. This is the part where the well-known Oedipus and Electra complexes come into play. At this point, the child becomes aware of sexual differences, and this inner conflict is solved through a process of identification. Alice goes through this process of identification while with the Caterpillar. Interestingly enough, both the Caterpillar and the mushroom he sits on could be considered phallic symbols, which contributes to the phallic stage. But, in Alice’s case, she’s been struggling with who she was since she arrived in Wonderland. She ends up comparing herself to other children in her class as a way to measure how she’s changed, which is a key factor in the process of identification. She also addresses these concerns with the Caterpillar, saying “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then” (48). This shows that Alice is uncomfortable in her own skin. She also seems to envy the Caterpillar, who seems to have a good grasp on who he is. And, as mentioned before, the Caterpillar is a phallic symbol, which could attribute this jealousy to penis envy, which is a key component to the Electra complex.

After this, Alice seems more or less content. She doesn’t have anymore questions about her identity itself, although she does still question the acts of others. This symbolizes the latency stage, where sexual urges are diminished by the growing superego. This is also the stage where the child invests in exterior relationships with friends, hobbies, etc. To represent this, Alice starts investigating others. She investigates the White Rabbit, becomes a part of the tea party with the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse, and she even befriends the Duchess. There is less focus on Alice as there is on the other creatures in Wonderland.

Last comes the genital stage. This is the final psychosexual stage, where the now-adolescent experiences the last stretch of personality development. This can definitely be seen with Alice in the courtroom scene. She is called to be a part of the court, but she finds that their rules and proceedings are more than silly. This is where Alice regains her confidence and starts expressing a different part of her character, for “she had grown so large in the last few minutes that she wasn’t a bit afraid of interrupting him” (115). This shows that Alice has become sure of herself, and she isn’t fixated with any of the other stages. It asserts how Alice went through the various stages, and it completes her psychosexual development in Wonderland.

 

2. Gender Criticism

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland provides a prime example of gender roles and how they are portrayed in literature. First off, the majority of characters are male. Out of the personalities that are shown (which is over twenty), only five are female. These include: Alice, the Duchess, the Queen of Hearts, the Cook, and Alice’s older sister. All of them embody certain female stereotypes.

Alice, the main character, portrays and breaks specific stereotypes. In most literature at the time of the book’s release, protagonists were male. It was odd to have a female be the lead of the story. However, Alice is also very naive. While this could just be a sign of her age, naivety is also a stereotype of women. There is also the enforcing of certain stereotypes that affects Alice. She likes to think. This is shown through her many instances of over thinking certain things, especially in the beginning of the novel. However, when talking with the Duchess, this trait is attacked. “‘I’ve a right to think,’ said Alice sharply. ‘Just about as much right’, said the Duchess, ‘as pigs have to fly’” (89). Even from a fellow female character, Alice’s attempts to think are challenged. This enforces the notion that women are not trusted to think in a more patriarchal society.

Another main female character is the Duchess. When she is first introduced, she is portrayed as a very violent, over emotional woman. To exemplify this, the Duchess starts singing a lullaby that is a bit cruel. The song goes, “I speak severely to my boy, I beat him when he sneezes; for he can thoroughly enjoy the pepper when he pleases” (62). This in itself is harsh, not to mention that she was violently shaking her baby with every line. However, later in the novel, the Duchess calms down considerably after being captured by the Queen. This shows that women can supposedly be tamed after a bit of reinforcement, which is a toxic stereotype.

Next is the Queen of Hearts. She is the prime example of overreacting to literally everything. She has a tendency to sentence innocent people to execution over the silliest of things. Alice recounts that “the Queen was in a furious passion, and went stamping about, and shouting ‘Off with his head!’ or ‘Off with her head!’ about once in a minute” (83). This does nothing but enforce how women are expected to be out of control with their emotions and unable to handle a position of power.

Lastly are two minor character, who are the Cook and Alice’s sister. The Cook is simple enough to understand; she is doing a woman’s job. People, mainly men, expect women to stay in the house to cook, clean, and rear children. The Cook’s role in the story enforces this. There is also Alice’s sister, who doesn’t appear often. While she appears to be trying to gain an education through reading big books, she is also portrayed as gentle and docile, which are also female stereotypes.

Along with these pronounced female roles, there are also the male roles, which seem to take significance. The King of Hearts is seen as more temperament and understanding, the Caterpillar assumes himself to be right all of the time, and other male roles take the positions of authority. These are all valid points for gender criticism.

 

3. Point of View

The point of view for the story is an interesting thing to explore. The main character, Alice, is a young girl who doesn’t yet know everything about the world. The fact that she is thrown into a place like Wonderland only mystifies the whole experience for the audience.

Alice has that child’s innocence that makes Wonderland seem less crazy and more interesting. If an adult had fallen into this land, they would be panicking and trying to find a way out. But, in Alice’s case, she is more content in exploring and finding out more about the world she fell into. For example, when Alice comes across a door in the woods, “‘[t]hat’s very curious!’ she thought. ‘But everything’s curious to-day. I think I may as well go in at once’” (76). A matured person would freak out at literally everything that has happened. However, for a child like Alice, there is no other way to describe it than curious. She’s more interested than frightened, which is a very important part of her character.

Another part of the importance of Alice’s view is how her own childlike silliness makes the story more enjoyable. For example, when Alice is first falling down the rabbit hole, “she tried to curtsey as she spoke - fancy, curtseying as you’re falling through the air!” (17). This adds a critical element to the story. If the character isn’t going to understand the world, then the audience won’t either. However, there is nobody who understands nonsense better than a child. So, it is a perfect fit to have Alice be the protagonist of the novel.

 

4. Diction and Syntax

One of Carroll’s favorite things to do in the story was to use puns. Throughout the story, there are various plays on words that add an extra sense of humor to the book.

A prime example of this is the meeting between Alice, the mouse, and the birds. The mouse proceeds to say things, and Alice takes the words for something completely different. One of the best examples is how everybody is wet from swimming, so the mouse says, “[s]it down, all of you, and listen to me! I’ll soon make you dry enough!” (32). The mouse then proceeds to repeat a section of a history textbook. There are many instances in the same scene. The mouse talks about a sad, long tale, and Alice remarks that he has a very long tail indeed. The mouse says not, while Alice thinks he says knot. It is very amusing, indeed.

Another instance of wordplay is while at the tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. Alice says many things, only to be confused when the other characters bombard her with different sayings and different views on what she says. For example, there is an instance where the March Hare offers more tea to Alice. “‘I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone: ;so I ca’n’t take more.’ ‘You mean you ca’n’t take less,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take more than nothing’” (74). This is nothing more than a simple perspective on words that escalates into more conflict. Carroll has many of these sorts of jokes, as well as many rhymes sprinkled throughout his writing, making it that much more enjoyable.

 

5. Symbol

Wonderland is something that can’t really explained. The only way to put it into words is as a land where normal is anything but so. And, it in the end, the entire land is a dream; a single figure of Alice’s imagination. However, there is much more than can be derived from this land than just being a simple dream. It could be a symbol for the entirety of one’s life.

Alice follows the White Rabbit into the rabbit hole without any questions, for “down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again” (16). This indicates that there may not be an escape from Wonderland. But, Alice doesn’t seem to pay it any attention. This world is something curious, and she wants to investigate it and everything it has to offer. Like in real life, she doesn’t know where she’s going to end up. But, Alice continues on anyways for the hope that there’s something better at the end.

As she’s going along, Alice encounters many new people and problems. This represents life as a whole. There are always new opportunities and new situations that a person isn’t used to that they have to live through. In Wonderland, Alice feels many different things: giddiness, frustration, and envy. She also meets many different characters with different ways of thinking, like the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts. She doesn’t always agree, and she stands up for herself, as she did in the court scene. It’s quite the adventure.

However, everything must come to an end. Alice wakes up from her dream, only to find herself in boring, old reality. It’s nothing special. And this can symbolize death. Alice meets up with her older sister after losing her to Wonderland. And, said sister reflects back on the stories that Alice has told and relates them to her own. In the end, Alice’s sister even speculates on how Alice would share these stories with others, “and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days” (120). This makes it sound like there’s no going back, or like this is the end. And, while nobody really knows what comes after life, what else is there to do but remember after death? Perhaps people will share their own stories, and have those stories be shared again and again until they’re a part of history. After all, in the end, there is nothing left but memories of one’s own Wonderland.

 

Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Other Stories. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2010. Print.

McLeod, Saul. "Psychosexual Stages." Simply Psychology. N.p., 2008. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

 


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