Alice in Wonderland

Writing style and themes

Symbolism

Carroll's biographer Morton N. Cohen reads Alice as a roman à clef populated with real figures from Carroll's life. The Alice of Alice is Alice Liddell; the Dodo is Carroll himself; Wonderland is Oxford; even the Mad Tea Party, according to Cohen, is a send-up of Alice's own birthday party.[41] The critic Jan Susina rejects Cohen's account, arguing that Alice the character bears a tenuous relationship with Alice Liddell.[42]

Beyond its refashioning of Carroll's everyday life, Cohen argues, Alice critiques Victorian ideals of childhood. It is an account of "the child's plight in Victorian upper-class society" in which Alice's mistreatment by the creatures of Wonderland reflects Carroll's own mistreatment by older people as a child.[43]

In the eighth chapter, three cards are painting the roses on a rose tree red, because they had accidentally planted a white-rose tree that The Queen of Hearts hates. According to Wilfrid Scott-Giles, the rose motif in Alice alludes to the English Wars of the Roses: red roses symbolised the House of Lancaster, while white roses symbolised their rival House of York.[44]

Language

Alice is full of linguistic play, puns, and parodies.[45] According to Gillian Beer, Carroll's play with language evokes the feeling of words for new readers: they "still have insecure edges and a nimbus of nonsense blurs the sharp focus of terms".[46] The literary scholar Jessica Straley, in a work about the role of evolutionary theory in Victorian children's literature, argues that Carroll's focus on language prioritises humanism over scientism by emphasising language's role in human self-conception.[47]

Pat's "Digging for apples" is a cross-language pun, as pomme de terre (literally; "apple of the earth") means potato and pomme means apple.[48]

In the second chapter, Alice initially addresses the mouse as "O Mouse", based on her memory of the noun declensions "in her brother's Latin Grammar, 'A mouse – of a mouse – to a mouse – a mouse – O mouse!'" These words correspond to the first five of Latin's six cases, in a traditional order established by medieval grammarians: mus (nominative), muris (genitive), muri (dative), murem (accusative), (O) mus (vocative). The sixth case, mure (ablative) is absent from Alice's recitation. Nilson has plausibly suggested that Alice's missing ablative is a pun on her father Henry Liddell's work on the standard A Greek-English Lexicon since ancient Greek does not have an ablative case. Further, Mousa (meaning muse) was a standard model noun in Greek books of the time in paradigms of the first declension, short-alpha noun.[49]

Mathematics

Mathematics and logic are central to Alice.[50] As Carroll was a mathematician at Christ Church, it has been suggested that there are many references and mathematical concepts in both this story and Through the Looking-Glass.[51][52] Literary scholar Melanie Bayley asserted in the New Scientist magazine that Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in its final form as a satire of mid-19th century mathematics.[53]

Eating and devouring

Carina Garland notes how the world is "expressed via representations of food and appetite", naming Alice's frequent desire for consumption (of both food and words), her 'Curious Appetites'.[54] Often, the idea of eating coincides to make gruesome images. After the riddle "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?", the Hatter claims that Alice might as well say, "I see what I eat…I eat what I see" and so the riddle's solution, put forward by Boe Birns, could be that "A raven eats worms; a writing desk is worm-eaten"; this idea of food encapsulates idea of life feeding on life itself, for the worm is being eaten and then becomes the eater  – a horrific image of mortality.[55]

Nina Auerbach discusses how the novel revolves around eating and drinking which "motivates much of her [Alice's] behaviour", for the story is essentially about things "entering and leaving her mouth".[56] The animals of Wonderland are of particular interest, for Alice's relation to them shifts constantly because, as Lovell-Smith states, Alice's changes in size continually reposition her in the food chain, serving as a way to make her acutely aware of the 'eat or be eaten' attitude that permeates Wonderland.[57]

Nonsense

Alice is an example of the literary nonsense genre.[58] According to Humphrey Carpenter, Alice's brand of nonsense embraces the nihilistic and existential. Characters in nonsensical episodes such as the Mad Tea Party, in which it is always the same time, go on posing paradoxes that are never resolved.[59]

Rules and games

Wonderland is a rule-bound world, but its rules are not those of our world. The literary scholar Daniel Bivona writes that Alice is characterised by "gamelike social structures".[60] She trusts in instructions from the beginning, drinking from the bottle labelled "drink me" after recalling, during her descent, that children who do not follow the rules often meet terrible fates.[61] Unlike the creatures of Wonderland, who approach their world's wonders uncritically, Alice continues to look for rules as the story progresses. Gillian Beer suggests that Alice, the character, looks for rules to soothe her anxiety, while Carroll may have hunted for rules because he struggled with the implications of the non-Euclidean geometry then in development.[62]


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