24 May 2011
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the reader is privy to the adventures of the inquisitive Alice as she tumbles down the rabbit hole and finds herself ensconced in a world of magic, talking animals and vaguely ‘trippy’ happenings. Throughout the novel, there are a number of magical transformations where the characters transition between forms, much like characters do in a number of traditional fairy tales: for example, the pumpkin becomes the carriage in Cinderella; the beast becomes the handsome prince; the wooden puppet becomes a real boy. All of these events happen to represent an underlying message – for instance, the beast becomes the handsome prince to represent that beauty comes from within and that true love does not care about outward appearances. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice herself as well as a number of other characters under-go similar changes and this is, in part, due to Carroll’s story being a metaphor for growing up and the changes that our young bodies go through.
As soon as Alice arrives in Wonderland, she immediately undergoes a number of changes. Firstly, upon encountering a little cake with the word ‘Eat me’ written on it, she begins to grow at an enormous rate: “Just then her head struck against the roof of the hall: in fact, she was now more than nine feet high” (Carroll 8). As all children are prone to do, Alice speedily grows but Carroll exaggerates this effect by making her grow faster than anything naturally can. The change that Alice experiences is both magical but rooted in the truth that children do grow up too quickly and lose their childish innocence too soon. We know that her rapid growth represents the adolescent growth spurt because instead of reacting to the abnormal situation, Alice simply ponders silly thoughts such as how she will put her shoes on in the future. This also undermines her size by highlighting her child-like immaturity further still, which suggests that for a number of transition years between childhood and adulthood, young people experience the growth into their adult body but still exhibit the immaturity of children.
Carroll’s fascination with growth and development is highlighted again when another character, the caterpillar, a creature usually associated with growth, remains as a caterpillar throughout the story. Traditionally, caterpillars are associated with the flourishing growth into butterflies but in Alice in Wonderland, the caterpillar does not and has already adopted quite a mature and ‘grown up’ stance in life: “her eyes immediately met those of a large caterpillar, that was sitting on the top [of a mushroom] with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah” (Carroll 30). The act of smoking is a very adult one but this is juxtaposed by the caterpillar having its youngest form. This is demonstrative of the caterpillar representing Carroll’s underlying message that children grow up too quickly.
Another creature which goes through regular changes is the Cheshire cat, who appears and disappears at random, as well as having quite an interchangeable personality too – as is well known that all cats are quite fickle creatures. Alice is quite wary of the cat: “It [the cat] looked good natured, she thought: still it had VERY long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt it ought to be treated with respect.” (Carroll 47). Arguably, the cat represents impending adolescence and adulthood: its sharp claws and teeth represent the potential pitfalls and problems of adult life that would be intimidating to a child. The cat’s frequent change from visible to invisible parodies the ambiguity that adult life can often present to an individual: that sense of not knowing what will happen next, making decisions based on unknown consequences, and when the next issue (or in this case, the metaphorical issue as represented by the cat) will suddenly pop up.
The novel of Alice in Wonderland clearly addresses the issue of a child growing up; Alice is on the cusp of womanhood and is thrown into a surreal and slightly scare scenario without the support of her parents: she is alone in the world. This in itself is a representation of adulthood and is further compounded by the various ‘magical’ changes that take place throughout the novel: Alice’s growth and her inability to cope with her new dimensions maturely; the caterpillar’s stagnant youth which is heavily juxtaposed by his actions and wisdom; and finally, the Cheshire cat who appears and disappears at random supplying the metaphor for the scary uncertainty that adult life brings. Lewis Carroll has crafted an allegory for the pressures of growing up and transitioning from child to adult and coping with everything else along the way. Alice’s subsequent safe return to her own world is a further message that whilst Carroll may think that children grow up too quickly, he is demonstrating that it is something that we all do successfully, in the end.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Cosimo Ltd, 2010. Print.