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“Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland”: Literary Analysis Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 25th, 2022

Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is a novel by Lewis Carrol (Charles Dodgson) first published in 1865 in the UK. Later the book was translated into 97 languages and never came out of print. Critics classify the novel as literary nonsense, although it can also be classified as a fantasy genre. This paper aims to analyze the story in terms of its central themes, its place in the children and young adults’ literature, and pedagogical aims of the text.

Era, Purpose, and Literary Themes

Interestingly, until the 19th century, children’s literature was slightly different from what readers see today. Most of the texts were instructive and religious and depicted children in highly realistic settings, perceiving them like mini-adults. The basics of grammar and reading were also based on purely religious texts such as prayers and Bible passages. However, at the end of the 18th century, John Locke first voiced the innovative concept that children should be interested in learning, that they should like the texts (“Once upon a time,” 2017). At the end of the 18th century, the novels of Jonathan Swift Gulliver and Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe were first published, which were perceived as a breakthrough in literature since they went beyond the realism genre. These novels were considered the first adventure novels for children.

In the 19th century, more authors appeared who sought to move away from the moral and religious canons that instructed children and taught them the rules of behavior. These were novels for children by Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, ETA Hoffmann, Robert Louis Stevenson, Frances Hodgson Burnett, John Ruskin, Hans Christian Andersen, Alexander Dumas, Brothers Grimm, Walter Scott, Washington Irving and other famous authors (“Once upon a time,” 2017). These writers introduced adults and young readers to a whole new world of literature, filled with vibrant colors of emotion and imagination. However, Lewis Carroll’s novel was perhaps too unusual and stood out even in this series. The reason could be the writer’s non-standard imagination and his sharp mind as a mathematician. Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is a great example of pure abstraction devoid of internal contradictions.

The primary goal of the novel was to create a compelling story that children would love. However, it is believed that the book is rife with many criticisms, and most characters had real people as prototypes, as evidenced by the original illustrations for the novel. The chances are high that Lewis Carroll presented a critique of moral-religious literature used to educate children in previous centuries. The writer probably criticized the boring classics that were part of the educational program, remaking them into funny and absurd copies.

Themes and Personal Impressions

Despite the abstractness and some incoherence of the plot, the novel presents all the necessary topics for middle-grade readers of 8-13 years old. These are the themes like the value and power of friendship, the importance of emotions and relationships, such as accepting differences, courage, compassion, honesty, trust, and self-concept. The novel also introduces behavioral issues like coping with anger, generosity and delicacy, imagination and exploring possibilities, perseverance and persistence, and self-control. Lewis Carroll also revealed important life transition themes like growing up and articles related to social issues like fairness and equity and making a difference.

When I first read the novel, I was about nine years old, and many things seemed confusing and incredibly difficult to me. I was impressed by the author’s attitude, as he was kind of playing with me and admitting the absurdity of this complexity, which was, in a way, a form without essence. To this absurd flat form, which was personified primarily by the Queen of Hearts and her escort, the author contrasted the simple and magical world of Alice and her friends in Wonderland – the world of the White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Mouse, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter and March Hare (Carrol, 2015). When I was a child, these characters seemed to be very voluminous and deep, in contrast to the characters of the jury, the duchess, and the queen. The Queen of Hearts’ Garden made an unforgettable impression on me; I was frightened and shocked by her absurd cruelty and sincerely marveled at Alice’s courage.

When I reread the novel as an adult, I found it amusing and straightforward, although still exciting and full of mysteries. I took the Queen of Hearts’ garden more like a farce, caricature, and satire than a description of the actual state of affairs. Unfortunately, the characters of Alice and her friends lost their depth in my imagination, and I felt that I was missing a lot of nuances. The plot unfolded for my adult mind too unpretentious, although it seemed very confusing to me as a child. However, I was still interested in rereading the novel because of the bright setting, although Alice’s many transformations were confusing.

It is noteworthy that novels for middle-grade children are usually rich in the complexity of topics and reveal new areas of life for children – such as the importance of friendship and relationships, a sense of justice, and willingness to fight for it. However, authors tend to use simple words and sentences not to confuse young readers who would have to look up the meanings of unfamiliar words too often (Sullivan, 2021). So it’s not surprising that when I reread the novel as an adult, it seemed too simple to me.

Pedagogical Meaning

Pedagogical aims in the text are mainly related to themes of justice, compassion, and difference. As she alternately grows and shrinks, Alice constantly changes her position in the food chain, allowing her to understand small, vulnerable creatures better. Although she initially does not show attention to others’ feelings – like in the episode with the Mouse, she acquires this habit over time, for example, in the episode with the Griffin and the Quasi-Turtle.

Alice is shocked by constant changes and strange creatures, the logic of which seems utterly incomprehensible to her. Still, she learns to understand and accept their differences in the process of her adventures. Alice also learns to control her feelings, especially the feelings of anger that constant transformations cause in her. Facing her impotence, Alice learns to go into dialogue to get out of an unpleasant situation. For example, in the episode when Alice is searching White Rabbit’s fan and gloves or talking to the Caterpillar. By the end of the tale, when Alice listens to the long story of the Quasi-Turtle, she has already fully learned to control her feelings. She delicately maintains a dialogue, showing respect for its participants.

When I first read the novel, I certainly didn’t know that it had any ethical background. I was shocked by the murders and delighted with the characters of Alice and the Cheshire Cat. I also enjoyed rereading the tea-drinking scene over and over again. It seemed to me that since good and evil should be present in the book, the extremely cruel garden of the Queen of Hearts is compensation for the magical forest and its inhabitants. Now I understand that the author did not intend to oppose these two worlds; he wrote about what he saw and what his creative imagination dictated to him.

Thus, the novel’s main themes and pedagogical aims were analyzed. The book reveals the values and powers of friendship, embracing difference, courage, self-concept, dealing with anger, imagination and exploring possibilities, and self-control. The bright, colorful, and frankly absurd fantasy world of Lewis Carroll was in many ways criticism of religious and moral works for children that preceded the era of children’s adventure literature.

References

Carrol, L. (2015). Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. Princeton University Press.

(2021). Web.

Sullivan, K. (2021). Web.

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