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The Story Alice In Wonderland English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2434 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The story Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll. Alice is evidently the protagonist of the story, a seven year girl who seeks out various answers and experiences on her journey. She begins this journey with a fall down a rabbit-hole whilst she is chasing a White Rabbit. She then ends up in Wonderland; a place where logic is seen to no longer apply and animals that Alice bumps into talk to her. The story is argued by some that, ‘Alice’s final goal is maturity, as Alice plays between being a child and striving to act like an adult in her various encounters in Wonderland.’ [1] However, on the opposing view Massey states that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is just a ‘nonsense children’s story with a bit of commentary thrown into it at parts.’ [2] Furthermore, there is much evidence in the novel proving Carroll is able to identify the different stages of a child’s development and hold a strong sense of symbolism throughout the story of a child gaining maturity, ‘believing a somewhat allegorical and useful Bildungsroman as we join Alice on her surreal journey and watch her make her way from childhood into adulthood.’ [3] 

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In literature, a Bildungsroman is a German word meaning a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. During the adventures that Alice has within Wonderland it can be said that ‘she is taught the problems of the real world, thus reveals her own personal and ethical ideas, reflecting on a child/adult conflict and her certain quest for her own identity.’ [4] The changes that Alice encounters from childhood into adulthood can be seen by the reader in certain stages within the book implying that the work is a Bildungsroman. However, criticism such as Moretti argues that ‘Alice is still a child when she leaves Wonderland, thus proving against the view of it being a come of age story.’ [5] 

The definition of adulthood and also childhood has seen to have changed over the times. Nowadays childhood can be seen to define as the first age of life. In the view of Philippe Aries, previous to the medieval era there was no such thing as children; they were looked upon as small adults. However when Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published within the Victorian era of English history, childhood was perceived as being, ‘a privileged age before that of an adult.’ [6] Therefore in the opposing view of the novel being that of a Bildungsroman we see Alice being referred to as a little girl throughout the play. This can be seen at the beginning of the book, here Alice can be seen to act without any thought at all into what she is doing and says whatever she feels like, no matter who it offends. Also her big sister refers to her as ”Little Alice.” [7] The adjective little brings the focus to her childlike qualities using a diminutive function. Moreover, here we see Alice at her most immature and also at her most naïve.

Within the first chapter we can be see the first stages of Alice’s development into an adult after she her surreal journey down the rabbit hole. She comes across a bottle that is labelled ”drink me.” [8] Here she never considers what the drink actually is as it isn’t marked differently, thus showing her naivety and immaturity, just doing what the bottle tells her to do. Thus, Alice’s first steps into adulthood include ‘not only psychological growth but also physical growth; grow as in grow up.’ [9] This change in size that Alice experiences is not the only occurrence of size change within the story, for ‘her dramatic changes in size in Wonderland can be seen to cause turmoil as she senses obligations to adapt her behaviour.’ [10] This can be seen through certain shapes and sizes that Alice assumes: her enormous long neck, chin pressed against her shoes, getting stuck in houses, and at some points almost vanishing altogether while, at others becoming huge. The problems with size, growth and evolving forms are seen as the centre of discussion within literary critics of the factor that makes this story that of a Bildungsroman genre.

From the moment mentioned above, we then see Alice move swiftly into her next stage of development within the story. We soon see her able to identify past mistakes that she has previously made and learnt from, and also to be able to make important decisions accordingly. When Alice gets mistaken for the White Rabbits housemaid, Mary Ann, and is sent to fetch her gloves. After making her way toward the rabbit’s house, Alice drinks a foreign liquid again. In the opposing view Massey states that this is another mark of her immaturity as she hasn’t learnt from her previous encounter from drinking an unknown liquid. However, in the opposite view, Levine says that this crucial part within the book shows Alice learning from her past experiences, as she is aware that ‘whenever she eats or drinks something within Wonderland a change in size is also bound to follow.’ [11] Thus, we see her apply this logic here; as she drinks the liquid for the second time she evidently becomes too large to leave the rabbit’s house and then eventually gets stuck. Then, as she thinks and struggles, she decides to eat a cake that is provided. If we examine her logic here closely it can be said to reveal a somewhat more mature concept when viewed in the contrast of the wonderland setting, thus supporting the idea that the novel is a Bildungsroman, even though critics such as Massey are against this view.

The sense of a Bildungsroman can be seen further in chapter four. Here, Alice applies the logic of Wonderland and adopts this to certain new situations in which she encounters. Before this stage in the story, we see Alice try to adapt the logic that had previously had drilled into her head through her Victorian education. This clearly gets her nowhere within the world of Wonderland, in the opposing view Hunt states that, due to the education she has, ‘Alice is unable to grow up in Wonderland as she has not been prepared for the horrors of the world outside the society in which she lives.’ [12] 

As we go further into the story it is evident that Alice begins to consider certain ramifications of her actions, to think ahead and to adjust her behaviour according to the situation that she may be in at that time; thus we see her imply a much more mature nature. This shift in maturity can be seen within chapters five and six when Alice stumbles upon the Duchesses’ home. Here, the duchess presents her with a poorly baby and gives it to Alice to hold. The first thing that Alice thinks here is, ”if I don’t take this child away with me,’ thought Alice, they’re sure to kill it in a day or two; wouldn’t it be murder if I left it behind?” [13] Here, we see Alice think what the future may hold for this child, then thinking about what would happen if she didn’t act on behalf of the baby. In the end the baby goes through a metamorphosis and turns into a pig, so there is no need so save it. However, the point here is that we still see Alice act in a more mature manner and think ahead and about other people too. This again suggests that the novel is that of a Bildungsroman as she would have never done anything like this at the beginning of the story.

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Alice then goes on to talk to the Cheshire cat; he makes various suggestions to her of places to visit on her trip throughout Wonderland. After this encounter she then opts to visit the March Hare. We see Alice feel slightly intimidated here at the house and the size of it. We see her show a very symbolic sense of maturity as she has the foresight to eat food that she knows will make her increase in size. At this point within the story we see more evidence of the novel being that of a Bildungsroman. As we see Alice becoming more observant and able to notice things around wonderland that make her feel uncomfortable and then take control of the situation. We see her being able to act on her instincts within certain situations; this is clearly something that Alice, at the beginning of the story would have never done.

As we evidently see Alice become more mature throughout the story and take control of certain situations, it is argued by Tucker that it helps her gain success throughout her ventures in wonderland. The next aspect of Alice’s development is the emergence of determination and confidence, and the fact that she eventually turns into the mature, self-assertive person that she wanted to be. Within chapter eight she comes across the garden that she saw near the beginning of the book. As she walks through the garden, having conversations with certain bizarre characters, she then comes across The Queen of Hearts. This character can be seen as highly imposing and has an odd habit of sentencing everyone she doesn’t like to beheading, ”like a wild beast screamed off with their head!” [14] However, to the readers surprise when Alice is addressed by the Queen, the naïve and timid Alice that we met at the beginning of the book seems to have completely gone at this point. We see her speak her mind and not let anyone walk all over her, not even the white rabbit. ”Nonsense said Alice clearly and loudly. The queen turned quieted.’ [15] ‘ Alice’s interaction with the rabbit And the queen here is far cry from what we witnessed back in the fourth chapter when Alice was mistaken for the maid and was made to run errands in which she attempted to do. A strong sense of the text being a Bildungsroman can be seen as she is now taken seriously and speaks up not only for herself but the creature within wonderland also and treats them like the equals that they should be treated like. She also isn’t willing to let anyone or in fact anything gets in the way of this new maturity and self-appreciation that she has known found after much experiences and encounters within her journey.

In addition, we see the final stage of Alice’s maturing is evident in the trail scene. Here Alice becomes bolder without eating or drinking anything as we witnessed in the previous chapters, and also she does not hesitate to defy the royalties, ”she had grown so large in the last few minutes that she wasn’t a bit afraid of interrupting him.” [16] This is the climax of not just her adventures in Wonderland but also her denigrating attitude, when she looks down on ”nothing but a pack of cards.” [17] 

In conclusion, at the beginning of the story, in view of the reader and the audience Alice comes across as a naïve, silly and somewhat helpless little girl that has no idea of the happenings in her society, and in addition, is seen to have been crucially mistaught by society which gives the impression that there are people in the world that don’t care about her. There are many different views on the bildungsroman aspect within the story. Massey argues against the Bildungsroman interpretation and states that, ‘whether Alice undergoes any genuine maturation during the course of wonderland may be questioned. She shows a good deal of coarseness and violence in herself as well as the struggle she has through both of her Wonderland, thus it is the aggressive impulses throughout the play that makes her nothing more than a mere child at the end of the story.’ [18] On the other hand, supporting the idea of Bildungsroman being evident within the novel, I believe that wonderland sends her on a journey that changes her to her core. At the end of the story we see Alice that has become a confident girl that has gained skills that she can adapt to virtually any situation that gets thrown in her way. Throughout the story a useful bildungsroman is arguably used and Alice physiologically grows up and goes through the developmental process of becoming an adult, this is shown at the end of the dream she does not need others to tell her who she is. She is seen to grow naturally and in such a compelling way that becomes painfully obvious how Lewis Carroll’s story is a timeless Bildungsroman for all ages within society.


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