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Reader's Corner

Book Review: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Reader's Corner


POSTED March 27, 2014 7:18 p.m.

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, commonly referred to as Alice in Wonderland, is much more than a children's book as it is a 19th century classic novel that examines mature themes such as the loss of childhood innocence, exploration of the unknown and subversion of authority and world order.  

I feel the need to point out that my review in no way coincides, at least not voluntarily, with the Disney cartoon movie version of Alice in Wonderland with which most people of my generation are familiar. I should probably express that I have a certain disdain for The Walt Disney Company as I feel the corporation takes important cultural things, such as significant works of literature or even the Matterhorn Mountain for example, and appropriates them as its own. In turn, many people do not realize that Alice’s adventures were written from the mind of a 19th century English novelist and the Matterhorn, which is known to many as a rollercoaster in Anaheim, is actually a real mountain in the Swiss Alps. But I digress —  I am simply communicating that my decision to read and review Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in no way originated from the Disney version and instead I am examining the novel as a piece of unabridged literature

While the novel hardly requires a synopsis (as Wonderland-isms have found their way into modern day jargon), the novel ultimately details a young girl's experience through a fantasy world which she literally falls into once she decides to follow a curious white rabbit down a rabbit hole on a whim: "In another moment down went Alice after [the white rabbit], never once considering how in the world she was to get out again... Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?"  Once Alice finds herself in Wonderland, she becomes increasingly frustrated as her ability to apply reasoning which she has learned from her school lessons does not make sense. In other words, the “real world” in which she lives now becomes Wonderland and her home, or “life before the rabbit hole”, becomes less relatable or even useful. This submersion into a new world, literally as she is falling downward and figuratively as Wonderland exhibits relatively no traces of her home, simultaneously enchants and repels Alice provoking the reader to question how they would respond to a similar situation.

One striking rhetorical device within the novel is Carroll’s use of wordplay, particularly the use of puns, which makes the text increasingly comical and complicated. Constant misunderstandings between Alice and the characters of Wonderland serve to illuminate Alice as the visitor, the guest or even the intruder. Alice’s lack of agency in Wonderland, evident by her inability to control even the size of her body and her disillusionment about the curious world around her, causes underlying questions to emerge for the reader: To what do we cling to when we are in the unknown? How would I act differently than Alice were I do enter Wonderland? Would I even go down that rabbit hole?

While it is clear that the novel is fantastical fiction, the parallels that can be drawn between Alice’s experience and real life are limitless, which is probably why the novel is typically accepted as a political allegory of Carroll’s time.  Despite the fact that the novel focuses on Alice and her adventures in Wonderland, she really is a supplemental character to the environment in which she enters, comparable to a modern day tourist alone in a foreign country where the language is unfamiliar — is the tourist’s perception of the country more valid than the inhabitants? Or is it the other way around? In these situations, how we handle ourselves is revealing of our values and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland seems to be a call to action ultimately asking the reader to recognize which vantage point they sympathize with more. Carroll seems to be suggesting that perhaps we all need to fall down the rabbit hole sometime or another if not only for the sake of seeing things from another perspective.

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