Friday, September 28, 2007

Alice in Wonderland

Hmm, I should consider picking a different day for my posts as Thursday night is always my major homework night. Thus I end up writing more about school and less about comic books.

Still, One of the major issues all of us on this blog have discussed at one point or another is how many comic books are out there that are considered 'all ages' anymore. In fact we go out of our way to mention when a book is child appropriate. I find that many times it's hard to judge about a book. I find myself recommending books like the Legion of Superheroes, Bone and Mouseguard to parents and many times find that I have to be even more particular with my selections. After all these books contain violence, betrayal and even death. Many parents seem reluctant to expose their children to these things. Yet I wonder if our society has become overly protective of their children in recent years - perhaps this is why teenagers seem to rebel in more extreme ways. As I look more closely at children's literature such as Alice in Wonderland I find myself wondering why we've 'dumbed down' the stories we expose children to. Personally I think many kids can handle and learn from (in a positive manner) a lot more than we give them credit for.

This is the essay I just finished writing about the satirical nature of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. All of the examples are directly from the story, and I am convinced that the children's stories we read today cannot compare to the depth found in stories like this.

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", by Lewis Carrol, satirizes society through the eyes of a child attempting to come to terms with the world around her. Carrol uses the creatures of Wonderland to illustrate stereotypical adults in what he saw as a nonsensical culture.

The White Rabbit is the first Wonderland creature Alice encounters. The Rabbit is a parody of the typical working adult in society. Alice becomes intrigued by the Rabbit when he pulls out a pocket watch after exclaiming, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" (Carrol 5). Throughout the story the Rabbit seems to be running late, although we're never quite sure what he's so late for (presumably he's running one errand or another). Carrol is mocking the average man's inability to recognize what is and isn't important. The Rabbit is so consumed with his worry about being late that he fails to notice what's going on around him. In fact he even mistakes Alice for his own housemaid, Mare Ann. He sees Alice and assumes that she must be his servant and orders her to "Run home this moment, and fetch me a pair of gloves and a fan! Quick now!" (Carrol 21). Not only does this show how the average working adult is obsessed with time but it also illustrates how many adult members of society take little notice of those they consider to be beneath them.

The Duchess is another highly stereotypical character. She represents the people of society who feel that they have the answer to everything. During Alice's first encounter with the Duchess she informs the child that "You don't know much... and that's a fact" (Carrol 37). From then on the Duchess not only informs Alice of 'facts' (that make little sense) but also orders her around. The Duchess seems to presume that she is better than Alice because she is comfortable in the belief that she knows more than Alice. Later, in the Queen's garden, the Duchess again asserts her own superiority. She begins to find morals in everything that Alice says - whether or not there is an intended moral. For example when Alice informs the Duchess that her flamingo may bite the Duchess says, "Very true... flamingos and mustard both bite. And the moral of that is - 'Bird of a feather flock together' (Carrol 57). Alice points out that mustard isn't a bird and rather than admit that her statement was in error the Duchess glosses over the whole incident by agreeing with Alice - as if it all makes sense anyway. This shows the Duchess to represent all the members of society who act in the belief that they know all there is to know.

The Queen is a representation of adult authority. She satirizes the world of rules and regulation by representing extremes of illogic and impossible rules and regulations. The Queen's croquet game is a perfect example of this. Alice finds herself given inefficient tools to play an impossible game in which she never quite sure of the rules (as they're always changing). "The players played all at once, without waiting for turns, quarreling all the while... and in a very short time the Queen was in a furious passion... shouting 'Off with his head!'" (Carrol 53). The croquet game itself is a mockery of human society while the Queen, at it's head, is a symbol for the authority that claims to maintain society. In it's extreme form, bureaucracy wishes to solve problems with haste - but with little regard to those that it effects of the actual execution of the actions to be taken. This to, is acted out by the Queen when confronted with a creature with only a head who she wishes to have beheaded. When no one seems to be able to behead the creature she decides that "if something wasn't done about it... she'd have everybody executed" (Carrol 55). The Queen clearly satirizes adult society's befuddling authority.

Wonderland is an elaborate representation of adult society and all it's strange stereotypes and patterns. Carrol uses the characters and circumstances of Wonderland to create a satire of society through the perspective of childhood.

I would, of course, like the opinions of the actual parents who read this, as I don't have children of my own. I am curious on how people feel - do we shelter our children more - perhaps in an attempt to keep them younger longer? Or do you feel there has been little change in children's literature?

* Yes, this is a cheating post * Apologies *

As an interesting side note though I wonder if comics are considered 'kid stuff' by society because children's literature is associated with illustrations alongside the text?


  1. Yes, people are sheltering their children to riduculous extremes. Schools are eliminating tag as too competitive for the "little eggs" and one area's Youth Soccer League no longer keeps score for their games and gives out no trophies.
    If you want to change days let me know - Thursday, Saturday and Sunday are open.

  2. PS - Good post - I enjoyed it.

  3. I think that there are generalizations that should be avoided in this conversation. Jim mentions tag and youth soccer, as a couple of popular in extremis stories have castigated of late. These are isolated incidents and not signs of anything pervasive. It's like watching the local news murder count and concluding that there's nothing but heavily armed people running around the entire US killing one another. It's simply not so.

    I have 2 kids in elementary school. There are no restrictions on tag or dodge ball or any other such playground activity. One of them plays soccer. Not only do we keep score for games, but when we scrimmage the kids are always keeping score themselves. Not keeping score is pointless. Whether the adults do it or not, the kids will. Anyway, back to schools. Our school does have rules that weren't the same when I was a kid, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. They're very watchful for any kissing among the kids. Yes, we're talking the usual kindergarten and first grade dares or just tentative steps toward adulthood, but there's a real danger of sexual harrassment if someone doesn't want to participate. I don't disagree with the approach of a blanket ban. When I was a kid you would have gotten in trouble for the same thing, but the rationale would have been that it was inappropriate for school, rather than a concern about sexual harrassment.

    So, I don't see an institutional move to overly shelter children. I do see a lot of parents who do, though. In 3d grade last year my daughter's G&T reading class was assigned a book called "Every Little Bird that Sings" (I think). It dealt with death in a sometimes humerous fashion, as the lead character was a young girl whose family operated a funeral home in a small southern town. In the course of the story, though, some important, elderly adults die, as well as the lead's dog. Knowing the parents they had to contend with, the school had a meeting for the parents of the kids in this class and gave us copies of the book to read before it was assigned to the kids. I thought it was an excellent book, and my daughter liked it so much that she's since gotten her own copy to keep. However, there were other parents who were really concerned about the sadness in the book and worried about its effects on their kid. No one pulled their kid from the class, but it seemed a bit much to me.

    Now, I don't think this is new. I think this started with the Baby Boomers when they had kids. Evidently some of their kids now cannot navigate college without constant support from their parents. Some colleges have to spend an inordinate amount of time with parents rather than the kids, dealing with everything from roommate assignments to home work loads.

    That's my two cents on the trend issue. I think I should point out that the essay itself has a problem in its premise. I think you're correct that Carroll is satirizing society in the stories. However, you appear to be applying that satire to our society today. Carroll was satirizing English society in 1865 and 1871. There was no common man rushing from appointment to appointment, as there is today. Carroll was poking at the upper class of England and its highly ossified structure, its air of self importance, and the extremes of the empire.

    I also note that, when writing about the Queen, you say "[s]he satirizes the world of rules..." I believe you mean that she is a satire of the rules, etc. Carroll is satirizing with his writing of the characters. The characters do not do the satirizing.

    Lastly, I raise a question. Is the Duchess a symbol of pretension to knowledge or is she a symbol of obsequiousness (or both)?

  4. Thomm,

    Geeze, way to edit my 4am 'in class' essay... I'm taking an online course and we had to write three essays in the span of 4 hours and this was the last one I wrote.

    However, I do believe that my points are still valid and that there were people very concerned with the press of time and very much involved in their 'work' during Carrol's time. Not to mention the example I used in regards to the Rabbit's disregard of his housemaid - as he was in such a hurry he mistook Alice for her. I doubt that has as much prevalence in modern society as less people keep housemaids.

    I think the Duchess is much more a symbol of pretension than obsequiousness. She does fawn over Alice toward the latter half of the story but she constantly maintains her 'holier than thou' attitude.

    As for my wording, I decided to post the essay 'as is' as opposed to editing it later when I was more awake since (as I said) this is a 'cheating' post as by the time I got to writing it I was already past the point of passing out. That was why I included apologies at the end of my post =P

  5. Frell! Your last essay was better than my first!

    I suspect I did very poorly, which I'm pretty cranky about.

  6. arielle - "Frell" - someone has been watching Farscape - that is some good dren.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.