Abstract illustration of the silhouettte of Alice falling, a white rabbit, and a red mushroom

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll
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What is the message conveyed in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for children and for adults?

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As other answers have suggested, a central message of the book is that of identity. I would focus on the book's exploration of identity as liable to become fluid and changeable when we encounter and must survive in other cultures with different norms, as Alice must in Wonderland. Her adventures...

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As other answers have suggested, a central message of the book is that of identity. I would focus on the book's exploration of identity as liable to become fluid and changeable when we encounter and must survive in other cultures with different norms, as Alice must in Wonderland. Her adventures there initially literally change her physical identity—she is always growing and shrinking. This shows how difficult it can be to "fit in" to a new culture. As Alice says, before bursting into tears, "Who in the world am I?"

Alice had a much more concrete sense of self when she was in her safe, if duller, Victorian home with Dinah and her cat. As she goes down the rabbit hole, however, she is forced to confront a disorienting and defamiliarizing—and exciting—world where everything is the same but different. From the start, the "immigrant" Alice has to face that what would be the simplest acts in her own culture, such as walking through a door, have become much more complicated because she can't instantly assimilate all the rules of her new home. This is shown, for example, when she drinks the liquid that shrinks her to a small enough size to get through the tiny door to the garden—only to realize that she left the key to the garden door on the glass table that is now an unfathomable distance away.

Alice is constantly having to deal with the same being somewhat different—she encounters, for instance, a cat like her cat at home, but this one can disappear. The Queen of Hearts might have some resemblance to Queen Victoria, but she is much more hot tempered and bloodthirsty. Alice might encounter croquet, a familiar popular middle-class English pastime, but here it is played with flamingos and hedgehogs. All of this takes its toll.

However, there is up side: another message that arises from Alice's cultural encounter with the disorienting "other" is that her new experience helps her to mature and grow. She is not the same when she wakes from her dream as she was before.

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For children, the abiding message of the story is that the transition from childhood to adulthood is a very difficult one. It's notable that, throughout the story, Alice is forced to endure a number of bizarre and uncomfortable physical changes, which some scholars have interpreted as a metaphor for puberty. At various points Alice finds that she's either too big, too small, depending on the circumstances, or that her neck has expanded to an extraordinary length.

At any rate, there can be no doubt that Alice's transition to the adult world is far from easy, and involves a lot of danger as well as physical discomfort. By the end of the book, one can be left in no doubt that Alice has left her childhood innocence well and truly behind her.

As for what message adults can take from the story, one could argue that it is something along the lines of the ultimately mysterious and unfathomable nature of life. Right throughout the story Alice is confronted with all kinds of strange puzzles, which despite her best efforts, remain stubbornly unsolved. Whether it's the Mad Hatter's riddle or the bizarre rules of the Queen of Hearts' croquet game, there's so much in Wonderland that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. One cursory glance at a newspaper or a TV news broadcast reminds adult readers of the present day that much the same situation applies to our own world.

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For children, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland serves as a coming of age story providing a message about the value of questioning our identity. One can question one's identity at any age, but Alice in particular questions her identity throughout the story, which marks her transition from childhood to adulthood.

Alice begins questioning her identity at the very start of the book. One example is when, after she had shrunk to "only ten inches high" and was faced with the obstacle of trying to retrieve the golden key from the table where she had left it, she starts scolding herself, saying, "Come, there's no use in crying like that!" The narrator comments, ... "for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people" (Ch. 1). The two people represent her child self and her adult self, and it's because she feels torn between the two selves that she feels she doesn't really know who she is. As the book progresses, we even see her reflecting on how different she was before her adventure began. This process of questioning identity is characteristic of the growing experience, and her transition from childhood to adulthood is symbolized by her literal physical changes in size and shape.

For adults, the book satirizes the absurdity of the whole adult world, leaving us with a message about the value of questioning our own actions. The theme of absurdity is underscored by every character she meets on her adventure, and her adventure culminates with her questioning and even rebelling against authority. Specifically, in the court scene, she rebels against the Queen's decree that the jury should state its sentence (its decided means of punishment) before the jury gives its verdict (meaning before it passes judgement on Alice, the accused). In the normal world, the jury states the verdict followed by the sentence. She rebels by saying, "Stuff and nonsense! ... The idea of having the sentence first!" and further by refusing to remain silent before the Queen (Ch. XII). Her final act of rebellion is to say, "Who cares for you? ... You're nothing by a pack of cards!" (Ch. XII) It's at this moment that her dream ends; it's also at this moment that Alice comes into her own because she has spoken her own mind, just as an adult should do. The ridiculousness of the royal court in Alice's dream satirizes the ridiculousness of courts and governments in the real world, and Alice's rebellion sends the message that rebellion is needed.

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