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

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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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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