Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Analysis
by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland book cover
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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Analysis

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland came from a story that Lewis Carroll once told Alice Liddell, the daughter of one of Carroll’s friends. 
  • The first version of the story was much shorter and written in longhand, but Carroll later expanded it, publishing it in book form with illustrations by John Tenniel.
  • Lewis Carroll parodies many Victorian poems in his work. Most of the songs and verses included in the book are inspired by popular poems written in his day, including those written by Robert Southey, Isaac Watts, and Mary Howett.

Analysis

(Novels for Students)

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Parody

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was originally told to entertain a little girl. One of the devices Lewis Carroll uses to communicate with Alice Liddell is parody, which adopts the style of the serious literary work and applies it to an inappropriate subject for humorous effect. Most of the songs and poems that appear in the book are parodies of well-known Victorian poems, such as Robert Southey's "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" ("You Are Old, Father William"), Isaac Watts's "How Doth the Little Busy Bee" ("How Doth the Little Crocodile"), and Mary Howett's "The Spider and the Fly" ("Will You Walk a Little Faster"). Several of the songs were ones that Carroll had heard the Liddell sisters sing, so he knew that Alice, for whom the story was written, would appreciate them. There are also a number of "inside jokes" that might make sense only to the Liddells or Carroll's closest associates. The Mad Hatter's song, for instance, ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat") is a parody of Jane Taylor's poem "The Star," but it also contains a reference to the Oxford community. "Bartholomew Price," writes Martin Gardner in his The Annotated Alice, "a distinguished professor of mathematics at Oxford and a good friend of Carroll's, was known among his student by the nickname 'The Bat.' His lectures no doubt had a way of soaring high above the heads of his listeners."

What makes Carroll's parodies so special that they have outlived the originals they mock is the fact that they are excellent humorous verses in their own right. They also serve a purpose within the book: they emphasize the underlying senselessness of Wonderland and highlight Alice's own sense of displacement. Many of them Alice recites herself under pressure from another character. “’Tis the Voice of the Lobster" is a parody of the didactic poem "The Sluggard" by Isaac Watts. It is notable that most often Alice is cut off by the same characters that require her to recite in the first place.

Narrator

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland opens with Alice's complaint, "For what is the use of a book ... without pictures or conversations?" So most of the story is told through pictures and dialogue. However, there is another voice besides those of Alice and the characters she encounters. The third-person ("he/she/it") narrator of the story maintains a point of view that is very different from that of the heroine. The narrator steps in to explain Alice's thoughts to the reader. The narrator explains who Dinah is, for instance, and also highlights Alice's own state of mind. He frequently refers to Alice as "poor Alice" or "the poor little thing" whenever she is in a difficult situation.

Point of View

Although the narrator has an impartial voice, the point of view is very strongly connected with Alice. Events are related as they happen to her and are explained as they affect her. As a result, some critics believe that the narrator is not in fact a separate voice, but is a part of Alice's own thought process. They base this interpretation on the statement in Chapter 1 that Alice "was very fond of pretending to be two people." Alice, they suggest, consists of the thoughtless child who carelessly jumps down the rabbit-hole after the White Rabbit, and the well-brought-up, responsible young girl who remembers her manners even when confronted by rude people and animals.

Language

Part of the way Carroll shows Wonderland to be a...

(The entire section is 6,403 words.)