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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll

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How do violence and death recur as themes in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?

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As eNotes topics mention, psychologist Paul Schilder has critiqued the book for repeated motif of eating small animals, saying it has “preponderant oral sadistic trends.”

But even without looking at Schilder's 1938 paper, we can find many instances of violence and threatened death in the novel. For example, when the large Alice cries, then manages to shrink again, she is swept away in the salt-water flood of her larger self's tears and is afraid of drowning. While caught in the water, she meets up with a mouse similarly endangered, and terrifies it by making conversation about her cat, Dinah. The mouse leaps up and quivers all over with fear at the mention of a cat.

Instead of getting the point, Alice persists in talking about Dinah, saying,

she is such a nice soft thing to nurse—and she’s such a capital one for catching mice.—oh, I beg your pardon!

Alice threatens the mouse with violence a third time as she mentions dogs catching rats.

Later, when Alice attends the Queen's croquet party, the theme of beheading comes up almost from the start, as Alice hears the five card telling the seven card that Queen said it deserved to be beheaded. Later, the Queen does call for these cards, who are her gardeners, to be beheaded. Alice hides them in a flowerpot to save them. However, as the Queen behaves angrily and irrationally, wanting beheadings right and left, Alice becomes frightened for her own life:

Alice began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had not as yet had any dispute with the Queen, but she knew that it might happen any minute, “and then,” thought she, “what would become of me? They’re dreadfully fond of beheading people here; the great wonder is, that there’s any one left alive!”

Wonderland is a frightening place. Not only is Alice faced with disorientation, violence, and death, her presence sows fear among the smaller animals, such as the mouse and the canary, as she discusses her own predatory world in which the cat is a fearsome figure.

This dream world provides a way for a child like Alice to process her fears and vulnerabilities as a small person surrounded by adults.

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