Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Themes
The main themes in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are identity, coming of age, and absurdity.
- Identity: As Alice journeys farther into Wonderland, she loses touch with her sense of self and comes to question who she really is.
- Coming of age: The novel is a coming-of-age story. Alice’s strange and often dangerous adventures cause her to lose her child-like innocence.
- Absurdity: Lewis Carroll was known for his love for absurdity. Wonderland is the epitome of the absurd: it is populated with talking rabbits, disappearing cats, and a queen has all of the white roses painted red.
Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been one of the most analyzed books of all time. Critics have viewed it as a work of philosophy, as a criticism of the Church of England, as full of psychological symbolism, and as an expression of the drug culture of the 1960s. Readers all differ in their interpretations of the book, but there are a few themes that have won general acceptance. One of the clearly identifiable subjects of the story is the identity question. One of the first things that the narrator says about Alice after her arrival in the antechamber to Wonderland is that "this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people." The physical sign of her loss of identity is the changes in size that take place when she eats or drinks. After she drinks the cordial and eats the cake in Chapter 1, for instance, she loses even more of her sense of self, until at the beginning of Chapter 2 she is reduced to saying, "I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I?" She begins to cry and to fan herself with the White Rabbit's fan, which causes her to shrink down to almost nothing. After she shrinks, she falls into a pool of her own tears, in which she almost drowns. For Alice, the question of identity is a vital one.
Alice continues to question her identity until the final chapters of the book. When the White Rabbit mistakes her for his servant Mary Ann, she goes along willingly to his house to find his gloves. At the beginning of her encounter with the Caterpillar in Chapter 5, she answers his question "Who are you?" with the response "I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." At the end of Chapter 5, she tells the hostile Pigeon who calls her a serpent that she is a little girl; but she says it "rather doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day." As late as Chapter 10, she says to the Gryphon, "I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning … but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then." As she progresses through Wonderland, however, Alice slowly gains a greater sense of herself and eventually overthrows the Queen of Hearts' cruel court.
Coming of Age
The question of why Alice is so confused about her identity has to do with her developing sense of the difference between childhood and adulthood. She is surrounded by adult figures and figures of authority: the Duchess, the Queen, the King. Even the animals she encounters treat her as a Victorian adult might treat a small child. The White Rabbit and the Caterpillar order her about. They also break the rules of politeness that adults have drilled into Alice. The Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and (to a lesser extent) the Dormouse are all rude to her in various degrees. They also break the rules of logic that Alice has been taught to follow. It is not until Alice stops trying to understand the Wonderland residents logically and rejects their world that she "comes of age"—she takes responsibility for her own actions and breaks powerfully out of her dream world.
(The entire section is 1,088 words.)