Alice’s Adventures in the Circle of Life

I read a critique that claims the Alice stories are allegories for puberty–specifically, Freudian analysis suggests that they are about Alice’s change from innocence to a sexual being. I’m generally skeptical of Freudian analysis, but was surprised when I read the first two chapters of Alice in Wonderland and found evidence that the book may, indeed, be about puberty. In fact, I noticed possible allusions to the entire life cycle, from birth to death. I don’t know if this trend will continue throughout the book, but here’s what I have so far:

Birth
In the beginning, Alice falls down a rabbit-hole, landing in a room containing a tiny key, a tiny door, and a large table. When she is small, the door is locked–she’s not allowed out. But then she grows very large…so large that she can hardly fit into the womb room anymore. Ah! Now she can reach the key! But the way out is so tiny! Luckily, she is taken up by a force outside of her control (a sea of tears) and is thrust into Wonderland. 


Puberty–Between the Age of Innocence and the Age of Reason comes the Age of Nonsense
Even before falling down the rabbit hole, Alice has noticed that she acts like a selfish child but reprimands her own behavior like an older child:

She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; 

In the rabbit hole, Alice feels small and insignificant (understandably, since she has shrunk down to several inches high). She has lost respect for herself and doubts the way she used to do things:

 “But it’s no use now,” thought poor Alice, “to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!”

Furthermore, her body keeps changing in awkward and embarrassing manners. Note the grotesque lengthening of her neck in the picture at the beginning of Chapter 2. Does this remind anyone of the awkward phases of growth, when body parts would suddenly become disproportionately too large or too small seemingly overnight? Even her voice sounded “hoarse and strange” when she recited the crocodile poem. These changes make her question her identity:

I wonder if I have 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?’

I know that this question of identity will continue throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Although it may seem strange to suggest that a book about a 7-year-old is an allegory for puberty, remember that Charles Dodgson’s friend Alice Liddle, on whom our Alice was modeled, was just reaching the age of puberty at the time that the first book was to be published. Note a diary entry by Dodgson in May 1865:

Met Alice and Miss Prickett in the quadrangle: Alice seems changed a good deal, and hardly for the better–probably going through the usual awkward state of transition.*

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in November of that year. 

Death
There even a moment when Alice contemplates death: 

“for it might end, you know,” said Alice to herself, “in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?” And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.

Later, Alice terrifies the mouse by mentioning her kitten, Dinah, and how great Dinah is at catching mice. When Alice realizes her mistake, she quickly changes topics to a dog she knows…as she chatters on, she again blunders by mentioning what a fantastic ratter the dog is. Apparently this Darwinian eat-or-be-eaten philosophy continues throughout the two books. Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species just been published in 1859, and Natural Selection was the talk of the town. I will watch for Natural Selection allusions while I read; though, apparently, some of them were taken out of the original story and can’t be found in the published book.  

A continuation of this theme can be found here.

Image taken from http://www.mymodernmet.com/photo/the-circle-of-life

*From The Diaries of Lewis Carroll, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green, quoted in Alice in Wonderland: Norton Critical Edition (New York: W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1992) p279.

6 thoughts on “Alice’s Adventures in the Circle of Life

  1. Dude, when I saw you mention this on coursera I was confused, but now that I read it I see that you are so right!
    Were it not for my exams this week, I'd read the books AGAIN to find more such explanation…
    I really like the birth allegory, especially about the pool of tears… being a medical student, I have had too many encounters with pools of amniotic fluid!

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  2. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by! I think the birth symbolism is rather amusing–I wonder if he meant it that way or if it's just the way we see it with our post-Freudian brains?

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  3. That's a good one, Rachel. I didn't pay too much attention to these details when I read the book back in Junior High. Now I have the chance to read it again, I can't read it the same way again.

    You're right. Our mind see things like we want it to be, for the better or the worse. It's highly possible we see it as symbolism to cycle of life because we're reading the book trying to find evidence to the theory. Still, the theory is solid enough.

    I, however, disagree at the last paragraph where you suggest it's written for Alice's puberty. He has also mentioned in another note that when he began forming the idea and writing the earlier drafts, Alice was still a kid. It's just happened that when the book is published, the little girl had bloomed.

    I wonder how your essay would be. Trying to tackle psychological aspects, maybe? Please post it!

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  4. Thanks for your encouragement Lisa! I understand perfectly why so many people are reluctant to see Alice as a puberty allegory. I read a critique which suggested that this was actually what Dodgson intended with his story–the critique could be wrong, of course. It could just as easily be about growth and transformation in a life-time.

    I will certainly post my essay, though I've decided to focus on the room through which she enters the Queen's croquet ground. This happens twice in the story, and I think it's a major transformative event. 🙂

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