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Adult Lessons Laced With Whimsy?

November 1, 2009

Carroll cleverly inserts very adult concepts into a children’s story. Take for example on page 23 of The Annotated Alice (TAA):

“‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah that’s the great puzzle!”

The question that plagues me is who is Carroll truly writing for? TAA tells us that the original story Carroll wrote as a gift to Alice Liddell, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, has differences from the final published product of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (for example, on page 34 of TAA, the mouse’s tail poem).

Why did Carroll edit his original manuscript? Of course there is the possibility that he believed the jokes were too private for other readers to understand, but another possibility is that Carroll wanted to spread an adult message through a children’s book. Perhaps Carroll wanted the adults that read his story to their children to be benefitted just as much as the children.

While some lessons are evidently for children, they could be applied to adult situations as well. An example from chapter two, on page 25 , Alice cries and cries until she creates a sea from all her tears:

“I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears!”

From a child’s perspective, this is clearly a lesson that crying won’t help you, it will actually just make things worse. Pitying yourself will only get you into more of a mess than if you had simply accepted failure and moved on to try again.

One can predict that there will be an abundance of lessons throughout the rest of the story.

If this is true, the next question is what are the lessons Carroll is trying to teach adults?

Or, consequently, could Carroll be trying to remind adults of their childhood guidelines?

He may be trying to show adults that complexity is not necessary when it comes to moral laws. Carroll much rather enjoyed the company of children than adults; could Carroll be trying to bring the grown generations back to the simplicity of childhood? Does he believe that by adopting forgotten concepts that children know good and well, societal problems could be resolved?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Derek_M permalink
    November 9, 2009 10:18 am

    I really appreciate the dichotomy of the individual that you so eloquently described in your blog post. The divergence of thought process can be seen in Alice as well as the story itself. I also appreciate the concrete evidence that you provided with the quotes.

    As I see it, Alice is a very conflicted person. As she enters the world of Wonderland, she uses the other side of her that naturally she cannot enter. I think this gives support that this whole story is all a dream, while still presenting the ideas of divergence. This a very well thought out blog and the attention to detail cannot go unnoticed. Maybe Carroll is trying to describe the divergence of thought, that is always found in humans. Imitation and description are key in Carroll’s story and it shows his use of dichomtomy in a light that only the more well developed mind can comprehend.

  2. Sylvia A. permalink
    November 4, 2009 1:00 am

    I agree with the point you made about Carroll writing mainly for children. I don’t think his main goal was to write a puzzling story for adults to uncover hidden messages. I believe that this story was meant for his little friend, Alice Liddell, and in the process he inputted some satire almost to criticize adults and how they’ve lost sight of the simplicity of childhood. Maybe us analyzing this story is just the point he was trying to make about how adults automatically try to complicate things that are perfectly fine just the way they are.

    Since he was an adult ,and a mathematician at that, there are bound to be some sophisticated references in this book. He is also a man of opinion so at times there are points were he pokes fun at society and government (See the Caucus-Race annotation, page 31 of TAA). This story shows us Carroll’s view on life, but in a way that is not obvious at first, due to his cleverness and skill as not only a writer but creator of riddles.

    He may have put the intricacies into these riddles because he knew this text would not be taken for what its worth and the analyzing would not stop until we have found a reason and explanation for every last line in this story. So my opinion is that it is the other way around. Instead of writing a complex novel and sugarcoating it with child-friendly fun, Carroll wrote a book based on that childhood fantasy which invariably contains hidden criticism due to the theme of this tale and dual human nature of Lewis Carroll, the lover of children/author and Charles Dodgson, the logical mathematician.

  3. Colton C. permalink
    November 3, 2009 10:19 am

    I really like the way that you talk about Carroll’s life lessons that he puts into the story. I never really thought about the part where Alice cries until she has made a sea of tears. The way that Carroll implements his life lessons is very important to the story of Alice. Without it, much of the parents reading the story would have no interest. They would be reading the story just to read it. With the life lessons however, they are able to teach their children something important while reading them a fun story. Carroll was a mathematician so he was very smart. He was able to put in fun things for the kids while still having jokes that only the adults could understand.

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