Essay: Obvious and Not Obvious: Alice in Wonderland as a sophisticated story

Updated: Apr 15

It is not obvious that Lewis Carroll intended and purposed any points or concrete meaning in his children’s fantasy Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. Most readers, both young and old, believe that Lewis Carroll intended no real meaning, but that it is rather a composition intended merely for comedy and entertainment. In spite of popular opinion, this position is not factual. The intention and point in Alice In Wonderland is the absurdity of the escape from reasonable behavior, both scientifically and mathematically: resulting from or toward a moral decline. All points argued in drama and literature where the author intends to have a point are capable of intentionality and persuasion. Alice In Wonderland is a book where the author, Lewis Carroll or Charles Dodgson, argued a point through this literature and drama. Therefore, Alice In Wonderland is capable of intentionality and persuasion.

Alice, a little girl, is with her sister by a brook (or something of the sort) being bored of her surroundings when a little White Rabbit appears speaking to himself about how he will be late while looking at his pocket watch. The Rabbit thence rushes down a hole, and Alice curiously follows after him. She then begins her adventures in Wonderland where she goes to mad tea parties, participates in croquet games, and even testifies in court. She wakes up to find that it is all a dream.

The First reason the book is not merely for entertainment but also to show the absurdity of the escape from reasonable behavior, is that it has mathematical impossibilities. Charles Dodgson, Lewis Carroll’s real name, made a living as a mathematics tutor at Christ Church, Oxford. Being conservative in his practice, Dodgson opposed emerging ideas of the day; such as those by William Rowan Hamilton and Augustus De Morgan. For example, De Morgan proposed that any procedure is valid in algebra as long as it follows some internal logic (Bayley). This resulted in supposed and incalculable square roots to negative numbers; which even De Morgan himself called “unintelligible” and “absurd.” In the case of Hamilton, he thought that manipulations of numbers should be thought of as steps in what he called “pure time” (Bayley). To refute both these notions, Dodgson used Euclid’s idea of Reductio Ad Absurdum; where one takes the proofs to the logical conclusion they possess (Lee 382). To do this he posited an orderly world above - where Alice came from; - and a ridiculous one below - where Alice went.

The Caterpillar parodies De Morgan’s system of thought by deluding his followers. “Being so many sizes in one day is so confusing,” Alice cries to the Caterpillar, “It isn’t?” (Carroll 37). The proponent of absurd mathematics confesses, and then later says, “just keep your temper” (Carroll 38). Alice’s chin hits her foot because one cannot reduce the nonsense of De Morgan’s fake logical algebra to something sensical within its system. Alice’s neck then extends above the trees showing that those who try to explain nonsensical math have their heads in the clouds.

Dodgson used the tea party to refute Hamilton. “Tea” in “tea-party” is supposed to be read “T” “t-party;” - “T” is the mathematical symbol for time. Dodgson has the Hatter, the Hare, and the Dormouse stuck going round and round the tea, or time, table to reflect how Hamilton used what he called “quaternions” a number system based upon four terms. At the mad tea party, time is the absent fourth presence at the table (because there are only three partiers). The Hatter tells Alice that he quarreled with Time last March, and now “he won’t do a thing I ask” (Carroll 66). So the Hatter, the Hare, and the Dormouse are forced to rotate forever in a plane around the tea-table. When Alice leaves the tea partiers, they are trying to stuff the Dormouse into the teapot or time-pot, so they can exist as an independent pair of complex, still mad, numbers.

Clearly, based on the context of world events at the publication, the author was trying to make claims upon mathematics. He was convincing his more intuitive readers that fake philosophy disguised as math is not math at all.

Secondly, the book is not merely for entertainment, but also to show the absurdity of the escape from reasonable behavior because of the biological impossibilities. Charles Darwin published his famed Origin of Species in 1859; only a couple of years before the publication of Alice. In addition to being a mathematics teacher, Dodgson was also an ordained reverend. He held his theological convictions very highly even saying, “Most assuredly I accept...that Christ died to save us, that we have no other way of salvation open to us but through His death, and that it is by faith in Him, and through no merit of ours, that we are reconciled to God" (Collingwood). Because of the combination of his faith and reason, Carroll took Darwin’s ideas to their logical extreme - Euclid’s Reductio Ad Absurdum (Lee 382). Darwin believed that the “fittest would survive,” and that the best man would win.

The Duchesses Kitchen is the most obvious example of Darwinian evolution sped up for everyone to see. When Alice comes into the Duchess' house and kitchen she finds the Duchess holding a baby. The baby is screaming and the Duchess tells Alice to take it out and attend to it. When Alice does this she finds that the baby turns into a pig. Although the subtitle to Darwin’s book is, “By the Means of Natural Selection,” Darwin himself went so far as to say that “sexual selection” was more important than natural selection. This is described in chapter two of his book, “struggle between males for possession of the females. The result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring” (Darwin 136). Darwin was saying here that all of our world, biologically speaking, is the result of the female sexual selection of the males; thereby insisting that females were ultimately responsible for why we have fire, have war, have humor, walk on two feet, and so on and so forth. The Duchess is this personified Darwinian female who can either help or eat the baby. She instead passes the baby onto Alice for she deems it unfit for survival. Then, when the baby turns into a pig, Carroll humiliates Darwin’s ideas by showing that pigs are more likely to survive than people. Alice is from the world of reason or logic, and if it were up to her to sexually select the survival of the fittest it would only make sense if the pig survived and the human did not. She even states, “If it had to grow up it would have been a dreadfully ugly child: but makes a rather handsome pig I think.” (Carroll 56-57)

Alice is also able to grow in size. Most notably she grows in the courtroom and scares the awful Queen of Hearts. Carroll is virtually asking the Darwinists here, “If we are supposed to evolve into a better fit species, then why do we not grow larger and larger to scare our enemies and hunt better.” Some will say that we have grown in height across the generations, yet, this is because of more nutrition and not because of Darwinian Evolution. This is proved by the fact that countries with more affluence have taller people on average than ones with less affluence. If Darwin was right, we would think that countries with fewer nutrients available would have taller people because they would need to be larger to withstand harsher conditions.

In the end, Carroll is again taking absurdity to its logical conclusion. Darwin’s theory does not even hold up in a children’s novel. In fact, it is so absurd that it is actually funny. Alice was right, the pig was going to survive rather than the child.

Finally, The Queen of Hearts is Carroll’s personal belief system messaged in a furtive way. The Queen of Hearts is obviously the center of catastrophe and evil in the narrative. To prove this, we must simultaneously prove several subsets of the premise, which are in no way trivial.

Traditionally, unfavorable nature and culture are associated with the negative-feminine; and favorable nature and culture are associated with the positive-feminine. The garden in Eden is described by the Hebrew “Gr” word meaning “walled garden.” And a walled garden is the perfect balance between nature and culture. God is the representation of everything that is Good, and The Devil is the representation of everything that is Bad. Adam and Eve, as described by the New Testament, are the bride and the representation of the feminine. (Eph 5:25-17; Rev. 19:7-9, 21:2, 21:9, etc.) Humanity is given a choice between which leader they prefer. Choosing the one which will give them what they want in the short-term, but leads to a long term death, they say that they themselves know best. The balance between perfect nature and perfect culture is shattered and results in humanity trying to set up for herself an idol to replace God; and, subsequently, diverse methods of salvation.

The Queen is the same shattering of nature and culture and false savior. She tries to rule alone and disregards the supremacy of the king. And, the king letting it happen, is subjected to have his own head cut off in his own kingdom as a result of rejected responsibility. The fact that the queen at times seems to honor the authority of the king and let him speak, as in the courtroom, is not a determinant but proof for this argument: “They will honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me,”( Is.29:13; Matt 5:8) and, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? And cast out devils? And in your name done many wonderful works?’ And then I will profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me you that work of iniquity’.” She also shows how when one tries to rule their own world upon autonomous merits it turns into chaos. Just like us, the Queen does not realize the collapse of her kingdom because she is nested in the pathology she decided upon. We do not always realize our lives being a wreck and chaos because we think that what we rule is right and good.

Other examples of and proof of the Queen of Hearts being a fundamental part of the story comes from myths. For example, Isis is the ruler of the Egyptian underworld, Hel of the Norse, Hecate in the Greek tradition.--All of these are rulers or leaders of their respective underworlds (Wingington). For example, in the Egyptian myth, Isis has a choice to either help Osiris (God) or Set (The Devil) (Mark).

The book was written in 1865, but it has all the factors that play into the theory that the fundamental Truth is the Dream of Story. Sigmon Freud, father of psychoanalysis and self-proclaimed atheist, was wrong in many of his thoughts, but also carried facts. Before Freud, people did not regard the subconscious as real or know many of the things we take for granted today (Gans). Carl Jung, a colleague of Freud and founder of analytical psychology, did similar things to our development, namely contributions to and origination of the idea of the Shadow (Perry). The combination of Freud's subconscious and Jung’s Shadow are both narrated and dramatized in Alice’s tale. Alice falls into the sleep of dreams and subconscious states. During this time she encounters the shadow of herself through accurate representation of fallen nature and culture - wonderland. Dodgson operated within mythical structures to be able to articulate these concepts effectively to everyone and especially to children. The dream is a world, according to Freud, which has the potential to symbolically exist based on certain actions taking place in the right time and place. The shadow is everything that one knows is wrong with oneself, but usually will not admit this to anyone, even themselves, for the sake of trying to maintain false optimism and artificial positive emotion. In both concepts, the point and intention of these developments are not always obvious and thus it can be shown offhandedly. As you can see, the Queen is the head of the shadow of consciousness; viz. she is the fallen bride of God trying to rule the world and maintain herself, and eventually hopes to be the savior. It is acted out in this fundamental sense showing what the problem is with all of humanity: we have run away from our God and ruled a world of nonsense on our own.--Alice is showing herself her own corrupt behavior and the dark fantasies which she possesses. In this world of nonsense Darwinism should happen but does not work; in this world of nonsense numbers and mathematics have no real values; in this world of nonsense nothing is universal and everything seems to be anything; in this world of nonsense we rule and it is cataclysmic; in this world of nonsense we do not know what anything means and therefore everything is simultaneously relevant and irrelevant - nothing has any principle or way of being and it would be better if it did not exist; in this world of nonsense we see ourselves ruling nothing.

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland are certainly entertaining and this should not be dismissed, but rather granted; however, the point still remains: Alice is not merely for entertainment but also something much greater. Some will refute and attempt at degrading the two proofs first brought up that Carroll was satirizing and mocking new forms of math and science. They will say that this was not really what he was doing; yes, he was making things absurd so that children would find it funny. Pressing further they will ask how it is that we know that Carroll was targeting Darwin, Hamilton, and De Morgan. It is true that the comedy Carroll creates with his analogies is superb, so it is understandable why well-meaning people do not think he was making any further points. After all, humor is associated with positive emotion and attraction, and if someone tries to make something less funny by showing the serious side: the naïve will become angry. Keep in mind, that I am not playing down the humor in any way; Carroll was using real things like the absurdity of Darwin’s ideas and playing them out. And when something so absurd is played out, it usually is quite comical due to the sheer impossibility. Carroll never gave us a map to identify the symbolism in the story. But he never wrote nonsense for children.--His best humor was directed at adults. By this token, we can also assuredly maintain that opposition to the scientific and mathematical symbolism is compelling yet fraudulent.

A greater attack is also mounted by people distasteful to our ideas about The Queen of Hearts. They become easily outraged that I would point out the obvious implications of the Adam and Eve figure in the story and the Christ figure. Crowding in on both sides are both the theistic and atheistic groups. The atheistic groups do not want God to be so foundational nested in children’s literature, because it goes against their fundamental assumptions. The theistic groups do not want God and symbolism to be drawn out of the book because they think it trivializes God and what He did. Both of these groups, based on their axiomatic presuppositions, have legitimate concerns; yet, they dissolve easily. If you want to, you can throw out the archetypes of being and pretend nothing happens, but you are not going to get away with it. You can say that those archetypes do not exist, but you are attempting to confine God. The atheist can try to deny the unruly feminine as the collapse of perfect chaos and perfect order, but this is paradoxical. Darwin believed, as said, that females are the underlying rulers of the world. He also thought that females were the thing from which order emerged. Even new atheists, like Sam Harris, confess this. He says that we will evolve into a greater being through artificial intelligence. This is order emerging out of chaos - the chaos being us, the broken fallen humanity; the order being the AI, the savior and balance. Before this, humanity evolved into a high-set of chaos from apes or chimpanzees. This came out of feminine selection. Therefore, even in the atheistic and naturalistic worldview, humanity is represented in the feminine and order in the savior. The Christian who denies the facts about the Queen of Hearts proposed in this essay denies the fact that God manifests himself through all of Creation. They think that they can put God in the Bible and keep Him there. These persons may even be so-called “mature Christians” and might even share this God of the Bible with others from time to time; they might study Him; they might love Him. But God is not confined to the Bible (Rm 1:20); God is central or absent of everything. It is not an insult to God that He is everywhere; it is to His glory that we see Him in everything. Christ has a shadow of reference shining on things and that shadow does not change (Jas. 1:17). All good stories are a shadow of the one Real Story. Authors operate in this Dream whether conscious of it or not.

It is no longer ambiguous whether Alice In Wonderland is for entertainment only. Carroll was making a point on many levels of analysis. If we try to rule our lives, we will die; and if we follow the Truth, we will live. We either rule our lives or follow the truth. And we either live or die. Alice experienced a world where the representation for humanity was in charge of the world. As a result, mathematics no longer existed and biology fell apart; tyranny was rampant and the rule of it could not even see the disaster. Alice’s tale did have a point; in fact, more than one point - it also contained the highest point. Carroll could look at the world around him and see destruction. He knew why the destruction happened. It is not obvious that we are the causes of death--our own death. Carroll’s point, although vague, cannot be denied; but it can be lived out,--we can all choose life or death. And it is obvious and not vague which of those points is right.

Works Cited

Bayley, Melanine. The New York Times. Algebra in Wonderland, 2010. Web. 19 Jan. 2020.

LEE, J.M.. “The Form of Reductio Ad Absurdum.” Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic. XIV (1973): 381-386

Gans, Steven. Very Well Mind. The Preconscious, Conscious, and Unconscious Minds, 2019. Web. 22 Jan. 2020.

Perry, Christopher. The Society of Analytical Psychology. The Shadow, 2020. Web. 22 Jan. 2020.

Wingington, Patti. Learn Religions. Gods and Goddess of Sin and the Underworld, 2019. Web. 20 Jan. 2020.

Mark, Joshua J.. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Isis, 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2020.

Collingwood, Stuart Dodgson. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll. (1898) London: T. Fisher Unwin.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. New York: Holt, Rineheart and Winston, 1961. Print

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: Literary Classics, Inc., 1938. Print

The Holy Bible King James Version. The Translators of the Bible. Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2018, 1619. Print.

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