The fantasy novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is presumed by many to be aimed towards children, probably because of the last paragraph of the book (“and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood”) and, of course, the very nature of the story – seemingly nothing more than the adventure of a misguided Alice through a unbelievable, mesmerising realm. Perhaps in simplified version that can be the case, but there is subtle social critique at the base of multiple characters, which from the get-go reveals another dimension to the story. Furthermore, clever manipulation of language would be missed by children – the same thing with questions of the existential type.
A bizarre introduction and the alteration of time
From the very beginning, there is something rather “off” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “when she thought it [rabbit speaking to itself that it’d be late] over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural”. How is it that doesn’t catch someone’s attention from the get-go? That is a rather unusual reaction to have to something as equally as unusual as a rabbit appearing to be human.
Time either ceases to exist in its “original” form or it is altered from the very moment Alice goes down the rabbit hole. This quote highlights this issue: “Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her”. Later, another instance supports the idea that time is completely different in this dimension, which retains enough normalcy as to not be completely incomprehensible by the human brain. It is so different; in fact, that it’s considered a person that controls the clock, with its name capitalised as Time.
Alice’s presumed rationality and social critique
Alice critiques the supposed madness of the creatures she encounters, not being able to realise she is the odd one out. She infiltrated a unknown dimension and her very existence and manner of being appears insane before them. She is deemed a beacon of rationality in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by some, but in truth, she’s just as mad as they are. It’s a matter of perspective and she has no right to change them, as their reality works perfectly fine as it is (“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”). The famous quote highlights that nicely.
In terms of social critique in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland we have The Queen of Hearts that can represent an oppressive monarchy, as she keeps shouting “Off with his head!” rather obsessively. She never seems to actually behead anyone and the Gryphon says so as well: “It’s all her fancy, that: they never execute nobody, you know. Come on!”. Despite that, she is feared by everyone. The rabbit may represent a busy businessman, as he is presumed to have a handmaid Mary Ann. He is also quite arrogant and easily irritable.
Confused reality and identity
Wonderland alters all facets of reality: time, space and seemingly even language and memory (in Alice’s case). She constantly forgets things that she used to know very well (about history, geography, the multiplication table). She jumbles words and can’t even repeat what she is being told to say (“She hardly knew what she was saying, and the words came very queer indeed”). She also makes mistakes like saying “curiouser and curiouser”, which is a rather bizarre mistake to make.
Although related to her being an intruder essentially, the question “Who are you?” asked by the hookah-loving caterpillar blindsides Alice. She is unable to answer and it is very telling. It’s unlikely to know the true nature of your own self even in the normal world. Wonderland makes her sense of identity even more confused and complicated.
Finally, although revealed to be a dream in the end, you can interpret the things happening in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as fragments of imagination derived from a disordered mind. The book stood as inspiration for the Alice in Wonderland syndrome – it causes distortion of perception, which is in tune with the unfolding events.