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Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

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Alice in Wonderland | Symbols


The Journey

Despite its dreamlike qualities, Alice in Wonderland shares the same focus as many other fantasy and adventure novels, that of the main character's journey. This journey is not only geographical but also psychological and emotional. In tandem with her journey through Wonderland, Alice progresses toward adulthood, learning to question the orders she receives and to rely on herself.

Following Orders

Wonderland demands that Alice perform actions before she discovers the consequences. For instance, Alice is repeatedly told to consume something without being told what it is, such as the "Drink Me" bottle and "Eat Me" cake in Chapter 1. Although Alice sometimes wonders whether she should keep sampling unidentified food and drink, she generally complies. Some scholars have suggested that this is because Alice typifies the obedient Victorian female obeying the rules of a patriarchal society. However, Alice's own curiosity also plays a part, as she often simply wants to see what will happen when she drinks and eats the things she's given. (And of course there wouldn't be a story without Alice consuming these items.)

Alice complies with many other orders in the course of the story, such as going to get the White Rabbit's gloves and fan in Chapter 4, even though she is not the serving girl he has mistaken her for. This may also be seen as her being obedient or curious, but it should be noted that the major shifts in the story occur—Alice achieving access to the garden and eventually waking up—when she ceases to follow orders and acts on her own initiative.

The Hidden Garden

Alice spends a lot of time trying to enter the garden that she sees for the first time in Chapter 2. Walled gardens were popular in the 19th century. Walled vegetable gardens were more common than the walled flower garden Alice enters, but walled flower gardens are generally more attractive to the imagination.

In Alice in Wonderland, the garden's symbolism is fluid. Obviously it shares imagery with the Garden of Eden—a lost paradise. It can also be seen to represent unattainable beauty. It looks beautiful when Alice sees it from afar, but the loveliness vanishes as soon as she's actually inside the garden in Chapter 8. Gardeners are painting the roses, a croquet game is being set up, and the angry Queen of Hearts is storming around spreading panic wherever she goes.

The garden turns out not to be walled after all. Alice hasn't been there long before the Gryphon leads her to a stony beach that's somehow part of the same property. If Alice's adventures are a dream, the garden is like a dream within a dream; the setting changes without warning, and none of the action is logical.

Growing and Shrinking

Alice undergoes 12 size changes in Wonderland, almost always as a result of something she eats or drinks. Repeatedly, she's the wrong size for whatever she's trying to do—too big to get into the garden, too small to reach the key that would help her get in, and so on.

Until the Caterpillar gives Alice the mushroom, she can't control how big or small she gets; she just has to accept whatever happens. Of course, children can't control their growing in real life, and children at the age of puberty are famously awkward; they feel too small for some things and too big for others. The growing and shrinking in the book are clearly signs for growing up—for reaching maturity. As Carroll depicts it, growing up is a painful and confusing process, and it doesn't necessarily have positive results.

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