Home » Alices Adventures in Darwinism and the Realm of Child Versus Adult

Alices Adventures in Darwinism and the Realm of Child Versus Adult

Alice in Wonderland, the most famous work of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, is the enduring tale of one girls journey into a world of whimsy and imagination. The story was written for the enjoyment of all children, as Carroll had a strong love and attachment to them, especially little girls. It was however, written more specifically for a dear, close child-friend of his by the name of Alice Liddell, who was the inspiration for the title character.

Alice in Wonderland has been, throughout the years since its publication in 1865, endlessly deconstructed, analyzed, and studied for underlying meaning in the text (as in Martin Gardners The Annotated Alice). One of the most noticeable and famous facets of the story is the many changes in size that Alice goes through. Alice changes size eleven times to fit her changing predicament in the tale. This can be easily seen in the animated Disney interpretation of the story that came out years ago.

Throughout the book, Alice is given the opportunity to change size numerous times, this aiding er in getting in and out of different situations and places in Wonderland. Alice accomplishes this through eating and drinking different tonics and mushroom pieces. It is interesting to note that the time period in which Carroll wrote and published Alice was the same time at which Charles Darwin was writing and publishing his historic book The Origin of Species in which he puts forth the now universally known ideas of evolution and survival of the fittest.

Darwin developed these ideas while he served as naturalist on the ship the Beagle from 1831-1836. During this time, he studied wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, and was amazed by the great diversity of life. He was especially interested in the birds of the island, which had highly adapted beaks that fit their particular eating habits and lifestyle. (Coincidentally, in one of the first scenes in Wonderland, Alice arrives on shore with a group of different birds. ) Carroll may have been inspired to have his title character change size according to her needs and predicament by the emerging science of the time.

Alice also seems to get better at, and becomes more comfortable with changing her size as time goes on, and a parallel between evolution and Alice can be drawn on that point, in that as evolution progresses, it becomes more refined. Lewis Carrolls Alice in Wonderland is a multi-layered story whose meaning can be determined through the simple fancy of children, or through the worldly eyes of adults who can pick up on the many allusions and themes that children would not understand. One such theme is the many changes in size that Alice undergoes.

Through these multiple changes in size in the timeless story of Alice, Lewis Carroll fuses the emerging scientific revelations of the time made by Charles Darwin with his own love of entertaining children with whimsical storytelling, giving the story appeal for both children and adults. ” I am fond of children (except boys), ” Carroll once wrote, and admitted that one of his most loved hobbies was entertaining little girls. During his life, Carroll entertained many “charming” little girls, but his first love and favorite of them all was Alice Liddell.

Alice was the daughter of Henry George Liddell, who was during the time of their relationship the dean of Christ Church. Little Alice Liddell captivated Carrolls attention and heart, and to entertain and please her was everything to him (Gardner xvii-xviii). He cared so much for her that the title character of Carrolls most famous work, Alice in Wonderland, was named for Miss Liddell. The Alice character is depicted as seven years old, which is the age of the real Alice when Carroll first came to know her (127).

As suggested in U. C. Knoepflmachers article “The Balancing of Child and Adult: An Approach to Victorian Fantasies for Children”, the conflict between childhood innocence and adult “experience” (Knoepflmacher 499,501) is obvious in the story of Alice, and was an issue Carroll himself grappled with in his own life. Carroll seemed to have a part of him that grieved for the loss of childhood, as children evolved into adults, and was “highly ambivalent towards the adult stage that Alice (the character) is so eager to embrace” (511). The idea of growing and changing is certainly prevalent in Carrolls most well-known work, Alice in Wonderland , in which the title character changes size eleven times to adapt to and thrive in the never-static world of Wonderland.

Each change in size that Alice undergoes is catalyzed by food or drink of some kind, primarily mushroom pieces and mysterious tonics that she ingests. Carrolls preoccupation with the little girls changing of size may be connected with his dislike for the maturing and eventual loss of innocence that all children go through, but it is also important and valid to point out that at about the same time, Charles Darwin was writing and publishing his historic theories in The Origin of Species. In this work, Darwin presents the revolutionary and now universally known concepts of evolution and survival of the fittest.

The two main ideas of Darwins theory are as follows: first, diverse groups of animals evolve from one or a few common ancestors, and second, the mechanism by which this evolution takes place is natural selection. It is possible that Darwins theories largely influenced Carrolls Alice in the way that Carroll chose to incorporate the adapting of his title character to the situations and predicaments in which she finds herself. Another link which can be made between Darwin and Dodgson is that in the beginning of Alice, she finds herself grouped with an interesting menagerie of birds after washing ashore from an ocean of her own tears.

Most of these birds are all of different varieties, which was one of the things Darwin found most fascinating about the wildlife he found on the Galapagos Islands- that the birds he studied were all highly varied, and adapted to their environment, and the fare which they consumed. Perhaps this was an allusion Carroll used to pay a sort of homage to Darwin, who had given him the inspiration for one of the most recognizable themes of his story: the many varied sizes that Alice finds herself in. “What a curious feeling! I must be shutting up like a telescope!

Alice says as the first change in her physical size occurs after she has tumbled down the rabbit hole (Carroll 17). Alices tumble from the regular world into Wonderland is long, and is defiant of the laws of physics. Alice then finds herself in a strange corridor lined with doors, and one in particular grabs her attention- a small one that leads into a beautiful garden. Sitting atop a glass table in the strange corridor is a bottle with a tag attached reading “Drink Me”. Alice, satisfied that it is not poison, drinks the tonic, which causes her to shrink down to only ten inches high.

This episode can be looked upon as the beginning of not only Alices evolution, but also of the Darwinian concept of evolution. Alice has suddenly found herself in Wonderland, or the beginning of all life, from the Darwinian standpoint. Her first change comes about quickly, and unexpectedly, as the evolution of Earthly creatures may have. The second change in size occurs in the same corridor. Alice realizes that the key she needs to get through the door that leads to the beautiful garden on the other side is on top of the glass table, which she is now too small to reach.

Beneath the table she finds a glass box with a piece of cake inside that reads “Eat me”. Alice does so and was “opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! ” (Carroll 21). Alices needs have now changed. Alice first needed to become smaller to fit through the small door that leads into the garden, but now, Alice finds that what she needs to achieve this, to advance in her quest, is to become larger again. So to fit Alices changing needs, she adapts by eating a piece of cake and grows large again.

The second part of her evolution has occurred, molding perfectly to her eeds. Once again in the corridor, while Alice is pondering over what she is to do now, in her present state of being larger in order to get the key she needed, she finds that she is growing shorter because she is holding the white rabbits fan, which she has had possession of since he dropped it in her path in his haste to make his appointment. She quickly tosses it to the ground to stop the shortening process. Alice does not grow shorter out of necessity on this third transformation, it is instead a fluke.

While the concept of mutation was not articulated as such by Darwin himself, it has come to be part of the Darwinian theory. Through spontaneous mutation, animals have evolved and shared the new trait with offspring, which in turn causes more variety. In this instance, Alices change in size was not born out of necessity, but rather out of chance. Alices fourth transformation takes place while she is inside the White Rabbits house. The White Rabbit has mistaken Alice for his housekeeper Maryann, and demands that she fetch him his fan and gloves.

Once inside the White Rabbits house, Alice finds a bottle in the rabbits room on top of a table, and although it is not labeled, she drinks it anyway. She begins to grow larger, and becomes wedged inside his house. Curiosity is to blame for Alices change in size in this case, and can also be related to the spontaneous mutation factor that holds much sway over evolution. Through these four changes, Alice has twice grown smaller, and twice grown larger, which only lends itself to the variability and unpredictability that can be found in evolution.

Alices fifth change comes about soon after her rapid growth inside the White Rabbit’s house. Now, while wedged inside the house, Alice finds that the pebbles that have landed inside the house are turning into cakes. Alice figures they can do no harm, so she eats one, beginning to understand the link between eating food and changing her size. Now out of necessity, Alice eats the cake and shrinks down again. She escapes from the house before the rabbits friends try to smoke her out.

The growing danger for Alice is at the hands of the rabbits friends, who, at the pleading of the White Rabbit become determined to get Alice out of the house, even if that means setting the house on fire, and smoking her out. In this instance, Alice is in desperate need to transform herself to a size that would be more conducive to escape from the house that now imprisoned her. Out of this necessity does Alice eat the pebble cake and subsequently shrink in size to escape from the determined animals.

After escaping from the White Rabbits house, Alice meets the ookah-smoking caterpillar, and after their confusing and vague encounter, the caterpillar tells her that one side of the mushroom he had been sitting on will make her taller, and the other side smaller, as Alice had been wondering how she would be able to get back up to a respectable size. At the time, Alice was only three inches high, (the same height as the caterpillar) and after expressing her dislike of the height, the caterpillar cries indignantly, “It is a very good height indeed! “( Carroll 53).

Unfortunately, he does not tell her which side will make her grow larger, and which side will make her grow smaller. So Alice decides to take a piece from each side just to be safe. She nibbles on one piece, and finds that her chin is resting on her feet! She had shrunk very rapidly. This is Alice’s sixth transformation. Alice, wanting desperately to correct the situation, nibbles on the other piece of mushroom, and shoots up until she is equal with the tree tops. In Darwinian terms, Alice has adjusted, and readjusted herself so that she can successfully maneuver and survive in Wonderland.

Also, upon this seventh change, Alices huge stature becomes a cause for concern for a mother bird in the treetop. With Alices evolution to large creature, she is subsequently also perceived as a threat and predator by other creatures, which is true in all parts of the animal kingdom. After being berated by the mother bird, Alice now nibbles on each piece of the mushroom in its turn until she gets back down to a smaller size. Alice is very relieved to be back a more manageable size, (her eighth transformation) with which she is familiar.

Ultimately, her “nibblings” result in her becoming smaller overall from the size she was before. Alice, overcome by the bizarre and unpredictable irregularity in her size cries, “How puzzling all these changes are! Im never sure what Im going to be, from one minute to another! ” (56). This can also be said for the evolutionary process, if Alices adventure is assumed as a microcosm for the earth, (which in this case, it is) in that the evolutionary process can be predicted no more accurately by scientists than can Alices next adventure be predicted by the enthralled child reader or auditor.

As Alice moves along through Wonderland, her ultimate goal still being to find the beautiful garden she had spotted in the beginning of the story, she comes across the tea party of the Mad Hatter and March Hare. Alice, wanting to join the tea party, and finding that her relative small size as compared with the other two might not be the best thing, decides to make herself larger so as not to feel or be perceived as out of place. By nibbling on the piece of mushroom, she grows taller. Alice invites herself into the party, the Mad Hatter and March Hare not taking much notice of her.

This ninth change is not one of necessity, nor is it one of chance, it is rather one of assimilation. To fit into her surroundings, Alice realizes that she must change herself physically so as to be able to interact and live in a world with beings that are different from herself. After leaving the tea party, exasperated by the confusing (and confused) March Hare and Mad Hatter, Alice finds a tree in the wood that has a door in it that will lead her into the strange hallway that holds inside the door that leads into the beautiful garden.

She gets the key and unlocks the door, then, seeing that she will not be able to fit through the door at her present height, Alice nibbles on a bit of mushroom, and shrinks so as to make it possible to pass through. This long-term goal of fitting through the garden door has finally been reached, although it took many evolutions and transformations to get her to that point.

The same can be said of large-scale evolution, the goal of the species or individual animal, whatever it may be, (an adapted beak for a bird who must nose around in the dirt for food for instance) to become refined for its own type of living may take millions of years before the “final” goal is reached; and as all life and evolution exists on a continuum, there really is no final goal, only the next goal for the next necessity. Alice has now found her way into the garden, and after acquainting herself with the Queen of Hearts, and playing a little croquet, Alice becomes witness to a trial, judged by the King of Hearts.

While in the royal courtroom Alice begins to grow larger spontaneously. The Dormouse, who is friend to both the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, says that he wishes she “wouldnt squeeze so,” (114). Alice continues to grow steadily, even as she is asked to give her evidence to the court. At this point, this transformation seems also to be one of only spontaneous chance; after all there is no real need for the change- she is not in danger, and she is not assimilating by any means, only becoming more noticeable.

However, as Alice becomes more and more frustrated with the proceedings, (and is growing larger and larger all the time) the Queen declares that Alice shall be beheaded. Alice is finally fed up, and sees that she has nothing to fear of these people- that they are merely a pack of cards and nothing more. Alice, now at her normal size, is fending of the cards that fly at her until she finally wakes up on the bank, near her sister, out of Wonderland. Her large size had been to her advantage, as it had given her the confidence to escape the Queen of Hearts, and the means to fight of the pack of cards.

In a turn of events, Alice, in need of a way to escape the deck of cards, becomes larger, but not through any modes of her own doing. As her evolution has progressed, it has finally caught up with her to the point that evolution predicted what she would need next, instead of her consciously working toward and to some extent dictating what she would need and how she would change. Her evolution, over several stages (eleven) has become advanced and refined. It should be noted that it takes a long time for Alice to get back to her normal size, her final size by the end of the book.

In Darwinian terms, this is known as gradualism. Gradualism is the Darwinian belief that evolution takes place in innumerable small steps. (This led Darwin to come to the conclusion that the earth was much older than what was previously thought. ) Two of the five main postulates extrapolated by Ernst Mayr from Darwins pioneering thoughts on natural selection are as follows: 1) Individuals are variable; 2) Survival and reproduction are not random. These two ideas relate to Alice in the story. Alice obviously is variable throughout the story in terms of size.

When Alice does change size, it is not random. Each change in size is a necessary, or at least helpful, adaptation for Alice to move and assimilate into her surroundings successfully. It is true that for Alice to get to her relative final evolutionary stage, it took many (“innumerable”) steps. Carroll has very deliberately and very obviously presented alterations in height, and squeezed them into a minute time frame relative to the evolutionary process of the earth, but has none the less presented Darwins idea of adaptation in a very simple and relatively accurate way.

Using the vehicle of childrens fantasy literature, Carroll presented Darwins revolutionary ideas to a huge audience, capitalizing on the fact that not only will children be exposed to these ideas unwittingly, but the adults who read it to them will as well. Though Alice in Wonderland is looked upon by most as just a childrens book of fancy and imagination, it is obvious that Carroll must have intended more with his writing than a child could have ever deciphered, (this example of Darwinian influence being only one instance in a deeply layered story) thereby making his story readable and interesting to people of all ages.

Both Darwin and Carroll were living and writing during the Victorian era, which was a time in which boundaries which had long been crisply divided were beginning to become blurred. These “self divided Victorians” were living in a world torn “between progress and nostalgia” (Knoepflmacher 497); this state lended itself toward wanting to indulge the child, but also appease the adult. Many writers of the time, including Carroll seem to have this very conflict going on within their writing. Alice is certainly not a tale of pure childish amusement, as the undertones and latent themes are ones fit for the intellect of adults.

Carroll, a man who seemed to reject his state of adulthood by surrounding himself with young children, seems to have carried that divided outlook into his work by writing as both a child and adult for both the child and the adult. According to Phillipe Aries and J. H. van den Berg, earlier eras had had no interest in making distinctions between “children, adolescents, and young adults,” (498) and then now, in the Victorian era was Lewis Carroll, not explicitly differentiating between these age groups, but instead threading that awareness into his masterpiece Alice.

Carroll seems almost to be over-aware of these different stages, as he was very concerned with the maturing of children, and what was lost during that process. This can be seen physically in the varying sizes that Alice takes on in the story. The very idea of an adult (in this case Lewis Carroll) writing about the “road from innocence to experience” of a child is in its own way paradoxical in that the author is longing to regress to childhood while he is writing about the maturing of a child.

This issue of adult versus child is, however, not necessarily black and white; Carroll injects a “hybrid figure” into his story, the Queen of Hearts who has the very grown up stature of Queen, but the temper, patience, and foresight of a child (501). While the understanding of a child would not be developed enough to comprehend some of the themes in Alice, they were not placed there for that purpose anyway. The adult reader gains from the story as much, if not more than the child does.

Carroll combines “the obsessive and melancholy of an aging self approaching death and the unselfconsciuosness of a childhood self that wishes to remain immune to the sobering aspects of growing up”, which anyone who has grown up enough to understand what that means can appreciate (510). Alice in Wonderland, the work of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, has been the enduring tale of one girls journey into a world of whimsy and imagination because of the multi-layered meaning that exists within.

The story was written for the enjoyment of all children, but as Carroll once wrote himself, “we (adults) are but older children, dear. “(499). Inspired by a dear, close child-friend of his by the name of Alice Liddell, the Alice of Alice in Wonderland has been the mediator between childhood and adulthood, and staying innocent and becoming experienced for over a hundred years. One of the most noticeable and famous facets of the story is the many changes in size that Alice undergoes, a phenomenon of evolution that was brought to the forefront of scientific and everyday Victorian life by the revolutionary thinker and naturalist Darwin.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.