Go Ask Alice Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) was the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson. Dodgson was born in Daresbury, Cheshire, and was the third eldest of eleven children. Dodgson entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1851 to study mathematics, and he stayed there as a professor of math for the next twenty-six years. He was fascinated by games and puzzles, and the plot of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland leans heavily on card games. In 1855, Henry Liddell became the dean of Christ Church, and Dodgson became a fast friend to his three daughters, Lorina, Alice and Edith, whom he would take on rowing expeditions on the Thames.
Dodgson’s meetings with these girls were the basis for this famous story. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865. The elements that make Alice such an enduring and fascinating story are the setting, characters and theme. The narrative of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is told within the framework of a dream. However, that does not become clear until the end of the story. Springtime, the setting for Alice’s dream, is the traditional time in English literature for frivolity and strange stories.
The setting for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales also takes place in the spring, at the beginning of April. This accounts for many of the fantastic elements and for the non-linear nature of the story; ideas and conversations are not to be taken seriously, but rather to be enjoyed for their lack of connection and straightforward meaning. The dream world in which Alice finds herself when she enters the rabbit hole is called Wonderland. Wonderland is populated by animals that talk and act like real people and by playing cards that act as a royal court.
It does not conform to the reality or physics of the real world. Characters (including Alice herself) grow large and small and disappear at will, games and logic are twisted so that they resemble reality, but only if taken as a half-truth. These same characters contribute much to the enjoyment of the story. The main character of Alice was based on Dodgsons six-year-old friend Alice Liddell. Alice is a curious girl with an untrustworthy memory. She is bright and friendly, although she occasionally says the wrong things and angers the touchy creatures in Wonderland.
She is usually quite polite, but also has a temper, and she is often upset off by the discourteous natures of the creatures she meets. The White Rabbit is An easily frightened and perpetually late courtier in the court of the Queen of Hearts. It is he whom Alice follows into Wonderland itself, although he is not a trustworthy guide. He is the only character besides Alice who runs through the entire course of the story. The Caterpillar is encountered by Alice while he is sitting on a mushroom smoking a hookah. Though he often speaks in riddles, he is quite helpful to Alice.
He provides her information about the mushroom, which allows her to change her size at her own will. The Mad Hatter is one member of a perpetual tea party which Alice joins for a time. He is quite argumentative and provokes Alice throughout the tea party. He is fond of riddles with no answers. The hatter seems to be a bit of a bully, but when faced by the Queen of Hearts, he is quite frightened. The Cheshire Cat is one of the few characters who are particularly helpful to Alice as she wanders through Wonderland. He moves by disappearing into thin air, often tail-first, leaving only his grin behind to linger.
Martin Gardners The Annotated Alice tells us that the phrase “grin like a Cheshire cat” was common when Lewis Carroll was writing. Cheshire is also the county in England that Carroll himself was born. Finally, the Queen of Hearts is tyrannical and loud. She expects to be obeyed and is quite free with her orders that individual’s heads be cut off. Everyone in Wonderland, with the sometime exception of Alice, is quite frightened by the Queen, and fearful of being on her bad side. The fact that she has no good side makes this a difficult situation indeed.
This fantastic ensemble make the story very enjoyable, yet hard to understand for younger readers. There are many themes in Carrolls (Dodgsons) timeless tale, but the most prevalent seems to be that things are not always what they seem. Liberal ideas were prevalent in Victorian England. These ideas stressed that society should raise children to be moral, obedient and productive members. Carroll twists these ideals in his stories, which reject Victorian manners and question the value and relevance of children’s education. Instead Carroll emphasize the value of children’s curiosity and imagination.
At the same time, scientific advances increased people’s knowledge of natural laws and the physical world. People believed that nature and knowledge could be organized and classified, that scientists could discover the underlying order of the world. Lewis Carroll plays with these ideas of fundamental order and rules in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, creating a world where physical laws and natural order are topsy-turvy and not subject to logic or rule. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will forever remain a classic in the canon of childrens literature.
Lewis Carrolls fantastic setting of the upside-down wonderland, the originality of the characters, and the theme of not following the rules will always appeal to children. These literary elements are what have made the story a favorite among the young and also the young at heart. The way this book makes you feel can be be summed up with a qoute from Alice herself… I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present-at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then. After reading this wonderful book it is hard to look at anything the same ever again.