Thursday, 26 April 2012

Critical Analysis

Jonathan Black's theory of a deeper, spiritual meaning in the books rings interestingly true. Regarding ancient religious mystery schools he writes:
'candidates... were made to fall down a well, undergo trial by water, squeeze through a very small door and hold logic-chopping discussions with anthropomorphic animals.' It reads almost exactly like the beginning of Alice's Adventures. (J. Black, 2010, p.19)
The notion of a spiritual element in the books is not unbelievable. England was in a period of social and religious reassessment and Carroll could not have avoided that, being a reverend in Oxford. (S. Leslie, 1933 in Phillips, 1972) Darwin's 'Origin of the Species' in 1859 had exacerbated the uncertainty. (J. Woolf, 2010) Yet there is no obvious religious emphasis in the reverend's books.'Perhaps Wonderland's freedom from all hint of religion, and the relief it must have afforded Carroll to write it, is part of the reason why Alice's adventures are so oddly compelling' writes Woolf. (J. Woolf, 2011, p.193)
Since we live in even more spirituality bereft times, (Appendix Two, p.4) that may be one reason for the book's attractiveness. But does this truly explain the obsession? Perhaps not. There are other explanations, such as the Freudian argument that the book is a metaphor for emerging sexuality, or the Jungian of emerging femininity (A. Goldschmidt, 1933; J. Bloomingdale, 1971, both in Phillips, 1972) However, these psychological evaluations are too specific to Carroll and would mean the obsession would depend on his readers having the same resonating issues, which is unlikely, proving the psychoanalysis irrelevant.
Black's interpretation is more believable, but does not explain how this hidden meaning attracts people, Surely it too is too specific to people in the know, and thus cannot explain the timeless obsession in ordinary society. However, others have agreed with his evaluation. Rackin eloquently argues that Wonderland represents the 'chaotic land beneath... Western thought and convention' (D. Rackin, 1966 in Phillips, 1972 p.392), and that Alice's quest through it represents mankind's search for meaningful answers to deep spiritual questions. The book progresses through the destruction of societal conventions, time and space as Alice strives to find her spiritual goal: the Queen's beautiful garden. (D. Rackin, 1966 in Phillips, 1972) As ruler, the Queen, representing established religious sources, should have the desired answers. But before finding the garden, Alice must face a number of characters and situations which force her to abandon all she thought she knew, and think the opposite. This method is the same one employed by religious mystery schools. (J.Black, 2010) By the time she finds the garden, she finds the rulers disappointing: they are overly judgemental, weak and illogical. “You're nothing but a pack of cards!” exclaims Alice (Carroll, 2010 p.88), realising they are just part of the game of life, not especially knowledgeable.
Pearson believes the authority figure represents not organised religion but adults. Using a discussion about the Mad Hatter's Watch she shows how children find the adult logic forced upon them nonsensical, not worth listening too.(Pearson, 2011)
Both interpretations may be correct.. The empowerment of the child to think for herself and make her own way in life is surely appealing to children. As alluded to in the primary research document, modern children have mastered this power of thought, a proof of the success of Alice's impact. (Appendix One, p.2) This fantastical freedom has grown and is now the model for free thought and childrens' writing. As the first forerunner to this trend, Alice cannot be forgotten.
In adults, this becomes the freedom to think and live independently of an authoritative voice such as organised religion. This independent, humanist attitude is prevalent in today's society.
Alice in Wonderland is written like a card game, (Appendix Two p.3) which makes the movements of the characters quite fluid and free, unconstrained by a thought-out, fateful plot- an apt metaphor of life, to some. Interestingly, Through the Looking-Glass mirrors a game of chess, feeling slightly robotic and contrived, as cards rely on chance and are more understood than chess, which relies on forethought. (Appendix Two p.3)
In conclusion, the reason so many gravitate towards Alice in Wonderland is because it birthed a new, favourable and universal way of thinking, free of traditionally held religion or authority. On the other side of that coin, Alice is not devoid of spirituality, the heroine's search for meaning and enlightenment speaks to readers and draws them too to 'join the dance'. (Carroll, 2010, p.70) Just as an unsolvable puzzle continues to enthrall, Wonderland wouldn't be Wonderland if we knew everything about it. It is that mystery and its subsequent search for the answer, that keeps Alice fascinating and always will do.

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