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The Philosophy of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Updated on November 16, 2012

Lewis Carroll and His Writings

Lewis Carroll was a renowned author of the late 19th century. Most famous for his literary works such as “ Alice in Wonderland,” he was also a published mathematician, providing extensive texts pertaining to logic and geometry. The majority of present day knowledge, specifically studies in mathematics and the sciences, are deeply rooted in the original study: philosophy. Therefore, it is no surprise that Carroll’s fictional works include underlying philosophical arguments, theories and concepts that are heavily integrated with many commonly taught ideas; mathematical or otherwise.

Throughout “Alice in Wonderland,” the entirety of introductory philosophy is remarked upon, though oft times than not, with extreme subtlety that would elude the average reader. Carroll’s language was meant to bemuse and befuddle, often manipulating words and expressions until the meaning has changed completely. More than for comedic purposes alone, Carroll twisted common words to aid as a visual representation of how nothing in Wonderland is ever how it seems to be. In his novel, his turn of phrase on words like dry, knot, not, tale and tail signify the subjectivity of Wonderland and its very being (17-9). Carroll uses this technique to prove that to each individual, words or concepts can be perceived differently.

The Argument of Reality

The mere existence of such an alluring place as Wonderland begs to be argued from every angle; it mimics reality so perfectly yet some of its absurdities could be considered logically impossible. In our familiar world, our bodies grow at a steady pace throughout our lives, not in sudden bursts that provoke Alice to question her own identity (10, 33). With a wide grin and a disappearing body, the Cheshire Cat attempts to explain that the happenings in Wonderland are quite contrary to occurrences in her perception of reality (50). But what defines “reality” and its components? Is reality subjective or objective?

Reality has been defined countless ways since the Grecians considered it anything that exists independently of knowledge, ideas and mind. Despite their views of matter-based reality, Einstein later quoted it to be “merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one,” implying that reality can be considered a subjective concept, consisting of variables that are created within the mind. According to Neil Turnbull, René Descartes combined the two ideas and established the concept of dualism, or the belief that reality can exist in both the mind and matter (102). If reality can be something that is internally created, then who can argue against the existence of Wonderland?

According to Simon Blackburn, you could argue for the existence of something by using an analogy. He states that to begin, you must base your comparison on something that is extremely similar (164-5). In the case of “Alice in Wonderland”, the protagonist is endlessly comparing Wonderland against England and always falling disappointed by the differences between the two. Alice wasn’t able to recognize that Wonderland wasn’t her home, despite the wealth of characteristics the two worlds share. However, Blackburn implies that Alice had every right to feel as if Wonderland should operate the same way as her reality; when we argue based on analogy, we should infer our explanations from experiences, preferably based on direct observation (165). By Blackburn’s logic, Alice would have assumed that her actions in Wonderland would have similar or parallel outcomes as her own reality. To strictly observe Wonderland, it is apparently nothing more than an offshoot of the reality we have established, comprised of the same materials but lacking a certain continuity regarding laws of nature and physics. By removing the factors on the basis of a supposition that it was possible for Alice to have never met a personified animal or changed shape, she may have never concluded there was a difference between worlds.

Alice’s conundrum is a prime example of the age-old Teleological Argument, or design theory. Now that it has been established that Wonderland and reality were seemingly identical, it can be assumed that both Wonderland and our world were intelligently designed, proving that they are both real (Blackburn 163). It is for the most part agreed upon that the concept of something exhibiting design requires someone or something to have designed it; therefore, if our world exhibits designs and exists, Wonderland would follow suit, having a designer and existing simultaneously.

In such a case, relativism would explain why Alice was so troubled by the different structure of Wonderland; she was a very stubborn girl being forced to adapt to a different culture and mindset. Deeply believing that the creatures were conspiring against her, Alice approached the situation with her own paradigm, or set of preconceived notions and expectations. By the time she met the Caterpillar, Alice was so filled with ire that their conversation only exacerbated her foul mood (Carroll 32-4). While she believed that everyone and everything was mad or wrong, she failed to acknowledge that what constitutes normalcy and absurdity is relative and thusly cannot be compared equally (Blackburn 237, 239). Alice may have perceived the creatures to be rude, and if she were in England she may have perceived rightly, but being that she wasn’t in England, she was perceived as rude and offensive. One mindset or way of life is not better than the other; as long as both sets are well adapted to the world in which they live, there can’t be a right and wrong.

Ultimately, every facet of life and the world as we know it, either fictional or factual, is subjective to some extent. Perception is only one view or feeling among many others, capable of being manipulated or distorted. Lewis Carroll was able to show how easily the senses can be fooled in “Alice in Wonderland” but that doesn’t mean that Alice’s experiences didn’t occur or leave behind an impression with her. Whether Wonderland is real or just the product of a man’s imagination, Carroll proved that there isn’t one linear way of interpreting reality. Pre-Socratic philosophers believed “the reality of the cosmos was somehow hiddenbehind the way it appeared, and was only made humanly accessible by means of a deeper, more reflective way of interpreting it” (Turnbull 44). Reality is more than what is simply apparent; it consists of a smattering of concepts and perspectives that provide depth and character to the lives we live. Reality is far too diverse and intricate to be confined to only one denotation. Without its complexities, there would be no mystery in life, no curiosity to be found inside of a rabbit-hole.

Works Cited

Blackburn, Simon. Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.

Turnbull, Neil. Get a Grip on Philosophy. New York: Metro, 2002. Print.

© Samantha Strobing, March 2010.

Written by Samantha Strobing. Do not plagiarize intellectual material. Contact author for permission to copy. sstrobing100@gmail.com

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