Alice’s experiences in Wonderland can be taken as a kind of exaggerated metaphor for the experience of growing up, both in terms of physically growing up and coming to understand the world of adults and how that world differs from a child's expectation of it. Alice’s anxiety about growing up and about the wide world beyond her familiar comforts can be seen in her constant evaluation of her own size and worth. She physically grows and shrinks again and again in the story, at times not even able to see her whole shape. Her preoccupation with growing and shrinking, and finding the right size for what she needs to do, evokes how disorienting the idea of growing up can be. The physical changes can be both frightening and exhilarating.
Alice’s sense of how life should be, how she, as a child, has been taught about life, can be seen in the stories she tells, which are full of goodness, love and affection. Whenever she meets a character that challenges her or appears rude, she recites the lessons and proverbial phrases that she has overheard in the classroom and from her parents. “`You should learn not to make personal remarks,'” says Alice to the Hatter. In this way, Alice’s Wonderland allows her to be both child and adult at the same time – she tests out her authority and expertise in just the way her parents and teachers must tell her what to do, but at the same time she is forced to confront the fact that people, adults, do make personal remarks (along with other things she has been taught are bad.)
The adults in Alice in Wonderland order Alice around and give her advice and act like they are wise, but their orders are ridiculous and often cruel (like the Queen shouting at Alice about her impertinence when Alice is only being logical, their lectures are dry and boring, and sometimes their stories are both tragic and completely irrational, such as that of the Mock-Turtle). The “adults” of Wonderland show themselves to be less trustworthy, less good, than adults should be from the point of view of an innocent child. Further, the adults can be violent. In the Duchess’ house, Alice hears the Duchess say “Off with her head” and thinks nothing of it, amid the absurd cooking rituals of the cook and the howling of the pig-baby. But as the dream goes on, this threat of beheading, of killing, becomes more real as it is spouted and over and over within the context of the ridiculous trial of the Queen of Hearts. The contradictions and inconsistencies of the adult world with how adults have told Alice she should behave is hereby revealed to not just be something that’s funny and ridiculous (though it is that), it is also frightening and dangerous. The context of Wonderland allows Carrol to explore these ideas in a safe space of a “dream,” but by creating such a space it allows him to explore those ideas more fully than he could in a realistic novel.
Childhood and Adulthood ThemeTracker
Childhood and Adulthood Quotes in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head though the doorway.
'But if I'm not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT'S the great puzzle!' And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them.
'But who is to give the prizes?' quite a chorus of voices asked.
'Why, SHE, of course,' said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, 'Prizes! Prizes!'
“It was much pleasanter at home,' thought poor Alice, 'when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole--and yet--and yet--it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”
'Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, '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.'
'I HAVE tasted eggs, certainly,' said Alice, who was a very truthful child; 'but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know.'
'I don't believe it,' said the Pigeon; 'but if they do, why then they're a kind of serpent, that's all I can say.'
'If everybody minded their own business,' the Duchess said in a hoarse growl, 'the world would go round a deal faster than it does.'
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'
'Your hair wants cutting,' said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.
'You should learn not to make personal remarks,' Alice said with some severity; 'it's very rude.'
'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.' And she squeezed herself up closer to Alice's side as she spoke.
'Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn't one?' Alice asked.
'We called him Tortoise because he taught us,' said the Mock Turtle angrily: 'really you are very dull!'
'It all came different!' the Mock Turtle repeated thoughtfully. 'I should like to hear her try and repeat something now. Tell her to begin.' He looked at the Gryphon as if he thought it had some kind of authority over Alice.
'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'
'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, 'It WAS a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.'