Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"Who Am I": Alice's Quest for Knowledge and Identity in Wonderland

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"Who Am I": Alice's Quest for Knowledge and Identity in Wonderland

Article excerpt


This paper aims to discuss Alice's search for knowledge and identity in her dream adventures in Wonderland. In her dream journey in Wonderland, Alice undergoes emotional upheaval and physical transformations, encounters various creatures, and experiences a loss of and quest for identity, and finally gains self-confidence and returns back to the reality. Her journey can be said to be a quest for knowledge and identity, and also a process of maturity and growth. Alice grows more and more confident and autonomous, which is atypical of the Victorian ideal female.

Key words: Alice; Quest; Identity; Autonomy


Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) stands out as a shining pearl in writing for children. Darton called the publication of this fantasy "the spiritual volcano of children's books" (Darton, 1932, p.267). The tale was originally told for the amusement of the three Liddell girls, especially Alice Liddell. Clearly Lewis Carroll wrote the story for children, yet his tale is widely enjoyed by adult readers as well. Surrounded by children for most of his life, Carroll seems to know children very well, and he is in deep sympathy with them. His tale revolutionizes the way children's books were written. It has often been said that two contrary impulses dominate in children's literature, especially during the nineteenth century-the wish to instruct and the wish to amuse (Manlove, 2003, p.18). Instead of following the didactic trend that dominated the children's books in the 19th century, Carroll intended to amuse rather than instruct his young readers. In fact, he satirizes the process of instruction in his book. As a result, children find his amusing tale irresistible. Children can easily sympathize and identify with Alice the heroine and experience all the "wonderful" things together with her in the Wonderland. The adults, on the other hand, can find immense pleasure in the intricate Carrollian nonsense, numerous puns, parodies and allusions. Through the Alice books, adult readers are reminded of their own childhood and become children again. According to Gerard Senick, "the stories about Alice are often praised as the first children's books that could be read with equal pleasure by both children and adults"(Senick, 1989, p.38 ).

According to the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Alice is "the first literary fairy tale for children with no moral purpose whatever. Alice moves in a dreamworld, remote from ordinary laws and principles" (Zipes, 2000, p.88). Carroll's Wonderland story is an amusing tale that entertained a bored society. It "cleared away the dead wood in children's literature and marked the arrival of liberty of thought in children's books" (Carpenter, 1985, p.68). What is most unusual is the creation of a young heroine different from the typical girls in the dominant children's books in Victorian time. Lewis Carroll portrays vividly Alice's dream journey in Wonderland, where she experiences emotional upheaval and physical transformations, encounters various creatures, undergoes a loss of and quest for identity, and finally gains selfconfidence and returns back to the reality.


In this tale, Alice follows a talking White Rabbit, down a well, through a pool of tears, and into a garden where she encounters a Mad Hatter's tea party, a game of croquet played with living things, and a trial of the Knave of Hearts. Alice is a child entering a world of adults ranging from the neurotic White Rabbit, to the officious Duchess and psychopathic Queen of Hearts. These mad, absurd creatures attempt to order Alice about, but Alice manages to answer them back. Despite the insistence of the Duchess that "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it" (Carroll, 1993, p.89), Alice finds no moral here in Wonderland, unless the idea that you must learn to be on your own to fight your own battle in a hostile environment. Alice's engagement in the various episodes with such characters as the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the Hatter and the Queen cause her to question her own identity and power. …

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