Old habits and customs can harbor a nation’s growth culturally and politically. Lewis Carroll wrote his two famous novels with this underlying message to advise his fellow Victorians to change their ways of life, and recognize the wrongdoings of society in order to bring about a more modern view of life. By employing allegorical characters, creating parodies of common Victorian traditions, and deriding the church, Carroll is able to present a scornful and mocking view of society to his readers, with the hopes of change. Furthermore, Alice’s frugal attempts to civilize the animal world by means of Victorian rules further intensify Carroll’s mockery of nineteenth-century English ways of life.
Various symbolic characters arise and develop during Alice’s adventures. Among these, include her interaction with the Duchess and her baby. This scene mocks the civilized, somewhat robotic lifestyle of Victorians. They ran their households orderly, much unlike the duchess’, in which the chaotic lifestyle represents the imperfection of humans. Nina Auerbach exclaims, “With baby and pepper flung about indiscriminately, pastoral tranquility is inverted into a whirlwind of savage sexuality” (2). This “pastoral tranquility” is the ideal lifestyle for which the Victorians strove, known as the “Wordsworthian ideal”; a style of life inspired by Henry Wordsworth, who preached a calm way of life in the country, and a reconnection with nature. The duchess’ standard of living encompasses neither, but rather “turns [them] inside-out” (Auerbach 2). Carroll ridiculed the perfection for which his fellow Victorians strove, and created this symbolic scene with a message: embrace the imperfections of life.
Alice’s second encounter with reversed characters of Victorian society is the King and Queen of Hearts, who switch roles in Wonderland. The King is meek and submissive, while the Queen is domineering, bloodthirsty, and ruthless. These two characters mock the royal families of England, in that the kings, including Henry VIII and Richard the Lionhearted, were the rulers of their empires, and their wives were docile and weak. The King and Queen of Hearts are satirical representations of a normally male-run society upon which Britain was based. Carroll ridiculed a belief that only men can rule by creating the King and Queen in reversed roles.
Along with symbolic characters, Carroll also employed satirical scenes that represent and ridicule common Victorian traditions. These include the rules of conversation, manners, and social gatherings. Alice is often confused by the rules of speech and conversation in these two fantastical worlds. As seen during her interaction with Humpty Dumpty, she merely tries to compliment Dumpty by calling him a pretty egg. His response was less than hostile in saying, “some people…have no more sense than a baby!” To this, “Alice didn’t know what to say…it wasn’t at all like conversation, she thought…” (Carroll Looking-Glass 87). “Humpty Dumpty is the master of language, however, and conversation must follow his rules…” (Matthews 4). His mastery is realized by Alice when she remarks on how he treats conversation as a game, and that he manipulates conversations, rather than engaging in one “for the sake of any interchange of ideas” (Matthews 4). Furthermore, when participating in a civil conversation, when one compliments another, the response is positive. Dumpty’s response throws Alice off guard by insulting her. Humpty Dumpty threw all the rules of conversation and manners Alice normally followed above-ground out the window. His blatant disregard for decency when interacting with another makes a mockery of the strict rules a Victorian followed in society. By creating Dumpty as a rude, but honest, character, Carroll successfully mocked the members of Victorian society and the rules by which they abided.
The most popular example of Carroll’s parody of Victorian society is the Mad Hatter’s tea party, during which the Hatter and Hare never cease drinking and never leave the tea table. Carroll’s famous scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland actually has a deeper meaning than many think. The characters have a deeper representation than thirsty rabbits during mating season and a lethargic mouse. Neilson Graham believes that the reason for the insanity of the characters is rooted in their “fear of Alice and what she represents.” Alice represents Victorian society, rules, and regulations one must follow. The inhabitants of Wonderland fear these representations because many do not follow these policies of conversation nor common courtesies and manners. Furthermore, Alice represents a structured lifestyle – one that leaves little room for easygoing attitudes or fun. From this fear of a structured life and rules one must follow springs the inhabitants’ insanity.
Additionally, the inhabitants of Wonderland are unable to comprehend the English system of justice. “‘…Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said for about the twentieth time that day. ‘ No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’ ‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’ ‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen…’I wo’n’t!’ said Alice” (Carroll AAW 102-103). Dating as far as the Fifteenth Century, England had practiced Habeas Corpus. Under Habeas Corpus, “persons unlawfully detained can be ordered to be prosecuted before a court of law,” and it has existed in British government since 1679. (Wikipedia www).
The Queen’s misunderstanding of a civilized trial and the proper way to persecute another symbolizes Wonderland’s detachment from reality and exists as a parody of the sometimes trivial justice system. Laura E. Ciolkowski, author for Genders Magazine, believes that, according to Alice, the characters of Wonderland cannot comprehend English justice. The narrow-mindedness of the inhabitants in Wonderland demonstrates the “desperate need for English Rule.” Their crudeness “further justifies the basic principles of the English civilizing mission” (www). More simply put, the creatures of Wonderland represent the brutes the English civilized with their manners, justice system, and social customs. Although it seems as though Carroll is praising the British system, he is actually deriding it, in that a civilization has a “desperate need for English rule,” and they are unable to govern themselves (Ciolkowski www).
The Church of England at one time existed as the supreme reign over it’s subjects lives. In Carroll’s past though, a prestigious religious program rejected him because he was unable to pay the dues necessary to join. Carroll’s once fervent love for the faith quickly changed after that event, and many critics believe this rejection was his reason for deriding faith in his two novels. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, religion is not only mocked, but also utterly nonexistent. The absence of religion in the lives of the inhabitants of Wonderland belittles the church, in that religion is not necessary to civilization. The theory that a civilization – Wonderland – can survive without the belief in an almighty deity, the afterlife, or repenting one’s sins exemplifies the unnecessary emphasis placed upon religion in Victorian England.
In a similar fashion, Carroll recants beliefs held by Christianity, including the belief in Creationism. Carroll introduces elements that don’t necessarily prove evolution, but most certainly promote the idea. The most obvious is the transformation undergone by the baby into a pig. “‘…what became of the baby?’ said the Cat. `I’d nearly forgotten to ask.’ `It turned into a pig,’ Alice quietly said…`I thought it would,’ said the Cat, and vanished again” (AAW Carroll 42). By no means did magic change the baby into a pig, nor did it grow up to become one. Instead, it evolved from one species to another. The Cat, instead of questioning Alice’s reply, accepts it as common knowledge.
Furthermore, there are scores of sexually symbolic characters and places, which Alice encounters during her adventures. These include Humpty Dumpty, who, as an egg, represents female fertility. The tunnels through which Alice falls are representative of the l canal; the doors she unlocks symbolize the change a young girl undergoes from adolescence to womanhood. The keys with which Alice opens these doors are phallus-shaped. The relation between keys and doors leads to the conclusion that a man is necessary to the womanhood of a female. Furthermore, “…Alice’s neck stretches, making her shape more phallic…” (Gaydosik 134). Carroll is believed to have included these scenes in part because of his relationship with Alice Liddell, and in part because he was scorning the genophobia, or fear of sex, present in society, and telling his readers that sexual symbolism is ubiquitous and unavoidable.
Finally, Carroll drives the nail home in showing that Alice’s attempts to civilize the animal world by means of the Victorian rules failed, thus concluding that these ways of life do not refine, but rather cause confusion. Nina Auerbach believes that Carroll’s application of real animals might be a “subtler extension” of Alice’s attempts to civilize the animal world with human – and absurd – rules (Auerbach 2). These attempts can be seen in her encounters with the Mad Hatter and March Hare. When the Hare offers her wine, but “forgets” to mention that there is none, Alice scolds him for his rudeness. Sadly, though, Alice partook in the same rudeness by inviting herself to the table. Her attempts to civilize the members of the chaotic tea party fail because she herself has not been civilized by Victorian manners.
Within the lines of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll is able to relay a message to his readers. This message states that change is necessary if society’s customs and ways of life are absurd. By creating satirical characters, employing parodies of Victorian traditions, and utterly deriding the Church of England and the power it had over it’s followers, Carroll portrays to his readers the absurdity of Victorian life. Carroll’s creation of Alice trying to be the heroin of Victorianism, but failing in the process, lends to the idea that Victorian rules do not change a brutish society to a civilized one, regardless of the etiquette and government. Aside from entirely scorning his entire lifestyle, Carroll was able to hide these messages in the whimsical lines of children’s novels, which have survived the test of time.