Wonderland | Teen Ink


August 8, 2010
By kread18 DIAMOND, Berkeley, California
kread18 DIAMOND, Berkeley, California
65 articles 0 photos 33 comments

America is a country deeply occupied by the future. We look forward to it, make technological advances to improve it, and base our present actions on what it will look like. Tradition has become something old, a thing of the past, rather than an aspect of life to be cherished. As we, as a nation, move closer to technology, we turn away from the rest of the world and what we can learn from things other than computers and television sets, objects that do our thinking for us. Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces portrays everything we can learn from literature, an imperative piece of American society that has recently been shoved aside, by reflecting the unity in our shared humanity. Campbell explores certain universalities-- birth, maturing, experience of a mother or father figure, experience of sexuality, experience of aging and death—and the ways in which they link and shape the human race. By showcasing the psychological patterns of characters of fiction and myth, most notably the hero on a quest, Campbell demonstrates basic archetypal themes that are important not only in a study of literature, but in discovering who we are, our origins, and the possibilities of our futures.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, while highly criticized for its nonsensical manner when first published in 1865, has remained one of the most popular children’s fantasies in the English language. It contains sophisticated social satire, but the novel is focused around the absurdity of a child’s imagination. Childhood holds a certain innocence and enthusiasm for simple pleasures that ultimately represents the core of humanity. Under the complexity of adulthood, each person contains a child’s desire for carefree hopes, joys, and contentment with the present. While purely nonsense fiction, Alice’s journey through Wonderland portrays a hero’s quest that is strongly psychologically linked to humanity, and represents the monomyth discussed by Campbell.

The hero’s adventure, as outlined by Campbell, begins with an introduction of the hero in his/her ordinary, mundane world. Alice comes from a wealthy English family, and has been raised on proper logic and manners; she fully believes in the orderly rules of her world, and has a fixed perception of it. The reader finds Alice sitting on a riverbank, reading over her sister’s shoulder on a warm, sunny day. As the White Rabbit in the waistcoat runs by, exclaiming that he is late, Alice is called to adventure and follows him down the rabbit hole. Her initial reluctance is represented by her inability to enter the small door in the hallway she finds herself in, her size and the key to unlock the door being inhibiting factors. While Alice is obviously facing the unknown, she does not show signs of fear at the threshold of the adventure. Rather, her hesitation is metaphorically represented by the small door, because she herself is too curious to be afraid. Alice also finds hesitation when her idea of social class is challenged. The White Rabbit mistakes her for a servant when she enters his house. In her upset and confusion, Alice downs a bottle of liquid which makes her grow to the size of the house, but returns to normal size when she eats a cake the true servants throw at her. This constant shift in size is symbolic for one’s ever-changing body during puberty, a factor that plays into Alice’s identity confusion throughout the novel.
The “wise old man” that encourages Alice through her trials is best represented by the Cheshire Cat, whom she first meets in the forest. Although Alice is alone in this strange world, left to put the pieces of the odd puzzle together for herself, the Cheshire Cat is threatened by no one, an outsider to Wonderland, and is able to calmly explain to Alice his insight on this world’s inner workings. His character is unique to the story because, while he still speaks in nonsense words, he is the only thing that gives truthful information to Alice, revealing that Wonderland is a mad place, and by being normal in it, Alice is also mad in its context. The Cheshire Cat exposes himself periodically throughout the novel, at odd times, to check up on Alice. While he does not act the part of a caring, wise creature, he is the only thing that seems to see Wonderland for what it truly is.
Throughout the bulk of the story, Alice encounters tests and helpers in Wonderland, and her view of the world is constantly challenged. Her intelligence is tested by the Mad Hatter’s unfamiliar logic, and her perception of good manners is persistently assaulted by the trite and dismissive rudeness of everything she meets in Wonderland. Through her wanderings, Alice meets bizarre people and situations, which represent life as a meaningless puzzle. Alice attempts to understand the Caucus race, solve the Mad Hatter’s riddle, and make sense of the Queen’s ridiculous croquet game, but to no avail. These seemingly pointless occurrences echo the tests of our own lives, according to Carroll, who believes that the riddles and challenges of life pose no answer or purpose. Every aspect of Wonderland frustrates Alice’s expectations and challenges her natural understanding of the world. The relationship between cause and effect is broken and nothing makes sense to her.

Alice never truly reaches the innermost cave, simply because Wonderland puts her in a constant state of confusion and upset. She endures the supreme ordeal after her croquet match with the Queen of Hearts, when the White Rabbit produces a letter that is the deciding factor in a trial regarding the Knave of Hearts. Alice, at the witness stand, protests the King’s interpretation of the nonsense note, protecting the Knave. The Queen becomes furious, ordering Alice’s beheading. At this critical point in the novel, Alice realizes that the risks she has undergone may pose an actual threat on her life, something she had not truly considered before. Death as a constant and underlying menace is a theme throughout this novel, and proves that Wonderland is not just a ridiculous world of frustrations, but a genuine threat not only to Alice’s sanity, but her life.
Alice does not seize the sword. There is no road back or return with the elixir. Alice simply wakes up from this dream, back on the same riverbank with her sister, who muses about Alice’s imagination, questioning her own predetermined thoughts on the seemingly orderly universe. The only elixir that comes from Alice’s hero journey is the new ideas regarding meaning and identity.
Campbell’s monomyth addresses universal questions: “Why was I born?”, “What happens when I die?”, “How can I overcome my life problems and be happy?” Alice asks herself after she enters Wonderland, “Who in the world am I?” This question is truly the “great puzzle” and linking point to every hero’s quest. Alice’s adventures are not only an attempt to make sense of a nonsensical world, but to challenge and uncover her true identity, something every fictional and real character is after. Since Wonderland is a product of her own imagination, it becomes clear that in questioning the motives of this bizarre world, Alice is truly questioning her own psyche and personality. The purpose of Campbell’s stages of the hero is to identify major themes and archetypes that appear not only across literature, but in our own lives. By reflecting on how the patterns of life affect the world of literature and the world of everyday life, we can begin to discover more about ourselves and our position in the universe.

The author's comments:
a look at literature through the eyes of Joseph Campbell and his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

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