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When one is surrounded with an oppressive Victorian lifestyle, an imagination can run wild. This is exactly what happened for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in 1865. Under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, Dodgson wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Byatt VI). The tale is based on a girl's journey as she falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world. She is faced with intrinsic situations, and anthropomorphic creatures. Much of Carroll's personal views of life, friends, and politics are displayed throughout the book. In this well renowned novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll uses symbolism to portray the oscillating society of the Victorian era through the peculiar characters and the predominant themes.
There are abounding characters that make up the citizens of Wonderland. Many of them represent a certain branch of the political hierarchy which was strictly abided by in Britain during the 1800s(McMorrow-Hernandez 1). Carroll lived and wrote the book during the time of Queen Victoria. The first link to this is in the fact that Wonderland is not a democracy, but a monarchy. Therefore, at the top of the social pyramid, is the elite class including the Queen of Hearts. This character is undoubting based on Queen Victoria as she is portrayed as an angry, unreasonable person, "..The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring for a moment like a wild beast, screamed "Off with her head!"" (Carroll 68). When Alice realizes she could easily agitate the Queen, she fears for her life. "..what would become of me? They're dreadfully fond of beheading people here: the great wonder is that there's any one left alive!" (Carroll, 72).
Coming in second is the commoners, or the working class. Among these characters is the Hatter, an unsuccessful businessman in Wonderland (McMorrow-Hernandez 1). He is characterized by making short personal remarks, asking unanswerable riddles, and using nonsensical language. He is often referred to as the "Mad Hatter" for obvious reasons. Many people believe Carroll added the Hatter to the book because of the popular occupation in his town: making hats. In the 1800s, mercury was used in hat-making. Those who worked in the field often suffered from neurological damage such as distorted vision and confused speech (Mercury Poisoning 1). The character may have been inspired from this working class occupation. The Hatter's obsession with tea parties also seemed to mock the British tradition of tea time. This portrays the act to be irrelevant to society as it is mixed in with other nonsensical situations.
Lastly, the servant population stands at the bottom of the pyramid (McMorrow-Hernandez). These characters are of little importance to the society and somewhat blend together. The Queen's henchmen lie face down and she cannot recognize them, "..As they were lying on their faces, and the pattern on their backs was the same as the rest of the pack, she could not tell whether they were gardeners, or soldiers, or courtiers, or three of her own children." (Carroll, 68). The Queen's henchmen are a deck of cards carefully and meticulously created. They represent each and every card in a deck except the non-heart court cards showing the Queen is "not playing with a full deck."
When Alice enters the Queen's garden, she sees the deck of card fretting to be killed. If the Queen sees the red rosebush they accidently planted, the will be killed. They violently paint the roses white to avoid being decapitated. This scene can be compared to War of the Roses (War of the Roses 1). The red rosebush represents the House of Lancaster while the white rosebush represents the House of York. The Houses entered a series of civil wars to battle for the throne of England in the 1400s (War of the Roses 1).
Lewis Carroll's primitive storyline for the Alice books came to his mind while on a sailing trip with three young girls, one of which was named Alice (Dodgson 1). However, many people believe that Carroll's original idea for the novel was influenced by his extensive opium (and other hallucinogenic drug) use, though no proof of this theory has ever been revealed. During the Victorian era, opium was used as a painkiller and entirely accepted by society (Casey 1). But even moderate use of the drug could lead one to truly believe in a figment of their imagination. Throughout the story, there are many underlying themes portrayed, though the most predominant is the continuous reference to drugs.
In fact, Alice's whole journey begins with a slow fall down a rabbit hole, showing that she is entering a new dimension. At the bottom, she is faced with one doorway and two different drugs. First, an unmarked bottle labeled 'drink me' causes her to grow very big. Then, a pill labeled 'eat me' shrinks her down so small she can't even reach the door. Once she finally gets through the door she officially enters the 'Wonderland'. This scene shows that perhaps the drugs required to take upon entry actually create the 'Wonderland' itself.
Later, when Alice finds herself at a tea party, she is greeted by an extremely "sleepy" dormouse. Also in attendance are the Hatter (also referred to as Mad Hatter) and the March Hare. The two are "imbibing mass quantities" as part of an "unbirthday" party. "I want a clean cup...let's all move one place on." At several points in this scene, the Hatter and the Hare attempt to "get clean" by switching seats but eventually go right back to their old habits despite the change in location. When the white Rabbit intervenes on the tea party complaining about the time, the Hatter and Hare attempt to fix it. The pocket watch represents the last vestige of mechanistic accuracy and objectivity in Wonderland. When the Hatter proceeds to jam and smash the pocket watch, the final chain of reality has been broken and Alice can now become one with Wonderland (McMorrow-Hernandez 2).
Indeed, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is not just a work of nonsense and fantasy. All of the characters and situations speak volumes about the larger scheme of Victorian England as well as certain aspects of various hierarchical societies to this very day (McMorrow-Hernandez). Lewis Carroll carefully constructed each segment of the book to work together, while keeping the subject matter nonsensical. It is unmistakable that this work serves not only to engage the imaginations of its readers, but to also hold up a disturbing mirror to the faces of those who enter this incredible place known as "Wonderland" (McMorrow-Hernandez).