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In Lewis Carroll's books, especially "Alice in Wonderland", the author enters into the mind of a child a remarkable amount, therefore he aimed to satisfy the child (Clark, 1982: 65-76). But he also satisfied adults with this book and while reading the book it challenges the adult's ideas of a model child who is submissive or obedient. What is a submissive child? When we hear that question we automatically think of a child that is very obedient. So a submissive child would be a child that would shy away from saying what it thought or shy away from reaching its goals. This commonly happens when someone has an opposing goal and then the submissive person backs down. A submissive child would try their best to avoid upsetting someone because they are afraid that they would upset them and hurt their feelings. Also, if something went wrong and it was someone's fault then a submissive person would presume they are to blame and would accept this blame if they were singled out by others but would also blame themselves if they were not singled out (http://changingminds.org/techniques/assertiveness/submissive_behavior.htm, 13/10/2010). Therefore wouldn't a parent want a child that wasn't to wild and dint cause trouble like a submissive child? Wouldn't the submissive child be a parent's model child? But is Alice a submissive child?
Beverly Leon Clark said:
"Children can still enjoy the nonsense of the books, even if adults feel that full comprehension requires an adult intelligence. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that the Alice books are for both children and adults" (Clark, 1982: 65-76).
This book is well suited to both children and adults as said above but what it does for adults is that it challenges their ideas. Carroll opens the book with Alice sitting with her sister and you think that Alice is just a quiet girl who minds her own business and who likes to make daisy chains like in chapter one but this is Carroll using symbolism to portray a submissive Alice but throughout her journey in the book she is not really submissive. It is in fact Alice that is the "model child". Alice provides many examples throughout the book to prove she is not a submissive child and it is because of this that adult's ideas are challenged about the "model child". Alice does not come across as a great or disastrous child. She just has a remarkable curiosity but that's what you would expect from a child of Alice's age. She is a smart child and this is evident in chapter one when she does not drink the poison in the bottle that says "DRINK ME" until she has looked at the label to see if it was poison first (Carroll, 2008: 8). Also in chapter 1 is the cake that Alice came across when she has grown to big which said "EAT ME" (Carroll, 2008: 11). Again her intelligence is demonstrated when she considers what the cake can do before sampling it, which again further demonstrates her intelligence. This aspect of intelligently thinking things through would be a characteristic you believe the so called model child would have.
Alice in Wonderland challenges the idea of the submissive model child by giving its readers the opposite to a submissive model child, with Alice being the opposite. We know that a submissive child avoids saying things that will upset people, or in this case, animals. But Alice does quite the opposite and this is evident when she upsets the mouse in chapter two by talking about her cat Dinah and then realising the mouse hated cats and she did it again by going on about the dog only to finally realise she should not be talking about either of them as the mouse has had bad experiences with both (Carroll, 2008: 20-23). In chapter three she does the same again though, only this time she scars off all the birds by talking about Dinah her cat (Carroll, 2008: 33-34). She does not acknowledge herself doing these things. She only realises when she sees the reaction of the other animals and this is in contrast to a submissive child because if Alice was one then she would have tried her best to not mention Dinah or the dog and would have avoided upsetting their feelings.
As said before, our ideas of the submissive child are challenged because Alice is not a submissive child, she does not inherit the characteristics of an obedient child. Alice expresses her opinions and she is well able to stand up for herself and we see that at the tea party with the mad hatter and the March hare and also in the trial scene. Alice is a curious girl who has confidence and will question anyone if she does not understand anything and we see this throughout the book. So Alice has a number of great qualities for a child and from reading the book it seems that Alice is an assertive child instead of a submissive one because she has respect for other animals even though they can talk and some she has never seen before, like the Cheshire cat with the huge grin. The Cheshire cat seems to be the only character who attempts to understand Alice and the cat does not see Alice as a submissive child but mad, like everything else in wonderland (Carroll, 1992: 334-344). She stands up for herself and she always has confidence in herself and her own intelligence and that is evident in the scene where she meets the caterpillar and has to eat the right part of the mushroom to reduce her size. She shows these assertive qualities throughout the book therefore Alice's journey through wonderland challenges our ideas of the submissive child by dragging the reader into the book and allowing them to experience these qualities themselves through a number of scenes. In the book you get the impression that there is no set story so you feel like you are following the development of Alice as a child as she experiences these dream like creations.
We learn more about Alice's character in chapter five when she meets the caterpillar but it is when she meets the pigeon that we see her assertive side. The conversation she has with the pigeon does not show any kind of submissiveness. The pigeon accuses her of being a serpent but Alice stands up to him and says "I'm not a serpent" (Carroll, 2008: 58). She did not know what the pigeon was talking about but yet she had the respect for it to allow it to talk: "I'm very sorry you've been annoyed" (Carroll, 2008: 59), but she also had respect for herself and stood up for herself and from above we know that once somebody tries to tell a submissive person who they are they agree cause they are too afraid to disagree, it is her that we really notice Alice being her own person and that's interesting because she is in this unknown land and she has adapted so fast to this new world.
In Alice in Wonderland it is chapter twelve that is the most important chapter. The chapter shows how much Alice has grown in character and puts an end to any of the suggestions that Alice was a submissive child. We see that Alice has grown in height bigger than she has been throughout the book and this could be a symbol for how much she has grown as a person. We have seen that Alice is able to stand up for herself and she shows great courage when she stands up to the king and queen in the trial when they try to tell her that she is a mile high (Carroll, 2008: 152). She puts an end to any ideas of submissiveness, which the king and queen would have thought she would have had, when she corrects the king when he says that "all persons more than a mile high to leave the court" and he says that it's the oldest rule in the book and Alice says that he just made it up and that it should then be the first rule in the book if it's the oldest (Carroll, 2008: 152). This shows how much Alice has developed and further backs up the argument that she is an assertive child. She continues to make get rid of her little girl image when she stands up to the queen and tells her: "who cares for you?" (Carroll, 2008: 158). She does not care who she upsets, even if it is the queen.
Virginia Wolf made a comment on Alice in wonderland that sums up Alice perfectly. She said: "To become a child is to be very literal; to find everything so strange that nothing is surprising; to be heartless, to be ruthless, yet to be so passionate that a snub or a shadow drapes the world in gloom. It is so to be Alice in Wonderland" (Woolf, 1967: 254-255).
We see throughout the book Alice's development as a child maturing and she provided many examples that she is not a submissive child because if she was then this adventure would not have been so interesting and enjoyable to read, we would have had a boring book that we would not have finished if she was submissive. Carroll gives us an image of a realistic child in a gripping adventure that is in fact Alice's personality and this book will continue to attract the attention of a very broad audience for years to come (Clark, 1982: 65-76).