Although the book is considered literary nonsense, I think that Charles Dodgson conveys the very familiar feeling of disconcert that we all experience while going through different life stages. The book was written in 1865 but somehow managed to remain timeless when it comes to describing the struggle between societal pressures and a coming of age. I think that Tim Burton did an extraordinary job capturing the essence of this unsettling feeling. Both the book and the movie, center around Alice, a young girl around 17 years old whose widowed mother is trying to pressure her into an arranged marriage. The groom is an ill equipped lad incapable of running a business or even making anyone happy. Alice manages to space out while her future mother in law is giving her directions on how to care for her future husband’s ‘delicate’ health. It is during this stressful moment that Alice notices a rabbit running through the beautifully manicured labyrinth in the gardens. She politely excuses herself to follow the furry creature, only to find herself falling into a rabbit hole after the marriage proposal.
This is when the story becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser’. The rabbit hole symbolizes the sudden nonsensical turns that we allow ourselves to fall into while attempting to please others. Alice finds herself trapped in a room where every door is too small for her to exit. I think this scene symbolizes that she is too old to turn back and choose to stay single for longer, exploring all the wonders that life has to offer. A girl her age is considered too old to have a playful spirit. Therefore, she is trapped by her ‘size’ (age). So she finds a suggestion to ‘drink’ from a bottle that ends up making her too small, and then she eats a treat that makes her too big. Eventually Alice experiments with the right amount of both potions to find herself the right size to squeeze out of the situation. This is also a powerful metaphor that describes how we find ourselves trapped by societal expectations according to our gender and age. We try becoming bigger than we are, and then reverting back to our actual immaturity, only to find our right ‘size’ after a few experiences.
She is able to escape the situation temporarily, only to find out that everything outside that room looks enormous to her. This is another clever metaphor that describes the feeling of leaving your parent’s home after disagreeing about your future to find that life on your own can be hard. Every day events seem like a herculean task. Alice is quickly brought to the wise caterpillar, Absolem, for advice.
Absolem: The question is, ‘Who are you?'”
Absolem: We shall see.
Alice: What do you mean by that? I ought to know who I am!
Absolem: Yes, you ought, stupid girl.
(The scene takes a turn here as the other characters show what Alice it is she who is to become their heroine and savior from the fierce beast called the Jabberwocky.)
The White Rabbit to Absolem: Is she the right Alice?
Absolem: Not hardly.
Again, a fantastic scene that shows the trials that we go through in life as we grow. We sometimes find people who will try to question our beliefs and boundaries while we have not come of age. Alice seems to have forgotten that she was once certain of who she was. But now she was not sure and as she felt vulnerable, she focused on pleasing others just to fit in, dancing with the flowers, painting roses red, truly a completely nonsensical way of wasting your time.
Every character in wonderland is made to imitate Alice’s fears in real life, the queen of hearts is her mother in Law, while the mad hatter is the memory of her father who seemed to be the only person in the world who truly understood her.
Alice becomes terrified to find that the only way to leave this insane place is to confront a horrendous and dangerous beast, the Jabberwocky. Tired of being pushed around and told how she should behave, how to feel and who she should be, Alice finally decides to confront the beast. The task seems impossible, but she draws inspiration from a time when she was sure of who she was and what she wanted. She remembers that she could think of six impossible things before breakfast. While she is terrified of confronting the beast, she keeps on repeating her mantra, believe in six impossible things before breakfast.
This wonderful quote is a reminder that before we can achieve anything we have to believe in it, even when everything seems lost, perseverance is what brings success.
In the end, Alice successfully slays the Jabberwocky and becomes aware that the whole time she was free to leave the nonsensical place but she was ignorant of her own power. Alice then returns to the surface to confront the real challenges in her life. She is thankful for the marriage proposal but she asserts her intention to pursue her passion for traveling the world and charting unexplored trading routes.
This is a story of madness caused by self inflicted anxiety and the courage that takes to find your own path and set boundaries. Sadly, many people live a life trapped and what seems ‘wonderland’ but is truly a world filled with nonsense, where one is constantly pushed around for being the wrong ‘size’ for the wrong environment. I truly hope those trapped in wonderland find the courage to slay their own Jabberwocky and assert their true passion.
I am curious to know if you ever felt like you were trapped in ‘wonderland’?
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