I will be using Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to look at a book I read for another class this semester: Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift. By comparing these two works, a pattern has emerged to me and I began thinking about the psychological implications of this pattern. Both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels illustrate an emphasis on the importance of the physical size of the protagonist, as well as how their size impacts their environment. In Swift’s work, the protagonist, Gulliver, travels to many new islands where he is either much larger or much smaller than its inhabitants. There were many instances when Gulliver was much larger than the people of Lilliput and he makes comments about being easily able to hurt them if he wanted to, or accidentally hurting them anyway due to his size. Alice deals with this problem repeatedly when she becomes extremely large and overtakes the rabbit’s house, cries so extensively that she creates a large body of water that overtakes a bunch of animals, or even simply scaring a pigeon with her long neck, etc. As this pattern holds such a prevalent role in these two works, I wondered about the implications of this recurring theme.
Whether it was the initial intention of the work at its publication, both books have become children’s stories, either through slightly altered narratives, animations, live action films, etc. This affects the reading of these works because children often seek morals to understand these stories. In a study called, “The Psychological Significance of Children’s Literature”, Jacquelyn Sanders writes, “Literature can be of value in helping the child cope with and master those problems of importance in his life” (15). In terms of Carroll’s and Swift’s narratives, the emphasis on size and how the body rapidly changes can be indicative of puberty, which many children struggle through, but it also holds larger significance. As characters struggle to adapt to these physical changes, it seems to run parallel with fears about the uncontrollable factors of human nature. We may unintentionally hurt or scare someone or something because we don’t grasp the severity of our actions, such as Gulliver does, or we may become overwhelmed with our emotions, similar to Alice’s experiences. I also think these instances could perhaps shed light on the harmful ways humans seem to dominate over their natural environment.
There are many threads to follow in tracking the meaning of this pattern. However, I do not wish to become entirely absorbed in the psychological implications alone, because on their own, these works establish a comforting narrative for children. Using a hyperbolic comparison of size allows children, and general audiences, to immediately identify these works as fantastical narratives and let go of the stress of real life, even if perhaps, they are still learning new messages about their own reality at the same time.
Sanders, Jacqueline. “Psychological Significance of Children’s Literature.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 37, no. 1, 1967, pp. 15-22.