Working-Through Surreal Childhood Experiences in Wonderland

In “Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through,” Freud describes “experiences which occurred in very early childhood and were not understood at the time but which were subsequently understood and interpreted. One gains a knowledge of them through dreams” (Freud 149-150). Therefore, confusing events from childhood are made sense of and comprehended in adulthood through dreams. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Wonderland is only accessible through dreams; the sister’s experience in Wonderland reveals that adults who experience this alternate universe can thus understand and ‘work-through’ their childhood experiences of unclear reality.

Dreams play a central role in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, particularly at the end of the story. It is revealed that Alice’s experiences were all a “curious” and “wonderful” dream (Carroll 170). However, rather than ending with Alice’s perspective, the story shifts to describe her older sister’s reaction to hearing about Alice’s adventures. The unnamed sister slips into her own dream “alive with the strange creatures of her little sister’s dream,” living within the same world Alice just described (Carroll 171). This transference of Alice’s experience to her unconscious emphasizes the powerful influence of Wonderland. She then enters into an in-between state between dreams and reality, and predicts that Alice as an adult “would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with…the dream of Wonderland… remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days” (Carroll 172). Her sister’s reaction reflects a nostalgia for childhood and the “happy summer days” that perhaps have already escaped her. Her description of Wonderland making children’s “eyes bright and eager” reveals that the sister’s reaction is not unique, and that Wonderland has a significant influence on whoever hears about it. Alice’s description of Wonderland then becomes a powerful escape where both adults and children can experience a world where reality is malleable, reflecting a childish innocence.

Both the vividness and transferable quality of Alice’s adventures make its revelation as a dream somewhat unexpected. In addition, we only hear briefly about Alice’s subsequent thoughts on the experience; the rest is filtered through her older sister’s perspective. Considering Freud’s description of dreams, the sister’s dream is a way for her to make sense of similar childhood experiences. Childhood is marked by not fully understanding the world around you; in her dream, Alice is frustrated by the absurdity of her environment, but eventually accepts and enjoys it. In comparison, adults typically reject and rationalize anything that does not fully make sense to them. Her sister’s reaction suggests that an adult Alice and whoever else experiences the dream of Wonderland are able to escape and make sense of their childhood experiences that felt surreal, and question and expand their own perceptions of reality.