The Moonstone is the most explicitly colonial text that we’ve read this semester—the colonization of India permeates the text from beginning to end, involving international places and people who exist before as well as during the novel. The intergenerational efforts of English colonialization set up the plot of the novel, and racialized appearances and objects move and circle around the characters.
Alice in Wonderland is also engaged with themes of colonialism, and (like The Moonstone) leaves us with questions about where the text stands. The Moonstone leads to deception and chaos, but it also brings to the fore a series of declarations and relationships that would otherwise have been lost under the smothering influence of Victorian propriety. Once the restoration of Englishness has been achieved (with the addition of constructive consequences) the Moonstone and all it brought with it can be restored to the Indian temple Herncastle stole it from. In Alice in Wonderland, once the experience of the Other has been sufficiently infiltrated by English (linguistically and nationally) order, it falls apart and Alice can return home.
In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is lost in her own pseudo-colonialist explorations of a strange land, introducing the elements of the land into herself by the continuing process of eating, imbibing the impossibility of a Wonderland that she would never have encountered sitting “on the bank” of England (Carroll 1). Once she leaves the bank (in a colonialist sense, sailing off) she attempts to enforce English rules, social codes, and institutions on the inhabitants of Wonderland; interestingly, she is unsuccessful in her attempts. Herein lies the ambiguity—having a young child act out the format of a colonizing mission, finding pieces of a foreign land to keep for herself while also introducing it to the ‘civilizing’ influence of England seems to set us up for an endorsement of a colonial tradition. However, in the final moments of the text that solidity is upended by the return to England (Alice) or to India (the Moonstone).
The presence of a previous generation (the older sister who knows Wonderland but has retired to the roots of the English tree) that knows but is now relatively distant from ‘Wonderland’ mirrors the presences we were introduced to in The Moonstone. There we knew of a generation—John Herncastle, the unnamed cousin—simultaneously involved with colonization and removed from it, their story having taken place before the narrative of the present. The Moonstone explains why it’s necessary to have the sister present in Alice in Wonderland—she is the stand-in for an English tradition that Alice (the present generation) will have to engage. By bringing Alice to the bank, she fulfills the same role that Herncastle does in The Moonstone: facilitating the events of the novel by providing the means of the primary characters engagment with colonialism. Without this understanding, the sister’s presence, particularly at the end of the novel, feels sudden and unnecessary. With it, we can see the same complexity that The Moonstone captured.
Follow this link to watch Disney’s opening scene of Alice in Wonderland: in the first 30 seconds, note the emphasis of the open water and boat waiting on the bank and Alice’s sister physically sitting on the roots of the tree while she reads an English history textbook.