Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels

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 SwiftBy 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.

Education and Power in English Mystery

In The Moonstone, I was struck by comments made by Betteredge early on about education.  On page 28 (Chapter 3), Betteredge described Franklin Blake’s father and his struggle for the Dukedom.  He says, “Mr. Blake discovered that the only way of being even with his country for the manner in which it had treated him, was not to let his country have the honour of educating his son” (28).  Early on, this quotation introduces the idea that education and knowledge are forms of power.  Countries get to assert their dominance over the next generation through the school system; it ensures that the next generation will follow the same social, moral, and political views that currently govern the country.  Mr. Blake takes this power away from England by sending his son, Franklin, to school in “that superior country, Germany” (28).  Education also sets up a system of hierarchy, legitimizing countries whose education is ‘superior’ and condemning others.  The novel points out through the description of Franklin’s education, “he gave the French a turn next, and the Italians a turn after”, that Western countries are the only ones even allowed in this hierarchical system (29).  Indian education is not present here, even as the novel centers greatly on Indian origins.  As the novel takes place in England, I find it very interesting that immediately the common themes of English power and superiority are inverted through the educational system. Perhaps, this notion is meant to signify that character’s with English education will have a harder time understanding the events of this mystery, as their upbringing was not as well-rounded as Franklin Blake’s.

Betteredge inadvertently affirms the notion that there is power in knowledge frequently throughout the novel. He makes minor comments such as, “My lady, doing me the honour to consult me about most things, consulted me about Rosanna” (35).  As Betteredge is lower in society than his lady, he finds his power in the knowledge and gossip that he obtains about everyone around him.  He takes pleasure in being the inside man who knows everyone’s secrets.  He even knows more than he tells us; he often gives the readers a brief synopsis of the story or leaves out other details entirely, proving that he has more power than we do as readers.  I find it very interesting that Wilkie Collins introduces ideas about education, knowledge, and power early on in this mystery or detective fiction.  Perhaps, it is a tool to play up the common tension in a mystery: no one character knows the whole story.  Betteredge feels powerful knowing gossip, but does he have the full story?  Conflicting notions about education could further complicate this tension if we begin to doubt whose education and understanding is reliable as we move through different characters and perspectives later on.

Who Really Has the Power Anyway?

I was struck by two passages in Volume 3 because of their inherent similarity.  The bottom of pages 293 and 301 both provide references to power struggles and familial dynamics.  On page 293, Rochester says, “If the man who had but one little ewe lamb that was dear to him as a daughter,… had by some mistake slaughtered it at the shambles, he would not have rued his bloody blunder more than I now rue mine”.  Rochester equates his betrayal against Jane to a man who injures a lamb; the man and lamb are also compared to a loving father and daughter. Also on page 301, Rochester describes love, more specifically Jane’s love, as a daughter that he waits to embrace, like a father.  He explicitly states, “I accept it, Jane; let the daughter have free advent – my arms wait to receive her” (301).

These metaphors seem to imply a father/daughter dynamic between Rochester and Jane. As their relationship encompasses a large age difference, it is easy to imagine this familial dynamic placed upon them.  Jane has lived without a family her entire life and Rochester has a need to care for vulnerable characters, which leads to these implications of familial belonging and patriarchal affirmation within their romantic relationship.  I do not mean to suggest that Jane and Rochester explicitly desire this type of relationship.  However, their interactions demonstrate implications of this dynamic, whether directly or indirectly, which allows for this type of reading.  The frequent comparisons to a father/daughter relationship in Jane Eyre may simply be a tool to demonstrate the complex power dynamics present between Rochester and Jane.  As he started as her employer, their relationship always implied an imbalance of power.  In these passages, Rochester asserts power over Jane by inhabiting a father figure in his comparisons.  Each time, he describes a fragile, or even wounded, female figure who he wishes to protect and embrace; thus, these passages reaffirm his position in Jane’s life after his betrayal.

As Rochester is the one speaking in these quotations, he believes himself to be in a position of power. Yet, in Jane’s own thoughts, she describes this same notion regarding herself.  She states that she has power over Rochester by having the ability to influence his actions and emotions (297).  Jane seems to have subtle control over Rochester, which he has yet to realize as he thinks of himself as Jane’s savior.  The two passages I selected both surround Jane’s inkling of her own power, perhaps as Rochester desperately tries to reinsert himself into Jane’s narrative.  Ultimately, his comparisons fail as Jane leaves Thornfield of her volition.

Winterbourne’s “Little” Competition

Henry James is very deliberate in the descriptions of his characters in Daisy Miller.  Mr. Giovanelli is described repeatedly as being very handsome, but also very short. When Winterbourne first meets him, James writes, “Winterbourne perceived at some distance a little man standing with folded arms, nursing his cane” (39).  While Giovanelli’s size could be contributed to Winterbourne’s distance from him, the phrase “little man” immediately associates Giovanelli as being shorter than Winterbourne.  Also the use of “nursing his cane” implies that Giovanelli needs some kind of walking assistance that Winterbourne does not.  As Winterbourne and Giovanelli are in competition for Daisy Miller’s attention and affection, this characterization seems to paint Winterbourne in a more favorable light.  Later on, Winterbourne also says, when referencing Giovanelli, “‘The little Italian… He is apparently a perfectly respectable little man. I believe he is in a small way a cavaliere avvocato” (53).  Winterbourne cannot seem to ignore Giovanelli’s size, stating it twice in the same section of dialogue.  Even when describing Giovanelli’s profession, which is very admirable, Winterbourne uses the unfortunate phrase “he is in a small way”, which further reinstates Giovanelli’s inferior size (53).

Height seems to be a great source of stability and validation for Winterbourne.  Throughout the novella, Winterbourne seems to be uncertain about everything, most especially, societal expectations and Daisy Miller’s personality and interest in other men.  David Lodge’s introduction to Daisy Miller describes Giovanelli as “a handsome young man of dubious social status” (xvii).  Winterbourne struggles throughout the novella with proper social habits and expectations. Giovanelli’s ambiguous position in the social hierarchy is another layer of conflict and confusion for Winterbourne, as Giovanelli seems removed from the rules Winterbourne must follow, most especially with women.  David Lodge also states, “Daisy is forcing the pace of [her and Winterbourne’s] relationship” (xxiii). Traditionally, men have more control in the beginning of a relationship because women have to adhere to stricter social standards, but Daisy inverts this as she controls many men throughout the story. Winterbourne becomes lost in this competition for Daisy and cannot gain any footing because she seems to desire attention from many different men.  When Giovanelli’s height becomes clear, Winterbourne holds onto this subject as a source of validation and superiority.  As Daisy becomes enthralled with Giovanelli’s beauty, Winterbourne reaffirms his masculinity and importance by repeatedly noting his superior size.

This conflict between Winterbourne and Giovanelli seems to suggest that Winterbourne is insecure and highly unsure of his place in society as he is evidently very threatened by another man’s attractiveness.  Winterbourne holds onto the attention and affirmation he gets from Daisy Miller, and when her attraction strays to another man, Winterbourne is forced to cling to something as trivial as height to reinsert himself in the narrative and in Daisy Miller’s life.

Justice Outside the Justice System

At the beginning of Chapter 48, there is constant imagery of light flooding into dark spaces.  Sikes experiences this the morning after he murders Nancy.  Dickens says, “The sun – the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man – burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory” (Chapter 48).  This statement harshly juxtaposes the events of the night before. Life has just been taken, while the next morning’s sun brings thoughts of new life in the next chapter.  Sikes makes the direct link back to Nancy by saying that Nancy would have opened the curtains to let the light in if she was still alive.

This opening passage seems to indicate divine intervention the morning after an evil event occurs. Having such strong natural imagery or descriptions of light often suggest the presence of religion or God.  This connection can also be drawn through words like “glory”. This passage also states, “through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray” (Chapter 48).  This comparison creates a connection between God and Sikes’s dirty apartment.  It creates parallels with Nancy’s attack in the previous chapter as she was on her knees with Rose’s handkerchief asking for God’s mercy before Sikes killed her.  The presence of light in the following chapter provides an example of religious justice.  While mercy cannot be enacted to save Nancy’s life, natural forces, like the sun, seem to torment Sikes in the wake of this event.  Dickens provides this when he says, “[Sikes] tried to shut it out, but it would stream in. If the sight had been a ghastly one in the dull morning, what was it, now in all that brilliant light!” (Chapter 48). The sun continues to stream in, even as he tries to prevent it.  The light also forces Sikes to face the events of the night before as the sight of a murdered Nancy in the light is much harsher than in the darkness.

At this point in the novel, many troublesome characters avoid justice and retribution for their wrongdoings, especially those who have hurt Oliver.  In this chapter, Sikes receives his own justice for what he’s done, separate from the legal system in London.  He’s tormented in his apartment, but, even after he leaves, he can’t find solace in any location in the city.  Sikes seeks to hide in the shadows, which normally provide safety for the other criminals in the novel, but Sikes can’t escape “the glare of the lamps of a stage-coach” or the fire blazing in an apartment (Chapter 48).  It seems fitting that, when the justice system in London fails, natural or religious forces work to torment Sikes instead.  He cannot outrun the sun.  Sikes’s experiences in this chapter provide hope that the other villains in Oliver Twist will receive some form of justice for their actions.