Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Loss of Childhood Innocence

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a story about growing up. While her sister states that Alice “would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood,” (104) if we look more closely at the conclusion of Alice’s time in wonderland, we can also see a loss of childhood innocence which brings the sister’s assertion into question.

Throughout the story, Alice tries to apply rational (if imperfect) understanding to completely irrational circumstances: as she falls down the rabbit hole, she muses about whether she’s reached the center of the earth (2-3) and applies similar lines of thought to her experiences throughout wonderland. Through it all, she never questions that the irrational things she sees are real. However, at the conclusion of the story, this begins to change and is signified by Alice’s growth at the trial.

Until this moment, when Alice changes size throughout the story, it is always due to the effect of some food or drink. Here, it is different: “in his confusion [the Mad Hatter] bit a large piece out of his teacup instead of the bread-and-butter. Just at this moment Alice felt a very curious sensation until she made out what it was: she was beginning to grow larger again” (92). What prompts her growth her is the Mad Hatter’s eating of his teacup, evidenced by Carroll’s use of “Just at this moment.” Something about this incident causes her to start growing, and it is her recognition of his action as improbable. Here, her realization is internal, and not fully formed.

Throughout the trial, she grows as she begins to point out the irrational: the narrator tells us “she had grown so large in the last few minutes that she wasn’t a bit afraid of interrupting [the king]” and tells him “‘don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it'” (100). She now expresses her doubts aloud.

This culminates just before Alice wakes up from her dream, in the chapter tellingly titled “Alice’s Evidence.” Again, her realization of the improbability of wonderland corresponds with a description of her growth. As the Queen threatens to chop off her head one final time, we see Alice’s growth completed, and her childhood naiveté lost: “‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!'” Alice makes a clear, definitive statement about the nature of the cards. The cards swarm around her and she wakes up to find that it is nothing but leaves falling on her face (102).

Only when Alice recognizes the world around her as false–a delusion–is she freed from it. As soon as she declares that the court is “nothing but a pack of cards” she is transported out of the dream world and back into “dull reality” (104). Her voice is stronger each time, beginning with thinking and ending with shouting. Finally, the correlation of this awareness and physical growth lends itself to the idea that Alice is growing, mentally and physically. Her sister might believe she will retain her juvenile mindset, we all learn, once something magical is proven false, its wondrous quality is impossible to recover.

One thought on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Loss of Childhood Innocence”

  1. I think this was a very thorough close reading, and I absolutely agree with your interpretation of the passage. I think Alice’s journey through Wonderland is a symbol of her loss of innocence and the end of her childhood. I like that you payed attention to her voice getting stronger throughout the text, this is a detail I did not initially pay attention to, but I think it’s such an interesting pattern. I think it would be interesting to explore if a child’s voice is less powerful than an adult’s in Wonderland, and how this translates to the animals as well.

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