The White Man’s Depiction of the Exotic


As I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was strongly reminded of many early travel narratives that I have previously studied. Texts such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko strongly parallel with Carroll’s narrative on a multitude of facets. Alice, similar to the two other protagonists, is exploring a land unknown to her but more importantly, she represents the colonizing invasion in this wonderland just as Behn and Conrad’s characters do in Africa. Alice, though, definitely reflects the naïve mindset of a child in addition to the ignorance of the Victorian British upper class in regards to the colonized nations and peoples. This ignorance of foreign customs is actually directly addressed in the very beginning of the narrative when Alice says as she falls down the rabbit hole, “And what an ignorant little girl she’ll think me for asking! No, it’ll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.” More interesting in Alice’s speculations about where she is falling to, something that continues throughout the narrative is the manifestation of this ignorance and where it is directed. As she falls, she thinks aloud: “I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward!” Characterizing these “people” implies their otherness in Alice’s mind.

This idea of foreignness can also be seen in Alice’s interpretation of the landscape. Similar to Conrad and Behn’s narratives, not only are the people exoticized dramatically but so are the settings in which every protagonist is placed. Alice’s ignorance reveals itself in these encounters where she believes the land to be at her disposal, despite her complete lack of knowledge with it. This speaks to the colonizer’s mindset and the instinctive entitlement that a majority of this population demonstrated with the “conquered” lands around the world. Carroll depicts this exotic fictional world for the British people to conceptualize, just as Conrad and Behn do with the African landscape.

The artistic parallel with these representations can be seen in both the piece named “Delhi” as well as “Taj Mahal-Agra” by Robert Wallis. These images both depict India in a very grand, exotic manner. I think it is truly interesting to think about the reception of all of these works amongst the British public. Just as the authors recount a “savage” world that is not yet developed, these pictures display almost a similar idea, except for the inclusion of the grand Taj Mahal. Through these pieces, British society, it seems, thought themselves to be all knowledgeable considering these exotic, foreign places. This speaks directly to Alice’s mindset in her travels through Wonderland. How influential, then, can we perceive literature and art depicting foreign places to be in the British colonial mindset?