Whose dream, indeed?

Alice deconstructs her fantasy herself. By saying “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” she denies the existence of the part which she had built with her imagination (102). Nobody in the dream reminds her, like perhaps the rabbit telling her to wake up, in her sister’s voice, for instance. Although the cards to rise up in what looks like an attempt to attack her, they are harmless as she had already denied them of their life and she wakes up moments after. In this way, she is in control of her dream—at least, how it ends.

The way the second dream—of Through the Looking Glass—ends is quite similar as well. She seizes “the tablecloth with both hands: one good pull, and plates, dishes, guests, and candles came crashing together in a heap on the floor” (225). Way to assert power over everyone and everything in the dream! Here she had not yet even grown back to her own size yet, but there is little hesitation in the way she ruins the party.

Then this leads to her grabbing the red queen and declaring that she would “shake you into a kitten”—another ending where she peels off the identity that she had constructed in her dream—or, perhaps, the identity that had been constructed by the dream (225). And she shakes it, until it does become the black kitten, as she had ordered it to be.

All this power assertion makes an interesting intersection with the moment where Alice wonders to whom the dream—which is, then the story—belongs. Is the red king’s—a male figure—or Alice’s? The red king doesn’t have much to call a presence throughout the story, and all that wondering of whose dream is it—and why the red king, of all characters?—has given me the idea that perhaps Lewis Carroll is the red king. So it is indeed the question of whose story is it—the author’s, or Alice’s?

I do believe that the story itself is an argument that the story belongs to Alice. The moment of considering whose dream it, in fact, works to bring up the possibility of this actually being Alice’s story, not the author’s. And the story goes to much length to show how Alice asserts her power, as seen in the moments above and many more, over this story. On top of that, she loves it. Both the dreams are nothing short of a great nightmare, considering all the absurdities Alice goes through in them, yet to Alice, they are not troubling—“what a wonderful dream it had been” (102).

So perhaps these dreams were all just Alice’s attempt to get away from the bleak reality of growing up to become a Victorian lady taking care of the house, and explore her sexuality and her desires to become powerful. And perhaps, this all is only proof that she has no actual power of what happens to her in real life, and this story is actually all in Carroll’s dream, and should he cease to write she would disappear with a small poof.

But the stories end not with such sadness, but instead with Alice’s sister picturing Alice’s future.

… how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

So the story is Alice’s—she has taken it to be her own, so that it would accompany her through the moments of her journey in real life. And if even that real life is “but a dream”, then even her life as she grows is in a way just another Wonderland (231). This way, despite all the social construction and gender conventions that may attempt to stop her, she would own her own life fully and wholly as well.

Maternity, Society, and the Legitimization of the Female Storyteller

At the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice’s older sister imagines “how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman […] and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys” (Carroll 99, Norton 1992 Ed. Gray). Alice’s sister immediately thrusts her forward from childhood into womanhood, from an imaginative, experiential role to an informative, supporting one. Although initially problematic because it seems to sketch Alice’s future solely within the confines of motherhood, this image of Alice as a maternal figure subtly legitimizes her role as a female storyteller.

Alice’s experience in Wonderland is validated by its transmission to the next generation, whose gaze lies “bright and eager” on her tale. Through the socially accepted role of “mother,” Alice is able to use her imagination (which, despite her dream state, I would deem her female experience) to form new physical and emotional bonds within her society—to “gather about her” a group of children, and to “feel” their sorrows and joys, perhaps even giving them advice. Her role as mother empowers her to retain her dream-world in a way that other adults cannot, and to spread the lessons that she learned and the experiences that she had there to the next generation.

In “Goblin Market,” Christina Rossetti similarly paints the two sisters transitioning from an experiential otherworldly danger to the safe, idealized realm of domesticity. Although their story is more explicitly didactic than Alice’s tale, it still retains the thrilling, imaginatively provocative elements of “the haunted glen,” “the wicked […] men,” “poison in the blood,” “deadly peril,” and “the fiery antidote” (Rossetti 488). That they have access to the experience with which to tell such a tale positions Lizzie and Laura as authoritative storytellers. Furthermore, the moral of their tale, like the end of Alice’s sister’s imaginings, includes connective imagery—with their story, they “[join] hands to little hands […and] bid them cling together,” thus aligning the emotional bond and mutual reliance of sisterhood with the physical bond of clasped hands (Rossetti 488). Like Alice, the sisters bring about structural social change in the next generation by telling their story. This depiction empowers them in their role as female storytellers, underlining their experiential authority—but it does so by first legitimizing them as mothers.