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.

Walter’s First Encounter With Laura and Marian- Gender, Whiteness, and Class

As with most readings of gender, it is important to look at it with an intersectional lens- one that acknowledges how different identities interact to form statures of privilege. I believe that developing a deeper understanding of the way in which Walter describes women in this novel can shed light upon Collins’ social commentary on gender, class, and race. When Walter first meets Marian, he says, “She left the window- and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward a few steps- and I said to myself, The lady is young. She approached nearer-and I said to myself, The lady is ugly!” (p.34). Looking at the syntax of these few sentences shows several interruptions from commas and hyphens, making every phrase short and abrupt. These short, abrupt sentences give the reader an unflattering feeling as they meet Marian with Walter, one that is unsettling. Just as he is initially confused and skeptical, as is the reader who feels Walter’s hesitation through the syntax. Walter continues to describe Marian as having a complexion that was, “almost swarthy,” and ,”the dark brown on her upper lip was almost a mustache, She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw; prominent, piercing, resolute brown eyes; and thick, coal-black hair, growing unusually low down on her forehead. Her expression….appeared, while she was silent, to be altogether wanting in those feminine attractions of gentleness and pliability, without which the beauty of the handsomest woman alive is incomplete,” (p.35).  The last sentence of this quote is worth noting as it explicitly states what a woman needs to be considered beautiful; gentleness and pliability. There is an emphasis in this description on both gender and race as Marian is described as having very masculine, strong, dark features. This contrasts the very feminine women Walter meets throughout the novel, especially Walter’s love interest, Laura, who is described as, “fair and pretty,” (p.37). Later, Walter describes her with similar language, saying that she is a, “light, youthful figure…with a little straw hat of the natural colour, plainly and sparingly tripped with ribbon to match the gown, covers her head, and throws its soft pearly shadow over the upper part of her face. Her hair is so faint and a pale brown,” (p.51). It was fascinating for me to read this description of Laura, as Walter is so clearly infatuated with her, but the feature that makes him so attracted to her is her inherent whiteness. This, along with her stereotypical femininity that portrays her as weak, are almost exclusively what Walter is attracted to. The description of Laura and Marian contrast drastically because of two dichotomies: masculine vs. feminine and dark vs. light. The diction Collins uses here seems very deliberate to me, in that the author seems to be explicitly showing Walter’s inherent biases. The words “light,” “fair,” “pale,” “faint,” as I see it, are Collins’ way of portraying the standard of beauty for women in the Victorian Period. I believe that I need to read more of the book to better understand Collins’ social commentary, but for now, it is clear to me that Collins is setting up a reality of modern society in which beauty is equated with whiteness and weakness. This standard excludes women like Marian, who are intelligent, kind, and interesting. Making Marian such a likable character yet “unattractive” pushes me to believe that Collins is in fact critiquing a world in which a woman’s value is based upon her beauty. However, it troubles me that there are no women in the novel that are both attractive and intelligent.