You may have thought Alice in Wonderland was just a children’s tale that everyone takes too seriously but there is more philosophy, metaphors, and spirituality in this revolutionary children’s book than you can fit into one teapot! It seems everyone from my generation and up has heard the story, read the book, or watched the movie at some point in their lives. Alice in Wonderland started as a book written in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge. It is about a girl named Alice who sees a little white rabbit in the woods and follows it down the rabbit hole. When Alice goes down the hole she finds herself in a fantasy world called Wonderland, which is populated by peculiar characters. A few of these characters include the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the caterpillar, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and the Cheshire cat. Alice in Wonderland was a good story that caught the attention of both the young and the old but what most people did not know is that there is a bigger picture behind the story; the bigger picture being the one that famous philosophers pointed out.
The first idea or character from Alice in Wonderland that I want to cover is the Cheshire cat. Cheshire Cat is depicted as an intelligent yet mischievous, villainous character that sometimes helps Alice and sometimes gets her into trouble, the cat is know for its disappearing acts where is starts to fade leaving nothing but it’s smile. Plato argued that what ‘is not’ in some sense also ‘is’, therefore he also believed that a non-being did exist. Plato believed that the incompatibility of Being and Non-Being was false. The only real antinomy is that of a single object of consciousness and all other things from which it is distinguished. Some would argue that no cat could just disappear into thin air and leave behind its smile. One would ask, can a smile be on it’s own? Apparently it can.
The Cheshire cat’s grin, too, is a non-material being which would be categorized as a grin, as just a Platonic Form – a nonmaterial being which has real existence. Another aspect of Alice in Wonderland that I want to cover is the food items that Alice eats. Her character in this story is almost entirely defined by what she eats. Once Alice has fallen down the rabbit hole she is stuck behind a small door that she cannot fit into. This talking door tells her that there are snacks on the table that will help her fit thru the door so she looks on the table and magically there are food items and drinks with tags that say “Drink me!” and “Eat me!” that appear out of nowhere, so Alice eats one without questioning it. “Food has a constant tendency to transform itself into situation,” the French sociologist Roland Barthes said. For that quote Barthes was talking about foods in the aspect of having communion without bread or Christmas without turkey. We can also question what would Alice be without those treats? The food made its way into this certain situation.
Alice never would have been able to go thru that small door had she not eaten that one treat that made her shrink. This specific food choice set the tone for the rest of the movie, it made the story able to move on and allowed Alice to officially enter Wonderland. Another part of Alice in Wonderland that made me think of Ronald Barthes was when, in his essay The Death of the Author he states “it is language which speaks, not the author: to write is to reach that point where language alone acts, “performs,” and not “oneself.” Lewis Carroll does just this in Alice in Wonderland. He creates his story with his knowledge of language with the puns and riddles in this story. An example would be his parody of traditional songs, which create a double meaning. Carroll does not project one meaning, he hands his language to the reader and allows them to analyze the story however they would like. Barthes quote says basically that the author is not the one that is speaking to you but his language is. The language the author uses should speak to readers in the different ways that they hear it and Alice in Wonderland does just that, which is why there are so many different views and interpretations on it. In this book, Alice’s powers to reason are so distinct they seem unsuitable to a little girl’s character. According to Aristotle’s book Poetics, he insists that a character must be appropriate. For example, any intelligence in a woman would be considered inappropriate.
Though Aristotle does not cover a child’s appropriate characteristic, we should assume that if intelligence in a female character is marked as inappropriate then it should be for a little girl as well. From this we argue that Alice’s fearless reasoning through out the movie is uncharacteristic of a child. However, when Alice’s reasoning is used to draw attention to her, Alice’s childish nature is skillfully put into words when Alice claims that she “[doesn’t] care which happens.” This would restore her values as a character for Aristotle since he says, “too brilliant a diction conceals character and thought.” Alice in this book experiences a lot of things that the reader might think of as illusions or things that aren’t true or cannot happen.
According to Nietzsche, the things in this book make perfect sense. Everyone is driven by a will to truth and knowledge on hand and a will to illusion and ignorance on the other hand. These components help make a worthy and happy existence for everyone. This book constantly makes the reader go back and forth between what is the truth and what isn’t. This book is the perfect demonstration for Nietzsche’s theory of having a middle ground between the place for realism and for fantasy in a well-ordered life. Alice’s willingness to accept the appearance of the white rabbit without question and follow it down the rabbit hole to continue her illusion fantasy is the perfect example of Nietzsche’s theory of the will of ignorance and the good use of illusions a person needs to balance their life.
Opposed from Nietzsche’s theory about everything in Alice in Wonderland making sense, David Hume has another idea. Hume is another philosopher whose theories can be found within Alice in Wonderland. Hume brought forth the idea that until we know the necessary connection or cause of things, than all knowledge is uncertain. Everyone who reads or watches Alice in Wonderland is just as intrigued as she is on her new findings. This Wonderland is full of things that contradict our experience and expectations. While following Alice’s journey one does not know what comes next, as in our lives we usually do. We know that if you roll one ball and it hits another than that ball will roll too.
Hume has a different idea. Hume would have thought, based on this theory, that Alice shows little evidence of being an expert on deductive logic. Alice would not have been able to make any reasonable decisions in Wonderland because she has never experienced anything like it before and therefore doesn’t know the outcome of anything she might do. Alice does use great inductive reasoning skills though when she learns how to change her size by drinking the bottle and other foods. She uses this type of reasoning to make successful predictions. Her use of evidence about past events to predict and control the future course in Wonderland allows Hume’s theory to come alive within Alice and her choices.
Time is also a big question in Alice in Wonderland and it shows up quite a bit. Though Plato may believe time to be just a mere illusion, Kant has his own point of view. Kant has three conclusions about time, one being that time is not something that exists by itself, time is actually a psychological sense by which the world is engaged in, and that time is prior to any particular engagement that one many have. Kant believes that time is an intuition of the mind and Alice would have needed that in order to have any type of adventure. One of the main points that the reader comes across time in Alice in Wonderland is when the white rabbit was running to his hole saying “Oh dear? Oh dear? I shall be too late.”
Every time the white rabbit is in a scene he seems to be in a rush and saying he is going to be late. According to Kant, the white rabbit is experiencing an expectation of a time to come and understands that the present is prior to the future event, which would explain why the rabbit was always anxious. Out of all of these philosophers I believe that Alice in Wonderland connects most with Nietzsche and Barth. Nietzsche’s theory of illusions and the will of ignorance. When personally watching Alice in Wonderland, the movie, and knowing that people read the book, any one would be able to tell that it is all about illusions. I mean, at the beginning of the story she is talking to her teacher saying things like “if I had my own world the books would be pictures,” “if I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense, nothing would be what it is.” Then a few minutes later Alice falls asleep and ends up in Wonderland.
This shows that Wonderland is Alice’s illusion. Nietzsche shows that one needs a good balance between what is real and what is fake. Barth also gets most of Alice in Wonderlands theory because he explains that story’s are not what the author says they are, they are what the reader sees them as and Alice in Wonderland has been interpreted in so many ways that Barthes theory is spot on. Everyone sees Alice in Wonderland differently because the author made it so it wasn’t just one meaning. Nietzsche and Barthes’s theory is exactly what the whole story of Alice in Wonderland is about.
Courtney from Study Moose
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