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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Alice in Wonderland XII -- chapter 9: MORALITY LESSO/ENS

In such a reading as this of Alice in Wonderland, it's clear that a great deal of the reader is inscribed on/to the subtext.  I mentioned before that it's not always important what the author intended (if indeed he/she intended a subtext at all) at the writing of the text, but that an interpretation needs to temper itself at least somewhat against who the author is, and not go directly and flagrantly astray.  That said, I think there's a great deal we can learn--or guess, really--about Carroll as a person and how he viewed Alice, himself, and his relationship with her via these books.  I think it's important to remember that this first of two was written for Alice's entertainment and pleasure (more on the second when we get there).  If we assume he was successful, we can also learn a lot about Alice, whom Carroll likely knew better than most anyone else, as well as a--though likely at least partially skewed--perspective on what Alice thought of Carroll, or how Carroll hoped/wanted Alice to see him.
  1. Alice assumes that a person's temperament is at least somehow connected to what they eat or are exposed to (nurture over nature).  This being the case, it makes sense perhaps that the baby boy was so ill-tempered, augmented of course by the ill temper of the others in the kitchen with him, affected as they all were surely by the airborne pepper.  It's only upon leaving the source of "hotness" that he calms and turns into a pig.  Maybe boys are simply polar creatures: hot-tempered or piggish.  So what happens when they're fed candy?
  2. "When I'm a Duchess...."
  3. Does the finding of morals in everything separate children from adults, or join or distance Carroll from Alice?  Does he moralize his tale or leave it to the reader to find the automatically intrinsic morals?  (Carroll said in his "The New Belfry of Christ Church Oxford," "Everything has a moral if you choose to look for it.  In Wordsworth a good half of every poem is devoted to the Moral: in Byron, a smaller portion: in Tupper, the whole.")
  4. The making of the world go round is most commonly done in literature and song by Love.  So what of Minding One's Own Business (and might there be a riddle in the connection between it and Love amounting to "much the same thing")?
  5. "Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves."  Sense and Sound is Carroll's own development.
  6. Once again, from a child's perspective, adults are all mad; their words are gibberish, their morals bologna, and their motives an utter conflux of misappropriations.  I love the literal realization of this here in the scene Alice shares with the Duchess.  By combination of this and a nightly observation of my family's house cat, Jesse (who feels it her duty to, in turn, accompany my children, in turn--the first until she falls asleep, at which point she offers a perfunctory lick to the face, and then moves to the second), the evident sanity of the Cheshire Cat has come to make a little more sense.  Adults often have a hard time with cats, because cats are independent, disobedient, haughty, etcetera--seemingly insane, really (I like my cat for this very reason: I don't have do anything but feed it!).  However, kids love cats.  Kids get cats.  At least my kids do.  I did when I was a kid.  There's nothing mysterious or insane about cats from a child's perspective.
  7. The Gryphon is the emblem of Oxford's Trinity College.  It is also the mythical guardian of ancient goldmines and is meant as a symbol of utmost vigilance.  Finally, medievally it was a common symbol of the union between God and man (how so, I'm not really sure, but there you go).
New thought (new to me, anyway): The griffin pulls a chariot carrying Beatrice in Dante's Purgatorio, and the final lines of Paradiso run thusly (Longfellow translation): "Here vigor failed the lofty fantasy: / But now was turning my desire and will, / Even as a wheel that equally is moved, // The Love which moves the sun and the other stars."  This final line follows the same pattern as the Duchess' "Oh, 'tis love, 'tis love, that makes the world go round!"  Now that I'm looking, there are striking parallels between The Divine Comedy and the Alice books.  There are tours, guides, episodes underground, fits, bizarreries, torments, ecstasies, and so on.  Especially, there is a female character highly idealized by the author.  Thoughts?


  1. 1. I still think that the bad parenting turned him into a pig. After all, you don't realize that a child's become a pig until after he leaves his parents.
    3. I think that there is a moral in everything. The problem with adults like the duchess is that they are A)self-righteous in pointing it out, and B)tell the entire story expressly for the point of the moral, rather than something that's a good story and subtly teaches a moral.
    4. There certainly is a riddle. Maybe the idea is one's business should be love? Or that if you're interfering in other people's business you're not loving them?
    6. Yick, cats!
    7. Interesting. So it's clearly not totally arbitrary.

    Eh, I don't think so. The connections that you're making are true, but the books are just so fundamentally different. "The Divine Comedy" I see as being about the journey of the soul and everyone getting exactly what he deserves; "Alice" is more a veiled parody of adulthood/society.

  2. 1. That's an interesting twist. You're the first that has convinced there's an alternative!
    4. I think a great way to express love in the first place is to know when to mind your business and when to investigate and probe (which is just a charitable way of saying "nosy").

    I can't imagine that Carroll would have ever used the Comedy as a model. I expect he did read it, however. But that's not important either. What I find interesting is the number of similarities and wonder if this is a symptom of some sort of the underlining metaphor of both. The Comedy is an allegory for the journey, difficulties (torments), and treasures (ugh -- that was cheesy) of love. The Alice books, fundamentally, are the same. Again, no way did Carroll model Dante, but they had similar motives--conscious or not--for writing. Or that's what I'm thinking--right or not.... I don't know. What do you think?

  3. Well, I definitely find it a lot more feasible now that I know that you don't think that this was modeled off it (probably a safe bet that he DID read it, as people used to read great books back then as part of their education/End of curmudgeonly old man rant). I keep wondering this, though: how much of "Alice" is actually a journey? I know that I'm going to be corrected for this, so I'll duck now, but (to me at least!) she doesn't really seem to change much throughout the book. Dante at least seems to pick up a useful bit of piety along the way.

  4. I agree that she doesn't change in the book. She really doesn't particularly gain anything. I think there are a couple of potential character arcs to be had here, however, though I can't definitively explain either of them (which adds another purpose for this read): if ever a bit of setting were a character, Wonderland is. I think there may be an arc to Wonderland. Also, and this only works if you subscribe at all to my Carroll-is-a-character-here theory: Carroll changes. The story is as cathartic for him as it is entertainment for her.


    Apart from all that, I agree: great books are an (oh here we go) INCREASING RARITY (ha!) in public schools. I admit I'm guilty. My excuse? As a teacher I have to play to the audience, and the requirements are not the titles but the ability to read and write.... Tricky, tricky.

  5. Yes, well, there are a couple problems:

    1. These curriculum requirements don't realize that the way to learn how to write well is to read well.
    2. Most kids don't take the time to do either.
    3. There's an over-emphasis on developing people who will be able to compete in the professional world instead of culturally and intellectually enriching students. So all of the emphasis is on essay-writing instead of creative writing.

  6. Arg, change that to, "a few." I started out with only 2 and then never revised when I thought of a third.

    Yes, I'm a couple purist.

  7. I am, too. As well as farther/further and fewer/less.

  8. Same. I sometimes screw up, but I always correct myself/feel guilty about it if it's too late to correct.

    By the way, where do you stand on whence/whither? I want to use them, but I always think that it would be awkward.

  9. They've kind of gone by the wayside. In upper-level writing, and with a literary bent, I think it's okay, but I don't know how you could use them casually without sounding really pretentious.


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