Alice sits on the riverbank on a sunny day, reading over her sister’s shoulder, but the book doesn’t interest her much – it has no pictures in it! Suddenly, Alice catches sight of a white rabbit running by. The sight wouldn’t normally surprise her very much, if it were not for the rabbit’s waistcoat and pocket watch. In an instant, Alice is on her feet and jumps down the rabbit hole behind it. The places she sees next and the animals and other characters she then encounters are topic for endless cinematic and literary adaptations – her story is one of the most famous ones ever, almost everybody knows it.
I love the book (or the two books, I should say) very much, and I have done so ever since I was a child. Furthermore, I’ve also written my Master’s thesis on Alice and her adventures! However, I’m fully aware by now that not everybody likes Alice. Her character, or rather, the likability of her character seems to be up to debate, but I enjoyed her adventures very much! Not only that, in my opinion it is exactly her character that is in the limelight in the two books, even if it is only between the lines.
In my opinion, Alice undergoes a journey that changes her from a little girl into almost a teenager, one that is much more experienced and knowledgeable than the child was in the beginning of its adventures. The loss of childhood innocence, so to speak, is shown in the absurd physical changes Alice undergoes by eating and drinking what Wonderland offers her. Alice is upset during these changes, however, and finds them to be saddening and uncomfortable, much like a child during puberty does. The garden is a special symbol in this. Not only does Alice only get a sneak peek of it through the tiny door in the hallway, she seems to not be granted access to it. But what exactly does the garden symbolize? Maybe it is the garden of Eden to which she is not granted access yet due to her youth, or it might symbolize adulthood itself. She catches sight of it, tries to fit in, but is not able to just yet. Her changes in body-size and the accompanying feelings of sadness, anger and the feeling of being uncomfortable in her body show how she will feel once she has to let loose of her childhood innocence once she fully matures. The rabbit hole, in that regard, might symbolize the beginning of the maturation process she will undergo for certain.
During her journey, Alice meets a caterpillar on a mushroom, smoking a hookah. In the animal world, the caterpillar represents a metamorphosis, which also points towards a change in her body, once her maturation process begins. It is therefore surely no accident that the animal Alice encounters on the mushroom is a caterpillar.
Death is another topic that reappears throughout the story. Not only does Alice continuously find herself in situations that scare her or threaten her life, she also meets the Queen of Hearts, whose famous catchphrase is ‘Off with his/her head!’ Therefore, death as a symbol is a continuous one, and it might again point towards the finite nature of her childhood.
All in all, there are many more symbols and motifs in the two books – it offers a wide range of points to analyze! Together with all the puns, jokes, nonsense and linguistic plays, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are two amazing books that even adults can learn from and enjoy – I would recommend it to anybody who didn’t have the chance to read it yet! And don’t let yourself be fooled by the many movie adaptations out there – reading the actual books is a special pleasure you don’t want to miss!