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“Because Alice flavors drug use and depiction, there is an urge to retroactively read drug imagery into the story.” Scott F. Parker
The New Historical Approach
The New Historical approach not only examines the era in which a work of literature was created, but also recognizes that later eras can assign meaning to a work based on their own culture and circumstances (Tyson 295). Thus a New Historical critic, when interpreting Alice, would look not only to how men and women in the Victorian Age would have understood Alice, but how later interpretations reflect the concerns and interests of later historical eras. One of these later interpretations works well as an example, both because of its clear roots in a specific culture and its persistence as a popular interpretation: the Psychedelic Interpretation.
The Psychedelic Interpretation, more than some of the others, has its roots in popular culture, specifically with Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” The lyrics, written by Grace Slick, include a lot of Alice imagery, as well as some not-so-subtle drug references, which nevertheless were subtle enough to make it past the radio censors in 1967. (Click here to listen to the song)
The song was enormously popular and inspired many other artists to explore the connection between Alice and recreational drug use, until Alice was essentially the mascot of ‘60s and ‘70s drug culture. In fact, as Scott Parker points out, “the association of drugs with Alice is so established that alice is now a slang term for LSD” (138).
The association of Alice with drug use has been so persistent partly because it is so easy to read psychedelic and drug imagery into the story. Some of these seeming “drug references” include: the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, mushrooms that alter Alice’s (perception of) height and size, and as Thomas Fensch so memorably wrote about in his 1968 article, “Lewis Caroll—The First Acidhead,” the “Eat Me” cake that Alice eats in the hall of doors:
“When you take something that tastes like cherry tarts, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, and toast at the same time and makes you grow and shrink—baby, that’s tripping out.” (422)
And there are many other parallels between Alice’s trip to Wonderland and a psychedelic “trip,” causing many critics and readers to search for evidence that Carroll put it there on purpose. However, even after much searching, there really is no evidence that Carroll ever used hallucinogenic drugs (Fensch 424). Naturalists of the nineteenth century had in fact discovered the psychedelic properties of certain mushrooms and of course opium-use was at its greatest in England during the nineteenth century, but this is hardly more than circumstantial evidence.
Alice's "Trip" to Wonderland
Though it is unlikely that Carroll meant to include drug references in his children’s book, a psychedelic interpretation can still be useful. Reading Alice as a trip, or even as a dream can help us “dissolve the distinction between normal and distorted reality by calling to our attention the faulty assumptions under which this distinction is made” (Parker 149). Alice’s adventures seem very real to her, and though Wonderland is often frightening or frustrating, she does have some valuable experiences that shape her identity. After all, it is not until after Alice’s experience with the mushroom that she learns to control her height, and thus regains her lost identity. As Parker writes, “Distortions from normal perception that drugs induce actually sometimes lead to a truer, realer understanding of reality, not away from it” (144). And certainly it is one of Carroll’s goals in the book to “distort from normal perception,” drawing our attention to “faulty assumptions.” And, as any hippie could tell you, that very effect was very much part of the appeal of drug use.
"Drug References" in Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951) on Unrealitymag.com
The "definition" of Alice in Wonderland from UrbanDictionary.com
Breif essay on Lenny's Alice in Wonderland Site
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