“But if I'm not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I?
Ah, THAT'S the great puzzle!” – Alice (Chapter 2)
Alice's Big (and sometimes small) Problem
Alice goes through a number of changes in the first half of the book. She shrinks after drinking the mysterious liquid in the hall of doors, then grows after eating the cake. The White Rabbit’s fan and gloves make her shrink again into the pool of tears. The process is repeated again in the Rabbit’s house, when a liquid makes her grow and small pebbles which become cakes make her shrink once more to three inches high. Finally in Chapter 5, Alice experiments with the mushroom, growing smaller and larger and smaller until she finally regains her normal size.
All these changes prove rather problematic for Alice, since from the moment Alice begins to change shape in Chapter 1, she begins to question her identity. In fact, many critics have argued that Alice’s greatest problem during her excursion in Wonderland is not the rude creatures she meets or the puzzling circumstances she navigates, but her lost identity. And not knowing who she is certainly causes her a great amount of frustration in Chapter 5, faced with the Caterpillar and Pigeon who vigorously demand that she “explain herself.” Identity is a crucial theme in Alice, as it is from most heroines in Victorian children’s literature (Gordon 108). And it is only when “who she is and how she sees herself are no longer subject to the erratic and uncontrollable unknown” can she gain a measure of power to deal with the absurdity around her (Stowell 7). In Alice and in many other works of children’s literature, knowledge of the self provides the crucial power and agency which is required for the hero or heroine to escape the “horrors” of childhood into the realm of adulthood.
Jump to the Psychoanalytic Interpretation page.
Identity is also a crucial theme in the newest film version of Alice, Tim Burton's in 2010, but in a slightly different way. The premise of this film is that an older Alice has been brought back to Wonderland by the creatures she met on her first trip (as a child) to slay the Jabberwocky. Much of the beginning of the film is given to the question of whether or not she is the "right" Alice. Only when Alice accepts her identity as the savior of Wonderland does she gain the necessary power to slay the Jabberwocky and return home.
Alice meets the Caterpillar
Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Short article on Alice's Identity, comparing it to recent film Phoebe in Wonderland
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