Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a classic tale that tells the story of Alice, a young girl who falls into the rabbit-hole. Wonderland is not what it seems. It may look like a children’s book with bright and funny characters. But if you look deeper, there are many more layers to the story. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a recurring theme that focuses on death. It shows contrasting views between characters, indicating some avoid death altogether, while others, like Alice, are inherently curious, and may not be able to identify potentially deadly dangers. Carroll highlights children’s inquisitiveness by including this concept. But he also implies adults and animals have their own ways of avoiding such a dark topic.
As soon as Alice goes down the rabbithole, death is apparent. Alice is constantly referencing death in her slow slide down the hole to Wonderland. Alice, who grabbed the marmalade jar hanging from the ceiling, decided that “she was afraid to drop the glass jar because she feared it would kill someone” (Carroll). Alice, although a child, has a strong awareness of death. However, she treats it without any concern. Alice never seems to worry about her safety or even think that she might be in danger. This nonchalant attitude toward death, as well as her apparent indifference to danger, is seen when she states, “After this fall, I shall have no problem falling downstairs!” What bravery they will think of me! I wouldn’t even say anything if I were to fall off the roof! (Carroll, 10) This may seem like a simple child’s statement. Carroll means to imply that she will be dead if she falls off her house. Carroll emphasizes the fact that while children understand death, they are often unable recognize and grasp certain potential dangers. Alice represents a child that is typical of this. The innocent remarks she makes can be interpreted as something much deeper.
Alice represents a child’s innocence, naiveté and relationship to rules. Children are taught to follow rules in order to stay safe. Alice in particular was raised to believe that following rules would keep her safe. A paper label with the words ‘DRINK ME “…’ was tied around the bottle’s neck. Alice is again portrayed as naive and innocent in this scene. Alice is aware that the label on the bottle could be dangerous or even deadly. However, she drinks it regardless, believing it to be safe if the poison isn’t explicitly marked. It is interesting to note that children often believe rules are a barrier for their safety, even though adults know otherwise. Alice speaks about the things she learned. “She had read a few nice little stories of children who were burned, and eaten up, by wild creatures, and many other unpleasant things. All because they did not remember the rules that their friends taught them”(Carroll,12). Carroll suggests that just following the rules or doing what is asked of you is not enough for a person to be safe. This scene highlights the naivety and innocence of children. Alice is a child and has an unique view of death. Alice will learn soon that her view on death is quite different than others.
Alice first encounters a Mouse when she’s swimming in the pool created by her tears. She speaks a French phrase which mentions ‘cat’ to attract the Mouse’s interest. The mouse is startled by this. Alice is not able to understand the cue. She continues, “I would love to show you Dinah, our cat.” You’d love cats if you saw her. She is so cute and soft to caress, plus she’s great for catching mouses (Carroll 21). She does not seem to realize that her reference to death is in regard to the mice. She knows that cats dislike mice, but she says that Dinah would be there to capture the mouse and finish his story. Alice’s comment reinforces their innocence and casual attitude towards death. Alice may not fear death or have any hesitation in pondering it. However, other characters may feel differently. For instance, the mouse says “As If I Would Talk on Such a Subject!” Our family hates cats. They’re filthy and low. Don’t make me hear your name ever again!” The mouse, unlike Alice, would rather not think about the topic and avoid it altogether. He, like many characters, is terrified by the thought of death. He says he will never mention a cat’s name again. This shows that death has a greater meaning to him than Alice. Alice may be able to look at death in a more lighthearted way, but a Mouse who knows that death could come from the cat’s paws is not going to take it lightly. He would rather avoid and ignore the subject. Alice’s insult prompted the Mouse to swim away from Alice as fast as possible, causing a lot of noise in the water. (Carroll, 22). The Mouse doesn’t just tell Alice not to talk about the topic, he also removes himself physically from the situation. He does this because he can’t face the thought of dying. Alice continually learns from the other characters that they do not share her mentality. Alice meets the Mock Turtle as she travels further into Wonderland. Alice, always curious, asks the Turtles to tell her their story. She asks, “What is a Mock Turtle?” and finds out that it’s what is used in Mock Turtle Soup. (Carroll 81). The Mock Turtle, although not a real turtle, is a part cow that is meant to be eaten. This is the reason for his constant sadness. Mock Turtle character is another death-related reference. It may look innocent but, underneath, it’s all about making delicious Turtle Soup. Carroll is known for his subtle death references throughout the whole story. And this particular interaction was no exception. The Gryphon asks Alice to recite an extremely morbid poem as the meeting continues. The Mock turtle is very distressed and interrupts Alice by yelling “What good is it to repeat all this stuff?” The Mock Turtle interrupts” (Carroll 93). Alice was about recite Alice’s poem on the panther with the owl, when the Mock Turtle burst out. This ending disturbs the Mock Turtle. The owl will be eaten and becomes food, just like the Mock Turtle intended. Carroll uses this morbid poem as a way to show how different characters deal with death. The Mock Turtle, on the other hand, cut Alice off and interrupted her before she could speak about the subject. This scene shows how the Wonderland residents fear death. It also highlights the contrast between Alice and their views.
The Queen Of Hearts is yet another character that has an indirect, but strong relationship to death. The Queen of Hearts is a character who inspires fear among others. However, death does not seem to be a reality for her. She is the strongest force in Wonderland and does not share the same relationship to death as other characters. She may not be directly affected by it but she does threaten others with death. This indicates that she is in control of her fears and can use them to her advantage. The Queen grew enraged and screamed, “Off with Her Head!” at the slightest inconvenience. Carroll introduces the Queen’s character in order to demonstrate the variety of emotions that people feel about death. The Queen only had one method of solving all problems, big or small. “He’s off with his head!” She exclaimed, without looking anywhere else (Carroll). The Queen isn’t threatened by death because she controls it, but she uses it to control others. As seen in the case of characters like the Mouse and Mock Turtle, she never executes anyone. However, it is clear that the Wonderland creatures are terrified by the idea of death. The Queen is aware of this and uses it to gain control. She views death differently than Alice or the creatures because of her position.
Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland includes many allusions about death to show the diversity of viewpoints on this topic. When comparing the various views, it is possible to discern the difference between the naivety of a young child and the maturity of an adult. The subtle references may go unnoticed at first but, upon closer inspection, they reveal a new layer of depth.