Critical Essays Alice as a Character


Alice is reasonable, well-trained, and polite. From the start, she is a miniature, middle-class Victorian "lady." Considered in this way, she is the perfect foil, or counterpoint, or contrast, for all the unsocial, bad-mannered eccentrics whom she meets in Wonderland. Alice's constant resource and strength is her courage. Time and again, her dignity, her directness, her conscientiousness, and her art of conversation all fail her. But when the chips are down, Alice reveals something to the Queen of Hearts — that is: spunk! Indeed, Alice has all the Victorian virtues, including a quaint capacity for rationalization; yet it is Alice's common sense that makes the quarrelsome Wonderland creatures seem perverse in spite of what they consider to be their "adult" identities.

Certainly, Alice fits no conventional stereotype; she is neither angel nor brat. She simply has an overwhelming curiosity, but it is matched by restraint and moderation. She is balanced in other ways, too. To control her growth and shrinking, she only "samples" the cake labeled "EAT ME." And never is there a hint that she would seek to use her size advantage to control her fate and set dictatorial rules of behavior for Wonderland. The Caterpillar takes offense when she complains of being three inches tall. And the Duchess is unreasonable, coarse, and brutal. But in each case, their veneer of "civility" is either irrational or transparent. The Caterpillar finds mirth in teasing Alice with his pointed, formal, verb games, and the rude Duchess mellows into a corrupt "set of silly rules." Yet, behind their playfulness, Alice senses resentment and rage. It is not so much that Alice is kept "simple" so as to throw into relief the monstrous aspects of Wonderland characters. Rather, it is that Alice, as she conceives of her personality in a dream, sees herself as simple, sweet, innocent, and confused.

Some critics feel that Alice's personality and her waking life are reflected in Wonderland; that may be the case. But the story itself is independent of Alice's "real world." Her personality, as it were, stands alone in the story, and it must be considered in terms of the Alice character in Wonderland.

A strong moral consciousness operates in all of Alice's responses to Wonderland, yet on the other hand, she exhibits a child's insensitivity in discussing her cat Dinah with the frightened Mouse in the pool of tears. Generally speaking, Alice's simplicity owes a great deal to Victorian feminine passivity and a repressive domestication. Slowly, in stages, Alice's reasonableness, her sense of responsibility, and her other good qualities will emerge in her journey through Wonderland and, especially, in the trial scene. Her list of virtues is long: curiosity, courage, kindness, intelligence, courtesy, humor, dignity, and a sense of justice. She is even "maternal" with the pig/baby. But her constant and universal human characteristic is simple wonder — something which all children (and the child that still lives in most adults) can easily identify with.