Alice Lives In A Victorian Society
Alice lives in a Victorian society that is known for its great emphasis on social conformity. Coming from an upper-middle-class, Alice has great confidence in her identity, which represents the Victorian virtue of good manners. The tension of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland arises when Alice’s fixed perspective of the real world encounters the illogical world of Wonderland. Alice is comfortable with her identity in the real world, where everything consists of clear and logical order. After entering Wonderland, her fundamental beliefs of good manners are constantly being challenged by the absurd nature and contemptuous rudeness of the Wonderland creatures. As a result, Alice suffers an identity crisis and seemingly adopts a rebellious nature to escape from the social conformity. However, Alice is aware and subconsciously follows the Victorian manners at all times while adapting to Wonderland’s madness. Her perception of good manners serves a purpose in providing her with the security of her identity. As the deteriorating sense of unearths Alice’s insecurity and lack of self-identity, she retains her notion of good manners and persists in her way of life to find steady ground through her social status, education, and politeness.
Coming from an upper-middle-class family, Alice’s behaviour and thoughts are dominated by her obsession with being superior towards those she believes are less privileged. When Alice first enters Wonderland, she starts to cry once she can no longer fit through the garden door, “‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ [says] Alice, ‘a great girl like you,’ (she might well say this), ‘to go on crying in this way’” (Carroll 15). She criticizes herself for showing inappropriate manners that she believes only belongs to those that are underprivileged. As Alice starts to question her identity due to the bizarre experience in Wonderland, she compares herself to the other girls back home, “I must be Mabel after all, and I shall have to go and live in that poky little house, and have next to no toys to play with” (17). Alice has a strong sense of noblesse oblige coming from her social status, and she cannot stand the idea of not enjoying the same standard of living that she rather stay in Wonderland and never return home. Her pride towards her social status can also be observed through her interactions with the creatures in Wonderland. In front of the Duchess’ house, Alice has an argument with the footman about getting into the house, “It [is], no doubt: only Alice [does] not like to be told so. ‘It’s really dreadful,’ she [mutters] to herself, ‘the way all the creatures argue. It’s enough to drive one crazy’” (46). Due to her superiority coming from her social status, Alice believes she should not be challenged and the Wonderland creatures are entitled to listen to her. When the Mock Turtle asks Alice if she learned washing at her school, “‘Certainly not!’ [says] Alice indignantly” (76). Alice, raised in an upper-middle class family, is resentful at the suggestion that she has been taught servile tasks. Later Alice encounters the Queen in the garden, where the Queen questions Alice’s identity “‘My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,” [says] Alice very politely; but she [adds], to herself, ‘Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them’” (63). By stating the Queen is only a pack of cards, she signifies the differences between their social statuses, leading to her establishment of superiority. In accordance, Alice challenges the Queen’s decision of having sentence before verdict, “Stuff and nonsense, the idea of having sentence first” (97) and she further refused to obey to the Queen’s order, “‘Hold your tongue’ [says] the Queen. ‘I won’t’ [says] Alice” (97). Her subconscious pride over herself works to empower her to question the Queen, who represents the ultimate authority in Wonderland. Throughout Wonderland, Alice repetitively displays a sense of pride and superiority that resembles her identity based upon her social status in the Victorian society.
The illogical nature of Wonderland triggers Alice’s insecurity towards her identity, and she tries to recite information she holds to be true to gain comfort. During the fall through the rabbit-hole, “‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she [says] aloud. ‘I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think’”(8). Alice then goes on about the latitude and longitude, “Alice had not the slightest idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but she thought they were nice grand words to say”(8). Despite not knowing the meaning of the words, she attempts to use what she has learned and memorized in lessons to show she is intelligent and the same old Alice. At the bottom of the well there is a small bottle on the table, “‘No, I’ll look first,’ she [says], ‘and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not’, for she [has] read several nice little stories about children who [has] got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends [has] taught them” (10). Her discomfort with her inability to predict outcomes reveals how she relies on the prior knowledge she has learned to guide her. In the garden, “Alice [is] rather doubtful whether she ought to lie down on her face like the three gardeners, but she could not remember ever having heard of such a rule at processions (63). Similarly, Alice is unsure of how to respond to this unfamiliar situation, and she once again chooses to follow the knowledge she learned in the real world. As she enters the courtroom, she prides herself on recognition of the positions, “‘I suppose they are the jurors.’ She [says] this last word two or three times over to herself, being rather proud of it: for she [thinks], and rightly too, that very few little girls of her age [know] the meaning of it at all.” (86) She takes the opportunity to flaunt her knowledge, perhaps from the Victorian’s perspective on education, she works on a theory that “who she is equates to the knowledge she has”. The ability to recall knowledge serves the purpose of increasing her self-worth and restore her identity. In Wonderland, Alice relies on her prior knowledge in unfamiliar situations and recites her knowledge from lessons to re-establish her identity of being the same person as before.
Upon interacting with the rude creatures of Wonderland, Alice becomes increasingly obsessed with the importance of politeness. In front of a house, Alice tries to have a conversation with the footman, “He [is] looking up into the sky all the time he [is] speaking, and this Alice [thinks] decidedly uncivil” (46). The creatures of Wonderland represent the uncivilized with no manners and are in need of behavioural instructions and moral guidance. At the tea party, the March Hare encourages Alice to have some wine: “‘I don’t see any wine,’ she [remarks]. ‘There isn’t any,’ [says] the March Hare. ‘Then it [isn’t] very civil of you to offer it," [says] Alice angrily. (55) In response to the disrespectful behaviour of the Wonderland creatures Alice encounters, she tries to impose her supposed politeness to correct their impolite behaviour attempting to civilize them. While Alice is nursing the baby after the Duchess left, the baby grunts in response to her: "Don’t grunt," said Alice; "that’s not at all a proper way of expressing yourself" (49). Although it is just a baby, Alice intends to enforce her supposed appropriate manners upon it. At the tea table, the Hatter’s made some personal remarks about Alice’s hair, “‘You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alice [says] with some severity: ‘it’s very rude’” (55). Alice clearly acknowledges that Wonderland and all the creatures that reside in it are nonsensical, yet, she still tries to instill the same behaviour that is expected of her on them. At the croquet game, the Cheshire-Cat asks Alice about her opinion, “‘I don’t think they play at all fairly,’ Alice began, in rather a complaining tone, ‘and they all quarrel so dreadfully one ca’n’t hear oneself speak-and they don’t seem to have any rules in particular: at least, if there are, nobody attends to them” (67). Till the end, despite being in a world that is very different from where she comes from, she cannot help herself but to apply the rules and constraints she believes are polite and defines someone as having good manners. Due to morals of politeness being so central to the Victorian culture, Alice continually imposes her views of polite behaviour on the creatures as a reminder of who she really is.
Alice is a conforming Victorian both outside and within Wonderland. Alice is clearly puzzled of her identity from her experience in Wonderland, yet while being constantly mistaken as different beings, she offensively objects most of these abnormal identifications. Even though Alice never goes so far as to claim that she is definitively someone or something else, she stubbornly tries to prove her existence and preserve her mannered identity by showing a sense superiority from her social class towards those whom she believes to be less privileged, reciting information she learned from lessons to regain self-confidence, and applying the rules and constraints that characterize politeness. From the way she has been raised, Alice’s identity is deeply linked to her ability to portray the defined good manners in the Victorian society. Thus, she is neither disobedient nor assertive because her seemingly rebellious moments are simply attempts to follow the real world rules of good manners, ones that define her identity.