The following is an essay written for the online Coursera course “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.”
Download Through the Looking Glass here: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carroll/lewis/looking/
In the dream worlds Lewis Carroll creates in his pair of books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” the whimsical journeys challenge the reader to investigate the real world from the perspective of a young child. At seven years old, Alice struggles with the expectations of growing up including pressures from parents, peers, and teachers. The characters and her struggle with size both represent elements of the real world with which she is trying to come to terms.
The white rabbit, with his obsession about time, represents time itself and Alice’s youth that is quickly disappearing. Her innocence and uninhibited creativity are in danger of expiring as she grows up. The Caterpillar, the March Hare, and the Hatter reflect her opinion of adults as silly creatures who live meaningless lives and who twist logic to their own advantage. The Queen of Hearts is the prototypical adult woman in Alice’s life with irrational expectations, bossing around Alice and others, and punishing everyone who crosses her. Finally, the absurd croquet game and the final trial both demonstrate how unfair and arbitrary a child must see similar institutions in the real world.
Her shifting physical size represents her struggle between wanting to stay a child (but being seen as childish) and realizing she is maturing (with the fear of responsibility). After her encounter with the Caterpillar, she chooses to hold on to a bit of each side the mushroom in order to grow or shrink as the situation demands. In the same way, a mature individual can be both playful and responsible. During the trial, she finally grows big enough to assert herself. With newfound confidence, we then see her enter Looking Glass world, where Alice is willing to stand up for herself in the face of the demands and ridicule from characters like the Red and White Queens.