This year Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland celebrates its 150th birthday. The story, about a bright and curious girl navigating her way through a shifting and changing world is fantastical and a fairy tale, deranged felines and unpunctual rabbits not being something we encounter in our every day lives. But there is depth to the story, and Lewis Carroll’s prose can be acutely relevant for humanity and daily life.
Alice, like so many young people, is struggling to come to terms with the world around her. The world is never explained and never fits a set of rules, and remains a bit nonsensical and random, because it is. She’d like it if things changed.
‘If I had a world of my own… nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would.’
She doesn’t know what she wants – just that she doesn’t want the way it is. This of course makes it hard for her to move forwards, and as much as she seeks advice from outside, and directions from talking cats she’s stuck. She has no goal or understanding – but this doesn’t mean her life will stand still.
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to go,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
But not having a particular end in mind is not a bad thing necessarily, and fluidity is important in life. When it is combined with action.
‘Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’
The trouble is when you don’t dare to dream. It’s the Queen who plants the seed of aiming high in her head.
‘There’s no use in trying,’ Alice said, ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’ ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for a half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’’
She is also struggling to come to terms with herself. Alice in Wonderland teaches us that the self is shifting and transient, and that that none of us can ‘go back to yesterday. I was a different person then.’ No one can go back to yesterday, to the unmuddled days of childhood. Thoughts and experiences all leave their marks upon us, in subtle or dramatic ways. Forging identity is one of the hardest parts of growing up – working out what makes you sparkle and thrive.
Self reflection can help. It’s important to keep exploring the self and personality, as it will change through small actions and events, but buried underneath such ephemera is the core self and values. Whilst no one should doubt themselves, we should always be questioning.
‘Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!’
And the great question. She might have fallen down a hole and had some troublesome experiences, but ultimately Alice grows from them. There’s a lot to be learned from Alice in Wonderland.
‘She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).’