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Deeper, Hidden Meanings and Themes in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

A Quest Leading out of Childhood

The book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, has been part of many children’s lives. It seems like a simple fairy tale, but it goes much deeper than that.

The events in the story correlate with the steps in a child's growth and progression through childhood and adolescence. According to editors Charles Frey and John Griffin, "Alice is engaged in a romance quest for her own identity and growth, for some understanding of logic, rules, the games people play, authority, time, and death." When you approach the book with this idea in mind, it offers interesting and meaningful interpretations of the events and characters in the story.

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Illustration to the fourth chapter, by John Tenniel. Wood-engraving by Thomas Dalziel.

Illustration to the fourth chapter, by John Tenniel. Wood-engraving by Thomas Dalziel.

How puzzling all these changes are! I'm never sure what I'm going to be, from one minute to another.

The Journey Begins With Curiosity

At the beginning of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice daydreams and is unable to pay attention while her sister reads an advanced novel to her. Alice’s mindset is childlike and distractible. While her imagination runs wild, she begins to piece together a perfect world of her own. That's when Alice notices a white rabbit, a manifestation of her imagination that sparks her curiosity:

"Alice follows the rabbit because she is 'burning with curiosity.' Soon she finds things becoming 'curiouser and curiouser.' "

Children are usually the people with the most curiosity; they are the ones who are always eager to learn more.

Later, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum tell her the tale of the Curious Oysters, which is about how curiosity can lead to terrible consequences. This shows how adults often use stories to control children with fear and to destroy children's sense of imagination and curiosity by telling them to quit asking questions and grow up. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum symbolize parents who are trying to keep Alice's imagination in check.

If it had grown up, it would have made a dreadfully ugly child; but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think.

Alice consumes a cookie in the 1951 "Alice in Wonderland" animated film

Alice consumes a cookie in the 1951 "Alice in Wonderland" animated film

"Eat Me"

Alice gets in trouble because of her curiosity. The white rabbit tells her to run into the house to quickly fetch his gloves. While searching for them, she opens a cookie jar only to find a cookie with "Eat Me" written on it. Without thinking twice, she consumes the cookie.

Alice is still in her childhood stage and needs an adult figure to guide her. At this moment, there is no such figure. "We view children as needing gentle guidance if they are to develop emotionally, intellectually, morally, even physically." (Henslin)

Alice's eating of the cookie represents two very important ideas. The first is, again, how curiosity gets one into trouble. She eats the cookie after being told the tale of the Curious Oysters, because a child will sometimes disobey and do something even after being told it is wrong. By eating the cookie, she demonstrates Kohlberg’s first theory of moral development, stage one of the preconventional level, which states that "right is whatever avoids punishment or gains reward" (Wood). Because there was no parent or adult figure around, curiosity prevailed against better judgment, and she ate the cookie.

This situation may also be about peer pressure while growing up. Inside the cookie jar were many cookies with labels with different instructions; the cookies were all telling her what to do. Just like everyone does at some point, she gives in to peer pressure. As a consequence, she grows rapidly into a giant. The white rabbit and other characters she encounters perceive her giant self as a monster instead of a little girl. A society may perceive youngsters who give in to peer pressure—for example, children who take drugs or experiment in other reckless ways—as monstrous.

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On many occasions, Alice shows her juvenile nature, her child-like thinking, and confusion. When she first falls down the rabbit hole and is confronted by the door, she gives herself “some good advice,” saying, “For if one drinks much from a bottle marked poison, it is almost certain to disagree with one sooner or later.” The door responds, “I beg your pardon,” with a confused look on its face. In a relationship between a young child and an adult, the adult is often unable to comprehend the child's logic. It isn’t until the formal operations stage, at age 11 or 12, that the child is able to "apply logical thought to abstract, verbal, and hypothetical situations" (Wood). Obviously, Alice has not yet achieved this level of thinking.

Shortly after Alice enters Wonderland, she encounters something else that makes no sense to her. When she is wet after being washed up onto the shore, she listens to a dodo bird who tells her to run in a circle with everyone else in order to dry off. What he is telling her to do makes no sense whatsoever because the water keeps engulfing them, but she continues to do it anyway. By blindly obeying the adult figure, she exposes her childlike ignorance.

Later in the book, Alice is confronted with another confusing situation. The White King is waiting for his messengers and asks Alice to look along the road to see if they are coming.

" 'I see nobody on the road,' says Alice. 'I only wish I had such eyes,' the King remarked in a fretful tone. 'To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light.' "

This somewhat exemplifies the preoperational stage of childhood which includes symbolic function, meaning that one thing can stand for another (Wood). Apparently, the author is trying to get the point across that "nobody" can stand for a person as well as "nothing." Here is another lack of understanding between adults and children, but this time, the adult's statement seems easier to comprehend for Alice, and makes, surprisingly, more sense than her previous realization. This shows how she is mentally progressing towards the formal operations stage, little by little.

I wonder if I've been changed in the night. Let me think. 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!


"Who Are You?" "I – Hardly Know."

As Alice progresses through her dream, she loses her sense of identity, just as most people do when they hit adolescence.

When the Caterpillar asks Alice, 'Who are you,' and Alice can barely stammer out a reply, `I—hardly know,' then Carroll is exposing the quintessential vulnerability of the child whose growth and knowledge of self and the world vary so greatly from day to day that a sense of answerable identity becomes highly precarious, if not evanescent. (Frey).

At this point in the story, Alice has reached an age where she has lost her identity: that is, adolescence.

“In the industrialized world, children must find themselves on their own… they attempt to carve out an identity that is distinct from both the 'younger' world being left behind and the 'older' world that is still out of range," (Henslin). The caterpillar doesn’t ever give Alice any direction, and she is now forced to find out who she is on her own.

"[She] is rarely aided by the creatures she meets. Whereas in a tale of Grimms or Andersen or John Ruskin, the protagonist's meeting with a helpful bird or beast would signal his or her charity toward the world or nature" (Frey). In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, unlike other fairy tales, the story represents a child’s true progression through life. In real life, in the industrialized world, a child has to figure things out on her own.

In sociology, there is a stage called transitional adulthood. This is a period where young adults “find themselves … young adults gradually ease into responsibilities … they become serious.” (Henslin) By the end of the story, Alice learns to deal with her problems and regains sight of her identity. The queen, who loses her temper and wants to kill Alice, is the obstacle that finally helps Alice to become an adult. To leap over this obstacle, she reaches into her pocket to find a mushroom from earlier, eats it, and grows to an enormous size. This most likely represents how she is facing her fear and taking on responsibility, or “growing up.”

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a perfect example of childhood through adolescence. Just as a child’s life is filled with good and bad choices, Alice's is, too. As most do, she learns from her experiences and ultimately becomes more mature—emotionally, in how she deals with her problems, and in the way she perceives different situations, all of which are encompassed in the progression of a child.

“I'm afraid I can't explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”


G on August 07, 2020:

Very well said

jeff on July 23, 2020:

stunning manner or what

Nave on November 15, 2019:

It’s real meanings is deeper than this

dexter on October 15, 2019:

deeeeeeeeep son

Baldev Adhikari on September 05, 2019:

I think Alice in Wonderland is more about the life of experience through the sense of children perspective on it.The writer has done a great work by not focusing and emphasizing particular concept or idea to understand it rather the different views to analyse.

stan on May 23, 2019:

im nice

Bob on May 09, 2019:

Thank you so much for posting this. It helped me a lot for my English essay!

lillie on April 07, 2019:

are these quotes from the movie???

Marcus H on January 30, 2019:

Genius, that we can contemplate "deeper meaning" perhaps it is our ability to "deeper meaning" our worlds that the dim light of the Cheshire Cat whispers into the mind of example. Maybe we are all in journey to learn of self. AIW is an observation of a life birth to death.

Why is a writing desk like a Raven ??? he gave us the key to the allegory.

Todd R on December 03, 2017:

The deeper meaning about AIW is less about Alice, or asolescence, or psychology, or 1800's politics, or Greek mythology - and much more what it has come to be known for - finding out the truth, going "down the rabbit hole", and realising when you get there how very strange it all is.

Of course there were drugs in the 1800's. Carroll was a genius and he compiled many themes into this work. It is a masterpiece of masterpieces, but to lesser minds, just a children's book about a young girl's journey.

Dhanya on November 19, 2017:

this actually is only article that helped me in understanding the adult perspective of the novel..

JazzyJ. on June 26, 2017:

This was really helpful, esspecially fo our essay, thank you so muCh!!! I understand the consept of Alice in Wonderland more clearly now

Anonymous on June 18, 2017:

What is this? The events and plot are not the same as the novel. The movie is actually a mix of both and the plot is swirled around like a hurricane.

kp on May 05, 2017:

for all those who keep saying the alice is based on an acid trip...acid didn't exist during the victorian period when this was written.

Liber huminum on February 15, 2017:

This book has no correlation to drugs. Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was selibit most of his life and, even during a time where opiode use was legal and promoted, he did not engage in such acts. Instead, he used symbolism, mathematical and physiological referencing, and many other writing techniques to create a world not known to any, but lived by all. He was a mathematician who created some very "secure" CIPH ERS for his time, try to keep this in mind, just enough, but not all the time ;)

Jef on October 20, 2016:

This was so helpful

Madelyn from Texas on May 21, 2016:

I like this theory, and this essay! Especially considering the fact that Alice was based around Alice Lidell, a real child that Carroll knew. The fact that it was based off of a real child really supports this essay, since he was watching her develop into an adult.

lila-13 on January 27, 2016:

I have heard a few different theories about this book. The obvious one, acid. It turns out the author of this book was on a lot of drugs while writing it, so that could really be what it is about. I have also heard that it is about the author's childhood. He apparently had an eating problem when he was young, (not an eating disorder) and basically everything in this book revolves around food. I think that this is a pretty valid theory as well, but those are just a few other ideas to think about.

Anne Ley on June 29, 2015:

I was thinking that the story may be about finding yourself, knowing who you are. Alice starts out following the rules and protocol of life and then decides runs down the endless rabbit hole (the hidden, dark, your subconscious and unconscious motives for what you chose in life). All the things she expereinces are her fears and desires in some distorted form. At one point she realizes she must destroy the Red Queen (who represents all the destructive forces within her mind) so that she (her conscious mind) is the ruler and then she can chose to live the life she wants. The rabbit hole is endless until she realizes that she is the ruler and takes her power back, and then goes back into the real world and rules herself.

Mikayla on December 23, 2014:

I heard it was about her being crazy and seeing things like she saw the rabbit and it really wasn't there and she ended up in "wonderland" which is really in her own mind

Kris on November 06, 2014:

Wow... Nobody has been on this website and posted a comment for a while... I think it is okay to have different perspectives on events of stories, but......... Let's not get carried away with things, all right y'all?

b. gaudon on April 05, 2014:

“Alice is engaged in a romance quest for her own identity and growth, for some understanding of logic, rules, the games people play, authority, time, and death,” (Frey). - I am unable to find this quote in their book "Classics of Children's Literature". Did you make this up?

If not, would you kindly provide a proper citation so I might use the quote?

AliceInWonderlandFan on March 19, 2014:

After reading a lot of comments about this, Im just coming to think that Lewis carroll wanted It to be something for everyone to understand, In there own way. Everyone wants it to have a complex meaning, or moral, but once you read all the different theories you start to realize how simple it could possibly be. Now I'm not saying this is right, or wrong because this is my opinion on it. All though it does seem to be that Lewis carroll just wanted to get your gears in your mind turning. To get you thinking about it and really hooked on it, After watching it i wanted to know what the moral about it was but, now i just think that its just a nice story to show how everyone is special in their own way by getting everyone to discuss what they thought it was about.

rawr on February 11, 2014:

Your timeline is off. Alice didn't meet Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum until the second book. She ate the White Rabbits "eat me" cookies very early on in the first book. Therefore while the concept of Alice being disobedient to the parent figures of the twins is an interesting idea it is severely inaccurate. In the second book (where she meets the twins and is told the story about they oysters) she never even changes size, that is a characteristic of the story that is reserved for the first book only.

clearlycarter on December 03, 2013:

This is awesome. I'm currently studying early childhood education and relating this hub to what I'm learning is dead on. An innocence of a little girl who just doesn't understand sometimes. Also about the drug comments, I'm pretty sure that's just the movie. The book came first.

Dumb on November 05, 2013:

Great movie. It's just an American Classic. It's not based off acid. Possibly inspired by it. Maybe even written on it. But not a product of an acid trip. It's imply an imagined world with a fun and adventurous story line, creatively composed in some a mind-state not commonly experienced. I feel it is rAw creativity manifested in a children's story

Liddell on November 05, 2013:

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass, based upon stories he told Alice Liddell and her sisters while he was working at Cambridge University and the girls were living there. This story is NOT ABOUT DRUGS, its about a little girl with a big imagination that Dodgson was fascinated with, some would even say a little creepy with. But besides that he would be massively annoyed with anyone saying he was talking about drugs. He was a man with a large imagination himself, who didn't really fit in with the rest of society and he wrote stories that he dedicated to Alice Liddell. I'm not a goody goody who wants to damper your drug fun ideas when it comes to this story but that's not what it is so stop insulting it. The writer of this blog or whatever it is, is correct its about learning lessons about life and a little girl is the example of those lessons learned. But just to correct you blogger guy Alice's sister is reading her a story in the beginning, not her mother, and Disney took this story and warped it like he/they have done with every fairy tale since, So don't even use the Disney version as any type of comparison because that's not Alice in Wonderland. Stop picking apart Alice and just read the book you shouldn't have to explain what it is if you just have half brain and are literate. You're all stupid stop insulting a classic and just read it, its for children. Innocent minds can understand its meaning better than your corrupt and tainted adult minds, its like Tinkerbelle in Peter Pan once you stop just believing its over and ruined. Don't over analyze just look at it.

dwayne on October 03, 2013:

i don't like this..

down the rabbit hole on September 21, 2013:

All of you please do a Shamanic Journey then report back.....

karl on February 19, 2013:

Alice and wonderland started off as a story for the mentally challenged, but soon came to be a childrens story. the reason is because of the talking animals and fat twins who tell stories of baby sea creatures. Honestley it isn't about drugs... it is about the usage of the medicine to make it seem alright to do in the looney bin. and yes this is written by a twelve year old girl:) your welcome

Anon on September 24, 2012:

Brilliant. 17 thumbs up.

jupardu on August 24, 2012:

It's all about the moral decisions we make when faced with different type of dilemmas or realities in life or in our existence: good, bad, right, wrong, evil, poverty, power, insanity, wealth, fear, death, politics, mysticism or other representations and how we perceive to deal with it . Alice, as a symbol of curiosity in the book, is always in search of the truth behind all things; keeping her rationality - despite of antipathy - intact never to be subjugated. In the end, Alice woke up from that dream to her reality, always being curious of what's happening around her.

boom on August 09, 2012:

i really think that everyone can take something different from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. this means that everyone is right and wrong at the same time and thus makes no sense arguing about the meaning. it is unknown what lewis caroll (using the pen name) meant and its doubtful that we will ever know so arguing about whether this was about drugs, wars, algebra, politics, or sex won't do anything. just enjoy the book.

Sandi on June 06, 2012:

I think Alice and Wonderland was a Political Satire about the government as freedom of speech was not allowed back in those days so one could not voice their opinions and frustrations about the government. There was a lot of dope smoking(opium) and sex parties with a lot of people dying of syphilis due to lack of penicillin. Thus the stoned animals represented the incompentent party going leaders, etc.

priyanka on June 03, 2012:

its a book for children

Robin on May 29, 2012:

I must say that anyone who thinks that this story is merely a drug trip has little to no ability to think cognitively, creatively, deeply, or multifariously. The purpose of art is to send a message through different images; sometimes unrelated to what we call "common sense." This is why the reference to being "mad" is brought up. Often, what we call proper is excessive conformity that eludes us of the ability to think as individuals. Thinking as an individual means you are not abiding to "normal" standards among the populous. This isn't necessarily bad though. It merely means that you are on an uncommon route in life and that you have the ability to see beyond what others see! This is positive! This allows creativity, self-definition, innovation, etc. The artist plays this up a bit for fun by calling it "mad" or "bonkers" because once people are able to see outside of this sociological conformity... we are able to consider beyond what people tell us is strictly the right or wrong way to believe and/or think. This is seen in parental figures, politics, media, economical trends, etc among the masses kind of like children. The most innovative people in this modern and historical world were and are able to see beyond this illusion of conformed endemic neurosis of a society. This is the journey of Alice!

Sa(Meh)ha Saan on May 18, 2012:

The only book i actually agreed/enjoyed to read in middle school because of it's whismical theme and the fact that her imagination is similar to getting high or stoned...:D the other book i read was Killing A Mocking Bird in middle school cause my ex-boy-friend told me that the story or the plot consist of black people rapping and child molester, but after reading it i found out there are more then what my idiot ex-boyfriend explained....god boys and their Imaginations could have made another Alice in the Wonderland...-____-

Nice Explanation :)

nana on April 03, 2012:

clear explanation thanks

Alex on April 01, 2012:

You are right Lydia

Alex on April 01, 2012:

Mind control programming is what the movie is really doing illuminauti

sally joy on February 29, 2012:

I love it Hope you have more coming out soon!

LunaRosalina on February 22, 2012:

Insanity does come into play at cirtain points in the original book , though it is hardly shown in the Disney version of the tale, which angers me but the choice of not setting insanity in a child's mind is understandable. Want the true facts? Read the true tale.

t_model_girl on February 11, 2012:

who is Charles Frey and John Griffin?

janthonyd on January 16, 2012:

this is NOT about math, NOT about drugs (LSD wasn't even invented until 1898!). I just took a COLLEGE course on this. if you want the REAL answers email me

bluh bluh on January 01, 2012:

.... not to be rude but where's the deep message of insanity???

Silvers-Jain8 from MA on December 19, 2011:

Lovely, Alice in Wonderland is like a puzzle within a puzzle.

I enjoy this story always and this article was nice at analyzing this.