we're all mad here

Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There allows us to see the world through the eyes of young Alice – a nonsensical perspective in which we see the absurdities and limitations that culture and language have upon understanding our reality. Shayla S.'s blog, Serendip, plays with this idea in an intriguing way:
Ironically, Alice's Wonderland is nonsensically logical. In Shayla's words, “to prove something is true, the contrary must first be disproven. In the context of nonsense; to show that something is logical, the opposite must be shown to be illogical. Carroll confuses this notion primarily through his word and logic play, illustrating the subjectivity of both truth and reality.” (Shayna S.).
When Alice is drowning in her own tears, she banters with the mouse:
"I had not!" cried the Mouse, sharply and very angrily.
"A knot!" said Alice, always ready to make herself useful, and looking anxiously
about her.
"Oh, do let me help undo it!"
"I shall do nothing of the sort," said the Mouse, getting up and walking away.
"You insult me by talking such nonsense!"

What, really, is nonsensical about this situation? Is it the fact that Alice mis-contextualizes the meaning of certain homophones, or is it the absurdity of a mouse her size telling her to stop doing so?

In her encounter with Humpty Dumpty, Alice questions word meaning:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone,
"it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

“Why should Alice reject Humpty Dumpty's authority to make up meanings whenever he desires? There is an established, official rulebook on the definitions of words (at least those that have been agreed upon to be recognized as words). To think that anyone can assign new and multiple meanings to words is illogical because we have the conception that she is unauthorized to do so. But who is authorized to write the dictionary? Oxford? Who is the (wo)man (or men or women or people) behind the curtain? Definitions of words are not entities in which we can rely on not to change. Many words completely transform from the original meaning into something entirely different. Here the nonsense of making a word be whatever one chooses lies within the notion that Alice and the reader believe language and grammar are fixed systems. Alice, like the reader, must draw herself away from her "normal" Victorian expectations and learn to accept the absurd as the new norm” (Shayla S.).
“For us, recognizing nonsense is an important part in our construction of our reality. Understanding what something is not alternatively adds to the understanding of what something is. It allows one to question the solidity of our definitions of things,of ourselves, and of the reliability of experience as a foundation of the sensible” (Shayla S.).

Through Alice’s changing assumptions, the reader is led to wonder, how fluid is our reality?

"She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself "Which way? Which way?" holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing, and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size: to be sure, this is what generally happens when one eats cake; but Alice had got so much out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way."

As a child, Alice is not yet limited by the dimensions that culture dictates. For Alice, hazy is the line between fact and fiction, between history and fanctasy, between rationality and imagination. For Alice, words can mean whatsoever the user chooses them to men, an idea contrary to traditional education. There lies within such an idea something extremely liberating-something I fear we lose grasp of as we grow up. In a way, I'm jealous of Alice. What I wouldn't give to go behind those bright blue eyes for a moment, to see the world in absolute wonder and curiosity, to be liberated from the confinement that the human-construction of words so often have upon our understanding and thought-process. In a very peculiar way, nonsense tells us more about ourselves than sense ever could.

@ 2012 by Rachel Lowry. All Rights Reserved.

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