Mimesis in Alice in Wonderland

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Essay on mimesis in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

A quest in search for the elements which consitute a new notion of mimesis in Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

Mimésis ve světové literatuře/Klára Kolínská, Úterý 10:50 – 12:25

“Who in the world am I?” Ah, that’s the great puzzle.[1] This question, asked by Alice herself at the beginning of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, anticipates the theme of identity and the reflection of mimesis in the literary nonsense and the author develops the subjects to the utmost and deepest experience in the two texts. By setting his main character in the world which creates a contrast to the Victorian age, Carrol embarks on a journey to explore certain aspects of the role language plays in communication, 'logical' nonsense and most importantly, he explores a new approach to the mimetic tradition. Moreover, he comments upon the notion of language as a social and cultural tool and discusses its values in the relation to the Victorian society. The aim of this essay is to discuss the various aspects of these and their influence on literature in regard to the Victorian atmosphere and further demonstrate the essential role of Carroll's nonsensical writing and the language play in relation to the mimetic tradition, which has certainly undergone a core change in Carroll's texts.

The two Alice books by Lewis Carrol serve as a manifesto of the author's disapproval of the Victorian society. This can be seen in the Duchess' statement: “Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.”[2] In this statement Carroll, ironically, gives an account of the Victorian society governed by the flurry of important-sounding, yet empty and dull rules. He invites Alice and the reader to embark on a chaotic journey in Wonderland by which he evokes a notion of a world completely absurd and different to the Victorian one. As Luciana Pire puts it: 'The Alice books provide an excellent mirror of both the dominant ideas and the concealed anxieties of the era, functioning as a gauge not only of repressed underlying cultural fears and fantasies, but also of the prevailing attitudes and ideas shaping Victorian consciousness.'[3] However, by creating an alternative world, Carroll, who perceives himself as an alienated person, standing aloof from the society does not only mirror it but more importantly, he draws on a wealth of sources from the Victorian society as schooling, for instance, and mocks it using ideas about language play and meta communication, both being the crucial means of expression for him. Although based on a solid premise – the language is an attribute of power in Wonderland - the path to understanding the chaotic natures of Wonderland and through-the-looking glass world is not that straightforward.

As Gabriel Schwab puts it: 'Surprisingly enough, Carroll's break with the mimetic tradition anticipated many new literary techniques developed later during the proliferation of multiple forms of experimental literature of the twentieth century –' [4] Carroll's approach, outstanding in his time, involves essential changes in the literary theory and more importantly, he further develops language, the philosophy of nonsense and meta communication as the means of expression. These three devices Carroll uses for the creation of his macabre world serve to structure a new mimetic technique which does not merely reflect the reality.

Carroll continually and tirelessly impinges upon the characters' focus on the literality of language which bears not only one role in the text. Firstly, it serves as a means of communication or rather misunderstanding, secondly, the language games characters play parody the reality. As Gabriel Schwab puts it: 'Refusing to serve as a “mirror of nature,” it thrives in the delirious space of the looking glass world in which language no longer...
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