Puberty in Alice and Wonderland

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One of the most prominent themes in children’s literature is maturation and grasping with adulthood. In keeping with this tradition, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland presents a girl who transforms immensely from the bored little girl who can’t imagine reading a book without pictures to the mature adult described at the end of the novel. Throughout much of the novel, the reader witnesses Alice struggling with frequent, rapid changes in her body. While the repeated size changes in the book serve to illustrate the difficulties of children in grasping the changes of puberty, the changes in Alice’s personality and state of mind that come with each fluctuation in size hint at the greater rewards of knowledge and certainty that accompany Alice’s maturation. Alice’s first adventure in Wonderland presents the emotional frustration that comes with being so uncertain about one’s identity. After noticing a fifteen-inch door and the flourishing garden that lays behind it, Alice expresses a desire to shrink in order to fit through it, a wish that is then fulfilled by her consumption of a drink laying on a nearby table (Carroll 22-3). From the onset of her time in Wonderland, Alice is concerned by her inability to fit in with her physical surrounding. We see this in her initial reaction to shrinking; she’s immediately elated expressing her pleasure at being “now the right size” (24). Yet this joy quickly dissolves into apprehension.. Alice’s sudden diminution is accompanied by a strikingly different perspective of her surroundings that creates a more hostile environment. Small and out of place, Alice’s persistent effort to climb up the slippery legs of the glass table brings her to tears. This sudden inability to conquer her surroundings startles Alice and concerns the narrator, who begins to repeat variations on the phrase “poor Alice” (24), causing readers to identify her shrunken state with frustration and dejection. Essentially, Alice’s response to being small in a large world seems to mirror the frustration of those who desire to grow up. Alice’s confusion merely continues after eating the cake she finds under the table (25). From the beginning, she is unsure in which way her body will respond: will she grow larger or smaller? Alice even delays to see how her body will respond to this relatively ordinary event, placing her hand on her head and awaiting the results “anxiously” (25). The resultant size change further alarms Alice as she explores her body after growing. With her increase in stature (26), Alice is so disconcerted on how far removed her head is from her feet that she meditates rather nonsensically on the idea in an effort to grasp the new perspective she has developed. Now too small for surroundings that were formerly too small for her (and even before that, just the right height), “[p]oor Alice” (27) is still in no position to achieve entering the garden. Remarkably, her initial reaction is quite similar: she begins crying hopelessly—but she quickly admonishes herself, claiming that “a great girl like [her]” (the word “great” here referring to her new size) has no business crying like the small child that appeared merely two pages before. Despite her remarkable change in size, then, Alice’s personality and views remain unaffected, a fact that leaves her even more frustrated as she continues crying. In other words, Alice knows she is acting inappropriately for her new size, but she still remains unable to seize control of her increasingly volatile emotions. Similar to biological hormone surges, Alice’s rapid changes in growth are accompanied by fierce emotions and mood swings that she is unable to control. Alice’s meditation upon the recent events also provides great insight into how changes in size have affected her mentally. On page 28, the girl confusedly discusses the identity crisis that has befallen her, identifying the puzzling question that these changes have led her to: “Who in the world am I?”...
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