Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland is one of the most beloved stories of all time – and one of the most provocative ones. It seems as if everyone who sets out to decode the author’s message happens to find some new implications and present new insights into Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. One might argue that when analyzing Alice In Wonderland from the lens of various developmental models, some intriguing things can be traced.
The character of interest in regard to the story is the protagonist – Alice, whose journey on the way to find herself is estimated as the central conflict. Tim Burton’s Alice is not a little girl who dozes off in the garden. She is a young adolescent who does not know what she wants in life; she seems strange to everyone because of her overactive imagination and peculiar way of thinking. Alice lives in a conservative world, a world full of rules and high moral standards. For 13 years, she has constantly had the same nightmare. In her childhood, only her father was able to reassure her, explaining that it was only a dream and only she could choose her own path. Now Alice is an adult, going to a dinner party at Lord Ascot’s estate. There, Alice unexpectedly receives a marriage proposal from a foolish and obtuse son of the Lord named Hamish. Borrowing some time to think about it, she throws herself into the depths of the garden. Suddenly she notices a funny rabbit wearing a black coat.
In pursuit of the rabbit, Alice falls into a huge hole. After a long flight, she finally lands in a very strange room with a variety of doors. Having made several attempts, through trial and error, she finds herself in the fairytale world of her childhood night dreams. She is greeted at the entrance by the joyful inhabitants of the land. Among them is the funny rabbit, as well as the Dormouse named Mallymkun, brothers Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and Jubjub Bird. After introducing themselves, they take the girl to the Caterpillar named Absolem, who is supposed to tell Alice why she is even here. Soon she meets other residents of the magic world, makes loyal friends, and joins them in an effort to bring peace and freedom back to the kingdom.
In a sense, Alice In Wonderland is the story of a girl who goes through growing up. When employing Freudian stages of development, four of them – oral, phallic, latency, and genital – are the ones that can be traced with Alice (GEÇGEN, 2021). The child’s fixation in the oral stage is their mouth. One can note that this stage is represented by Alice eating and drinking strange things. Food and drinks, in general, play a crucial role in the narrative – they control Alice’s size.
The phallic stage is symbolized by the notion that the lack of the child’s satisfaction with their sexual desires through sucking may turn into hyperfixations such as smoking, drinking, or mindlessly consuming food. Upon entering Wonderland, Alice makes her way into a long hall, which is full of different doors. The bottle with the label “Drink Me” and the cake with the label “Eat Me” encourage Alice to do just that, and after taking sips and having a bite, she finds herself changing rapidly – she shrinks first and goes up in size after. The change in Alice’s size is the metaphor for her development from being a child to becoming a grown-up. Getting bigger is the symbol of entering puberty (GEÇGEN, 2021).
In the latency stage, Geçgen (2021) notes, the child begins to develop social skills and build meaningful relationships with peers or adults. When Alice reaches the fork in the road and does not know where to go, she encounters Cheshire Cat, who answers her questions – in a vague way, but he does. In helping Alice to understand Wonderland, Cat serves as a sort of mentor and a role model for the girl. He guides her through adolescence, being a metaphor for a parental figure or a teacher.
At last, Alice gets to grow up and face the world. While in the novel, she does it by challenging the King in a trial and claiming her dominance; Burton changes this plot arc. Still, the protagonist gains more ego and presents herself as a force to be reckoned with, which is a triumphant conclusion of the story.
There is another angle to contemplate: when turning to Erikson’s stages of development, some interesting remarks are to be made concerning Alice. Stage 5 presents puberty and adolescence and is defined by the search for identity. When Alice grows up to be nineteen years old – that is her age in the movie – she is confronted with expectations to marry and take on the role of a wife and a mother. She does not like these options but thinks that she has no choice and feels trapped at the family reunion at Ascots. Thus, according to Flegar and Wertag (2015), Alice finds herself undergoing an identity crisis when entering Wonderland. Upon finding herself there, she experiences changes in regard to her body and feels more independent than before, but she is still insecure due to not being able to explore her identity. Stage 5, according to Erikson, implies that “the young person, in order to experience wholeness, must feel a progressive continuity […] between that which he conceives himself to be and that which he perceives others to see in him and to expect of him” (Flegar & Wertag, 2015, p.233). In that sense, Wonderland can be interpreted as a reflection of Alice’s struggles and doubts that she has to conquer in order to discover who she is.
She gets the chance. From the Caterpillar named Absolem, Alice finds out that she is supposed to destroy the beast called Jabberwocky on a fateful day. Tim Burton makes his protagonist engage in a battle in order to symbolize her overcoming her internal hardships by slaying a monster and becoming a hero for the creatures of Wonderland, which is a very typical turn of a grand movie. Moreover, this adaptation features other attributes of an example of a high fantasy genre: opposites in the faces of the good ones and the bad ones – that is, those on Alice’s side and those who are against her – and various references to the customs and rituals of Wonderland. Nevertheless, the film ends like any good story should – with the heroine reaching her goal with the help of her support system. For Alice, reaching her goals means realizing who she is and finally growing up (Flegar & Wertag, 2015).
All in all, it is evident that Tim Burton’s version of Alice In Wonderland differs from Lewis Carroll’s immortal work in a few aspects and plot arcs. However, that difference is what helps to look at Alice’s story from the angle of evolvement and becoming with the assistance of Erikson’s stages of development. At the same time, there is no dismissing the context that was originally put in the novel by Carroll and can be viewed through Freud’s psychoanalytic stages. While some may argue that the movie replaced some crucial moments of the novel with the elements typical of a Hollywood movie, the message still can be traced, and the moral is apparent nevertheless.
In conclusion, the significance of the story of one girl who is on the way to finding herself cannot be overstated. It can be analyzed from various points of view and be interpreted from many different angles – even if these interpretations lead some to believe that it is a perversive fantasy of the author. Tim Burton himself, the King of the gothic genre of the cinema, who used whimsical tools and his unique vision to make the story of Alice his own, did not break its spirit; rather, he added more flavor to it. At the end of the day, Alice is the perfect protagonist for anyone – be it a child, a teenager, or even an adult – who needs to grow up. She is the perfect example of how in order to do that, one must conquer themselves first and the world around them second – which is a very wise way to go about life.
Flegar, Ž., & Wertag, T. (2015). Alice Through the Ages: Childhood and Adaptation. Libri & Liberi, 4(4.2), 213-240.
GEÇGEN, D. (2021). The Hidden Message: A Study of Pedophilia in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita from Freudian Psychoanalytic Perspective (Doctoral dissertation).