Posted by: jmacd32 | December 1, 2010

Alice, Childhood, and Fairy Tales

When Alice declares that she is not going to drink the potion “in a hurry” because “she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt , and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things,” she is referring to, as the Annotated Alice notes, “the traditional fairy tales [that are] filled with episodes of horror and usually contain a pious moral” (17). Alice connects these fairy tales to her story again in “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill” chapter.

‘It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, ‘when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole-and yet-and yet- it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy tales , I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one? ‘(39)

However, when Alice declares she is in the “middle” of a “fairy tale” her definition of “fairy tale” is much different than the “traditional…episodes of horror” she had referred to earlier (17). Her statement seems to reflect a shift in the role of children and children’s literature in Victorian England. Unlike the “traditional” fairy tales that were about teaching children a lesson through horrific events (like in the original Red Riding Hood where both the grandmother and Red Riding Hood are eaten by the wolf) Alice in Wonderland seems to depict a different definition of “the child” and “childhood.” Instead of learning a lesson, Alice is always “growing larger and smaller,” indicating that her story is more about navigating through childhood and the ascension to adulthood, rather than learning how to act like an adult when one is still a child (39).


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