Alice is a sensible prepubescent girl from a wealthy English family who finds herself in a strange world ruled by imagination and fantasy. Alice feels comfortable with her identity and has a strong sense that her environment is comprised of clear, logical, and consistent rules and features. Alice’s familiarity with the world has led one critic to describe her as a “disembodied intellect.” Alice displays great curiosity and attempts to fit her diverse experiences into a clear understanding of the world.
Alice approaches Wonderland as an anthropologist, but maintains a strong sense of noblesse oblige that comes with her class status. She has confidence in her social position, education, and the Victorian virtue of good manners. Alice has a feeling of entitlement, particularly when comparing herself to Mabel, whom she declares has a “poky little house,” and no toys. Additionally, she flaunts her limited information base with anyone who will listen and becomes increasingly obsessed with the importance of good manners as she deals with the rude creatures of Wonderland. Alice maintains a superior attitude and behaves with solicitous indulgence toward those she believes are less privileged.
The tension of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland emerges when Alice’s fixed perspective of the world comes into contact with the mad, illogical world of Wonderland. Alice’s fixed sense of order clashes with the madness she finds in Wonderland. The White Rabbit challenges her perceptions of class when he mistakes her for a servant, while the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Pigeon challenge Alice’s notions of urbane intelligence with an unfamiliar logic that only makes sense within the context of Wonderland. Most significantly, Wonderland challenges her perceptions of good manners by constantly assaulting her with dismissive rudeness. Alice’s fundamental beliefs face challenges at every turn, and as a result Alice suffers an identity crisis. She persists in her way of life as she perceives her sense of order collapsing all around her. Alice must choose between retaining her notions of order and assimilating into Wonderland’s nonsensical rules.
The Cheshire Cat is unique among Wonderland creatures. Threatened by no one, it maintains a cool, grinning outsider status. The Cheshire Cat has insight into the workings of Wonderland as a whole. Its calm explanation to Alice that to be in Wonderland is to be “mad” reveals a number of points that do not occur to Alice on her own. First, the Cheshire Cat points out that Wonderland as a place has a stronger cumulative effect than any of its citizens. Wonderland is ruled by nonsense, and as a result, Alice’s normal behavior becomes inconsistent with its operating principles, so Alice herself becomes mad in the context of Wonderland. Certainly, Alice’s burning curiosity to absorb everything she sees in Wonderland sets her apart from the other Wonderland creatures, making her seem mad in comparison.
As the ruler of Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts is the character that Alice must inevitably face to figure out the puzzle of Wonderland. In a sense, the Queen of Hearts is literally the heart of Alice’s conflict. Unlike many of the other characters in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts is not as concerned with nonsense and perversions of logic as she is with absolute rule and execution. In Wonderland, she is a singular force of fear who even dominates the King of Hearts. In the Queen’s presence, Alice finally gets a taste of true fear, even though she understands that the Queen of Hearts is merely a playing card. The Gryphon later informs Alice that the Queen never actually executes anyone she sentences to death, which reinforces the fact that the Queen of Hearts’s power lies in her rhetoric. The Queen becomes representative of the idea that Wonderland is devoid of substance.