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Themes

Themes

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Tragic and Inevitable Loss of Childhood Innocence

Throughout the course of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice goes through a variety of absurd physical changes. The discomfort she feels at never being the right size acts as a symbol for the changes that occur during puberty. Alice finds these changes to be traumatic, and feels discomfort, frustration, and sadness when she goes through them. She struggles to maintain a comfortable physical size. In Chapter 1, she becomes upset when she keeps finding herself too big or too small to enter the garden. In Chapter 5, she loses control over specific body parts when her neck grows to an absurd length. These constant fluctuations represent the way a child may feel as her body grows and changes during puberty.

Life as a Meaningless Puzzle

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice encounters a series of puzzles that seem to have no clear solutions, which imitates the ways that life frustrates expectations. Alice expects that the situations she encounters will make a certain kind of sense, but they repeatedly frustrate her ability to figure out Wonderland. Alice tries to understand the Caucus race, solve the Mad Hatter’s riddle, and understand the Queen’s ridiculous croquet game, but to no avail. In every instance, the riddles and challenges presented to Alice have no purpose or answer. Even though Lewis Carroll was a logician, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland he makes a farce out of jokes, riddles, and games of logic. Alice learns that she cannot expect to find logic or meaning in the situations that she encounters, even when they appear to be problems, riddles, or games that would normally have solutions that Alice would be able to figure out. Carroll makes a broader point about the ways that life frustrates expectations and resists interpretation, even when problems seem familiar or solvable.

Death as a Constant and Underlying Menace

Alice continually finds herself in situations in which she risks death, and while these threats never materialize, they suggest that death lurks just behind the ridiculous events of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a present and possible outcome. Death appears in Chapter 1, when the narrator mentions that Alice would say nothing of falling off of her own house, since it would likely kill her. Alice takes risks that could possibly kill her, but she never considers death as a possible outcome. Over time, she starts to realize that her experiences in Wonderland are far more threatening than they appear to be. As the Queen screams “Off with its head!” she understands that Wonderland may not merely be a ridiculous realm where expectations are repeatedly frustrated. Death may be a real threat, and Alice starts to understand that the risks she faces may not be ridiculous and absurd after all.

More main ideas from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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THEMES, MOTIFS & SYMBOLS QUICK QUIZ

Alice’s struggle to maintain a comfortable physical size is best understood as a reference to ___.
Death
Madness
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