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Role Of Adult Figures And Silencing In Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland And The Phantom Tollbooth

1577 words - 7 pages

While written in different time periods, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth seem to have an underlying commonality; using the power of literary nonsense, they react against and critique societal ideals and values, whilst subtly urging children to stray away from convention and conformity. At the beginning of each story, the child protagonists are shown to be oppressed by their societies in different ways. Alice’s Victorian society seems to be preventing her from coming into a true sense of self; While Milo’s 20th century society leaves him stuck as an uninterested, unthinking, and disconnected child. It is not until both Alice and Milo enter these nonsensical dream worlds that they embark on a quest to gain confidence within themselves and hopefully bring this newfound confidence back to the real world. While these nonsensical worlds may seem far removed from reality, by enabling children to gain authority and overcome the hypocrisies in their imagined worlds, it allows for both Alice and Milo to discover (and sometimes overcome – in Milo’s case) the hypocrisies of their own society. The adult figures that occur in these dream worlds help to reinforce the societal values in which the authors are critiquing. Encountering adults such as the Duchess and the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures and King Azaz and Officer Shrift in The Phantom Tollbooth, demonstrate the power dynamics between child and adult and work to challenge societal values.

When Alice enters Wonderland, everything she knows (or rather she thinks she knows) is completely turned upside down. As a result, when Alice is first confronted with the nonsensical ways of this dream world, she loses her sense of identity as she continually asks herself, “Who in the world am I?” (18). However, in confronting and challenging the adults in Wonderland she is able to expose the world for what it truly is, showing the potential for her to overcome the issues in her own society (though by the end when she wakes up, it is not certain that she has brought any of these lessons back home). In Wonderland, the vision of adults is completely opposite from what Alice knows in her real Victorian world; the adults pretend they are superior, yet they are presented as violent, irrational, and illogical. The Duchess seems to be the most prevalent in trying to exert power over Alice and works to demonstrate Carroll’s critique of Victorian England’s preoccupation with the class system. The Duchess first appears in the beginning of the ‘Pig and Pepper’ chapter in which she seems to be the antithesis of what Alice qualifies to be adult-like behaviour, as the Duchess is extremely rude and violently shakes the baby she’s holding (which turns out to be a pig). The Duchess returns once again in the ‘Mock Turtle’s Story’ chapter, to which Alice is surprised to find her mood has changed from violent to pleasant, attributing her bad temper to pepper as what “made...

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