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Themes

The violent moments in the Alice books stand in sharp contrast to the more lighthearted moments of fantasy. Many jokes are morbid or focus on the possibility of death. Conflict, battle, and even warfare are depicted as inevitable but pointless. People are shown to be bloodthirsty and irrational, resorting to violence even when it is clearly unnecessary. There is no attempt to make sense of violent or brutal behavior, although it is deplored and resisted. Violence and pain do not illustrate any moral point about the world; they are simply something to be noticed and avoided.

Questions About Violence

  1. Why is there so much arbitrary violence in the Alice books? Do you think the reader is meant to find this violence humorous, or does it detract from the humor of the stories?
  2. When does Alice herself feel violent impulses? What are they, and what causes them?
  3. How does the use of anthropomorphic characters (animals that behave like people) change our reaction to the violent moments in the Alice books? For example, how does the baby's transformation into a pig in Chapter 6 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland make the reader feel different about the child abuse in Chapter 5 (or does it)?
  4. Does violence ever have satisfactory or meaningful results in these stories? Consider the major conflicts: the Queen of Hearts and the members of her court, the battle between the Lion and the Unicorn, the joust between the Red and White Knights, and the fight between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Are any of these examples of violence productive? Can you find an implied message or moral here?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Violent moments in the Alice books are usually threats rather than actual bloodshed; they remind us of the dangers that exist in the real world, but they do not progress far enough to disrupt the fantasy story.

Violence in the Alice books is a shocking reminder of the suffering and pain that exist without reason in the real world. Even in her imagination, Alice can't escape this fundamental truth of existence.

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