Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass record the adventures and exploits of one little girl through a variety of strange fantasylands. Exploration in these books is a playful romp through the nonsense-world of one's imagination. The world itself is explored, but so are the mind, language, and the limits of reason and knowledge. Exploration is always bittersweet, because it has definite limits and will come to an end all too soon. There need not be any particular goal to the voyage beyond seeing and experiencing curious things, but it helps to have an objective to journey toward, if only to make it easier to choose a path.
Alice is able to explore Wonderland and Looking-Glass World in a more ingenuous, lighthearted way than she could explore the real world, because she feels safer and has greater independence in her imagination.
Alice casts herself as a brave explorer venturing into new worlds that need to be described, cataloged, and systematized.
Identity in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass is constantly shifting. Its instability creates anxiety and confusion, but also enables another kind of exploration. We must question what it is that really constitutes identity – names, behaviors, abilities, knowledge, beliefs, or something else. In addition, it is easy to split identities, to understand both sides of an issue or to feel like several personalities are struggling within one person. The reader, like the protagonist, must continually question her own identity and admit that she is uncertain about it in order to make progress in her quest.
Alice's experiences in Wonderland teach her that it's more important to know what you know than to know who you are.
Alice's experiences in Wonderland teach her that true self-knowledge comes from understanding your habits and behaviors first and labeling your identity second.
In the Alice books, language continually fails to provide an adequate means of communication. In fact, the complex and confusing nature of language frequently leads to miscommunication. Often this miscommunication is due to rival interpretations of the same words or sounds, such as mixing up words that sound the same but have different meanings (homophones), taking metaphors literally, or mixing different languages. In the most extreme cases, communication is impossible because one party to the conversation has a completely different idea of what is being said than the other. However, these miscommunications are the source of comedy and amusement rather than actual harm. The narrator and the reader take a special joy in the multiple meanings that can be found in language.
In the Alice books, the fact that words can be interpreted in so many different ways makes communication difficult.
Although communication is complicated in the Alice books, Humpty Dumpty's example shows that there is nothing inherently wrong with language, as long as both people in a conversation understand their words in the same way.
The Alice books celebrate youth as a time when the individual is open to imaginative possibilities. Childhood is praised, not exactly as a period of innocence, but as a state in which many things are possible. Children can't help growing up, but they can refuse to grow old, and even old men can maintain a youthful outlook by preserving a spirit of nonsense and adventure. One can be either too young or too old, and the best course seems to be digging in one's heels and insisting on remaining as childlike as possible. Growth is depicted as out of one's control, but emotional growth can, perhaps, be resisted. Adulthood in these books seems almost ridiculous in contrast with youth; adults are bossy know-it-alls who like to throw their weight around and rain on the parades of the young.
Alice's youth is the source of her imaginative capability, and the books suggest that, as she ages, her ability to conjure up fantasy worlds will diminish.
Alice grows and changes in a variety of ways in Wonderland and Looking-Glass World, but her childlike nature doesn't depend on her size or age.
The Alice books both embrace and mock book learning. Frequently, the things children learn in the schoolroom are parodied as impractical or inapplicable to real life. Alice absorbs rote lessons but has trouble putting them in context or understanding their real-world applications. Yet the books also demonstrate respect for education and knowledge in the broader sense, and much of the humor is intellectual or dependent on a high level of educational attainment. The books also raise the question of how moral or practical lessons should (or should not) be integrated with more abstract academic knowledge.
Although the Alice books mock education, they also depend on the reader's knowledge to create their comedic effects.
Despite the nerdiness of many of the jokes in the Alice books, it's possible to enjoy the nonsense and silliness of the stories even if you don't understand all the nuances. The books are designed to appeal to people with a variety of backgrounds.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are often thought of as "philosophical" fantasies. In fact, these books offer no specific coherent philosophy of life. They do, however, have a veneer of philosophy in their approach to intellectual matters. Often this philosophical attitude is depicted through characters who seem out of touch with the real world. Many of the more philosophical-sounding statements made in the books are nonsensical and seem to poke fun at readers who try to take them too seriously. The only consistent philosophy here seems to be that life is absurd and resists a moralistic interpretation.
Alice's adventures show her that life itself is absurd; all that she can do is try to find enjoyment in the things around her.
Alice has a secret craving for organization and meaning, and when the things around her are nonsensical she is irritated and frustrated.
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.
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.
Throughout Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, it is only possible to understand the strangeness and curiousness of the fantasy world by comparing it to the "real world" – in this case, Victorian England. Fantasyland serves as a contrast to "real life," helping us better understand our own reality.
Wonderland is not a direct allegory for the real world, but it does contain some episodes of allegory that add a satirical flavor to the text.
There is nothing in Wonderland that is purely fantastic; each character or event in the fantasy world is based on something that happens or someone who exists in the real world.
Madness is the explanation for just about any silly, curious, or crazy behavior in theAlice books. The reader must give in and accept a certain degree of irrationality in order to enjoy the tales. Madness is not simply the opposite of sanity; there are many degrees and types of madness, each of which deviates from the norm in a different way and to a different extent. Madness has no negative connotation; on the contrary, it seems freeing and interesting. However, madness in these books is different from foolishness, which evokes pity and compassion.
Although the Cheshire Cat claims that all the characters in Wonderland are mad, they're actually relatively reasonable – they just have different underlying assumptions about how the world works.
In the Alice books, "madness" is just another term used to describe things that are fantastic or imaginative.
Confinement in the Alice books is almost always literal and physical (for instance, when Alice gets stuck in the White Rabbit's house). Freedom is gained by ingenuity and imagination, which create sensations of lightness and make escape possible. However, confinement also has a protective aspect; sometimes our heroine confines others in order to shelter them from danger. This in turn makes us wonder whether there are reasonable limits on freedom that are necessary for safety. While imagination and fantasy offer escape routes, they can also introduce new and unknown dangers.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland depicts growing older, represented by growing larger, as an unpleasant process that creates a feeling of confinement.
Although Alice often feels trapped when she grows larger, she also feels vulnerable when she grows smaller, suggesting that childhood is an imperfect balance of youthful freedom and adult strictures.