Alice in Wonderland, a fantasy novel in many respects, also portrays to the reader a vivid reflection of society, both in the sense of caricaturing Victorian England and, in a broader sense, aspects of society as a whole. We see this through many of the figures that Alice meets during the course of the story, as well as some of the situations that befall the young girl and her unique acquaintances.
Notably, one must remark on the fact that Wonderland is not a democracy, but a monarchy. The immediate thought to come to mind is that this story was written by a Briton (author Lewis Carroll) who resided in the quite hierarchical time of Queen Victoria. Wonderland is a place where, as was the case in Victorian England, a class system is rather evident. The story portrays an elite class, in which we find the rather amiable King and contrastingly despotic Queen of Hearts, as well as the Duchess, who is invited to play croquet with the Queen. We also find the so-called “commoners,” who are represented in figures such as the Mad Hatter, an unsuccessful businessman who is quite obsessed with time and consuming the British staple–tea. (Why, even the Mad Hatter”s never-ending tea party seems to mock the British tradition of tea time, an institution that is perhaps being portrayed to be as irrelevant to society as some of the nonsensical situations in this story itself).
Also, one finds the elder, hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the idle Dormouse, and the clique of creatures whom Alice meets upon finding refuge at the bank of the river of tears in Chapter III. Finally, we have the “servant” class of people, such as Duchess’ cook, the footmen, and the royal gardeners. Indeed, one of the most striking exchanges that occurs in the story is that which is found in Chapter VIII, when the three gardeners, scared for their lives about the Queen’s reaction toward discovering mistakenly planted white rose trees, throw themselves face first upon the ground. “And who are these?” said the Queen […] for, you see, as [the gardeners] were lying on their faces, and the pattern on their backs was the same as the rest of the pack, she could not tell whether they were gardeners, or soldiers, or courtiers, or three of her own children (79). While a comical affect, the scene also says something grander about societies, such as Victorian England’s and others, where class structures dominate. In fact, the scene suggests that we are not always necessarily judged as people, one and the same, but rather by our superficial titles, degrees, wealth statuses, and levels of attire. Much as the Queen had to decipher which “card” was which “card” by the number on their faces, so too do some societies distinguish people by such external attributes as our displayed wealth, level of social status, and degree of education.
Indeed, Alice in Wonderland is not merely a work of frivolity and fantasy. Each character and every situation speaks volumes about the larger scheme of Victorian England as well as certain aspects of various hierarchical societies to this very day. Clearly, this work serves not only to engage the imaginations of its readers, but also to hold up a poignant mirror to the faces of those who enter this incredible place known as “Wonderland.”
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 1865. New York: Signet, 2000.