Posted by: Kyle M. | December 3, 2009

Does Alice Dream of Electric Rabbits?

How can one not offer commentary on that absurd dream ending? It’s one of the oldest literary gimmicks in the book, and I’m not entirely certain why authors so frequently choose to cheapen their works with such an utterly amateur parlor trick. To be fair, it has been employed with success and thematic significance in the past; but as other bloggers have so keenly brought to light, there was no reason for the saga of Alice to end in this manner. It’s a buzz kill of the highest order, a tactic that CAN be used for artistic purposes…but not so here.

Make Wonderland a real place, or even a metaphor…but Carroll, oh Carroll, not the dream gag! Anything but that!

Or at least, that was my gut reaction.

Once I read the quite poignant and subtly profound ‘epilogue’ about Alice’s sister’s dream, I began to appreciate Carroll’s controversial but ultimately correct decision. Carroll’s dream reveal doesn’t serve as an “Everything that happened was meaningless, and you spent hours reading this to figure that out! Now it’s time for me to laugh all the way to the bank, suckers!” piece of shock value as it does in far too many other books; instead, it grounds Wonderland in a literal context (the sub consciousness) while allowing it to still boast multiple metaphorical layers. In fact, it calls to mind the recent, extraordinary adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s seminal Where the Wild Things Are. In the film (And book, to a lesser extent), the land of the Wild Things serves as an allegory for childhood itself, with each of the Wild Things being representative of a certain aspect of main character Max’s personality (There’s the one that just wants to destroy things, the one that feels that no one hears a word he’s saying, et cetera).

I’d go out on a limb and label this film as my favorite ‘kid’s’ movie of the decade, as it portrays childhood with uncompromising intensity and with an unflinching dedication to emotional veracity. The island of Wild Things might not look exactly like the environment of one’s early years…but it sure feels like it.

The same applies to Alice, particularly the closing lines. As Alice’s sister begins to dream on her own, imagining her sibling’s life in the future, she,

“…[pictures] to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.” (The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, pages 126-127)

Just like real childhood and the land of the Wild Things, Wonderland is a place of simple joys and simple sorrows, and should be remembered for the rest of one’s life, lest they lose sight of why they’re alive in the first place.

I commend Carroll for having the gall to use a dream conclusion, as it brought me what just might be amongst the greatest endings I’ve ever read.

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Responses

  1. Love your blog post title. Appreciated you sharing your thoughts as you grappled with the ending of the novel.

  2. I have to agree. The dream ending conclusion is the most logical way to achieve the most meaningful story. If Carroll had Wonderland being a real place, all ideas would be ruined because now he would have two real worlds that contradicted each other. Plus, dreams are the key to the subconscious and often contain true and distorted depictions of our thought, feelings, and experiences. By having Wonderland as a fictional place contained within a dream, Carroll can use it to mock the real world by distorting facts. Carroll meant to ridicule us and out attempts at civilization. In Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland, he criticizes our political, educational, and legal systems, as well as our social order. All of this would have been ruined if Wonderland actually existed.


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