Have you gone mad? Don't worry, all the best people are.
Welcome to Wonderland, I'll be your guide
In the third edition to the ever so daunting section of this blog—“How Did We Get Here?”—I chose to confer with myself about the timeless 1951 Disney corner-stone, Alice In Wonderland. I dove into this tale of ostensible fantasy to try and derive the dispositions of all the eccentric characters Alice meets along the way. During my watch of the film, my imagination extracted me from reality and sent me into Wonderland. Just like Alice, I incapsulated myself into a world of my own: a land where everything was nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrariwise, what it is, it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. Do you see?
After several watch-throughs, I came to the conclusion that this land entrenched in madness, isn’t such nonsense after all. Admittedly, internally many of my findings could be conjectured, for I have not read/watched the sequels. But, in my estimation, I arrived at the same overarching theme the vast majority seemingly deduce from this classic. The theme of growing up. I foraged through my cognitions, which eventuated to a priori of what it really takes to break free from childish axioms. It’s not just the process of breaking the adolescent chains, but the importance of those who assist you in breaking the chains. So, I implore you to join me in my journey of psychological exploration; of the peculiar characters throughout Wonderland, as well as analyzing the ever-so-joyful blossoming that is adolescence to adulthood. Let's grow up together.
The Same Old Story
The opening scene is Alice dozing off beneath a tree, adjacent to a riverbank that exudes the symphony of natural running water. A faint depiction of an illustrious castle can be seen off in the distance while Alice’s sister is reading her a history book. I couldn’t possibly fathom a better visual representation of adolescence. Half asleep, while someone is trying to teach you something for your own good. Grass grows, birds fly, the sun shines, and kids have an ego. Adolescent egocentrism is a plague that is a monotonous turnstile: a tale as old as time. It’s the inability of an adolescent to distinguish between their perception of what others think about them, and what people actually think in reality. This phenomenon leads to a world of make-believe that masquerades as a world of stability. Unfortunately, as I said, It’s the same old story. The continuation of providing life-altering advice for someone detached from the physical world is futile, for it is a journey of the self. Alice must alter her life on her own, all personal fables must be read individually. The disappearance of order can shatter the innocent child paradigms and create a sincere depiction of the world through the eyes of someone who has undergone pure chaos. AKA: an adult.
Nothing snaps an adolescent out of a daze quite like being late for a very important date. Time is a construct teenagers negate as much as they possibly can unless it is uniquely beneficial for them. In this case, during Alice’s exhaustion-induced hallucination, a white rabbit runs by. Not just an ordinary rabbit, but one that just pulled a pocket watch out of a waistcoat. Alice did what anyone who is ready to change would do and chased the rabbit down the hole from which he escaped. She is clearly disenchanted from the victorian way of life; so, she pursues the idea of curiosity. An admirable pursuit.
The impulsive fight or flight decision of chasing the white rabbit into a world unknown just might be the death of Alice; on the other hand, it just might bring out the best in her. Who knows, curiosity often leads to trouble, but maybe that’s what she needs? When all seems lost, the white rabbit appears throughout the story, symbolizing what you need the most.
Kicking and Screaming
In Alices’ first glimpses of Wonderland, she crept and crawled through a hole that looked like a meta-physical substrate that would appear to only rival a psychedelic journey. During the high-speed chase with the white rabbit, Alice finds herself in front of her first test—a door—with a doorknob that talks. Doors can manifest inviting feelings until you realize they are locked. Alice tries to open the door but the doorknob stated that it was "Impassable" as she was too big. This standoff of door and child becomes a tumultuous game: one of riddles, sweets, and size-changing potions. After drinking a potion labeled “Drink me”, Alice then cries her eyes out because the potion made her about a mile tall. Only moments into the tantrum she withers down in height to about 3 inches, to then be carried through the door in a literal sea of her own tears.
The doorknob was one of the only characters in the story that showcased any capacity for empathy towards Alice. A facade for what really happens in Wonderland. Relying on emotions may get you through the first door, but something tells me that won’t work again.
The Self Appointed Pseudo Composer
A Dodo Bird joins Alice on her surfs-up joy ride in her own tears, the first true fantasy character Alice meets in wonderland. Alice is stuck in a bottle and cries out for help. Despite being heard she is completely ignored by the Dodo bird. When Alice finally washes up on shore she sees the Dodo bird orchestrating a race around a rock. This race involves circling the rock until one gets dry, but all attempts are hindered by nonstop incoming waves. The Dodo bird could see everything that was coming because he was on an elevated rock standing idly by, while all the racers get crushed.
If you keep getting drenched by the same wave, question why you can’t see it coming. The answer to your question lies in seeing who is dry. I beseech all who read to think of someone who acts like the Dodo Bird. Who has Ignored your cries for help when you needed it the most, but comes to “save” the day when there is some utility. Everyone has that person in their contacts, that when their caller ID pops up you think to yourself “what do they want from me this time”. Even for people like the Dodo Bird, seeing the same race gets old, the waves will eventually calm down. There will always be another symphony for the self-appointed pseudo composer to compose, and someone else’s utility will be required for admission into his next concert. Don't worry, he will be back when he needs something, and when there is something to gain. As you grow older the Dodo Bird becomes extinct; as it should be, for you have seen that concert he composes far too many times.
The Precursor to the Wise: Voluntary fools:
The end of the race leads us to the introduction to some of the most famous characters from the series: Tweedle Dee, and Tweedle Dum. The two are coupled with non-ideal anatomical assembly with freakish movements, so Alice assumes it’s safe to say they are aptly named. After a brief interaction, she is ready to go based on a superficial hunch. It's hard to blame her for reaching that conclusion, for she just danced with the Dodo bird, whose underlying lesson was if there is no utility for the fool, then the fool doesn’t merit the time of day. At this point in Alice's story, you would hope that the first few lessons would come to fruition, and the application of fluid intelligence would be done so correctly. Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge. That’s where true utility lies. Sadly, Alice portrays an endogenous issue many adolescents showcase quite often: the absence of patience. Not everyone is going to show you their ace right away, but if you truly hear someone out they just might show you. The Tweedles try to teach her manners and play hide and seek. Their request is immediately met with wrath, most likely from the insurmountable frustration of prior hardships. This causes Alice to shout that she is too busy, for she is chasing the white rabbit. The “fools” change their posture and facial mannerisms immediately. They found someone that is curious, which manifested their desire to share their personal treasure. They knew some oysters that were curious once, good on Alice for being willing to listen. Maybe she is learning.
A wise man once told me, “The fool is the precursor to the master”. Everyone deep down has some idiosyncratic jewel they wish to hand out to everyone that needs it. You only need to scratch on the surface to find out who people really are, and what they have to teach you. Be patient, and learn to listen.
The story of the Walrus and the Carpenter is the personal treasure Tweedle Dee/Dum shared with Alice. The story begins with a Walrus strolling down a beachfront with his assistant: the carpenter. The two are famished, so the carpenter peaks his head underwater only to see a plethora of oysters sleeping with not a care in the world. The Walrus then saunters down below and asks the oysters if they would join them on a pleasant walk. The mother of the oysters clearly saw through the deceitful oversized seal’s plea; and before she could finish her thought, the Walrus whacked her shut with his cane. Without any guidance, the oysters marched with the charismatic Walrus all the way to his home like the pied piper leading the rats out of the city. At the dinner table, the Walrus and the oysters gathered all around while the carpenter fixed up some seasoning. By the time carpenter returned from the kitchen the Walrus had eaten all the oysters. Now, why did this happen?
In the early stages of growing up, kids ask “why” just about every five seconds. Somewhere along the way, the ego comes into play, and that one-worded wonder escapes their vocabulary. Unless it’s “why can't I go out?” or something of that nature. If you really want to understand the “Why?” of behavior, then you need to get familiar with people’s motivation. It can be mechanistic like the innate genetic dispositions of a reflex. Appetitive, which operates in expedient rewards and pleasures such as food. Or Rational conscious thought, which requires intellect, and knowledge of right and wrong. One’s energy must be taken into account, when desire is strong people’s behavior can prove to be quite resilient. When It’s weak and fragile people may disappoint. Generally, motivation is mostly about our own goals, so if you want to understand others, first understand yourself. This behavior was clearly an example of appetitive motivation, fueled by a burning desire to eat. Knowing the “Why?” will help you stay away from those like the Walrus, and excuse you from enticing betrayals. This is a story about manipulation using peripheral routes of persuasion. Killers come with smiles and you might be smiling hand in hand with malice. Pay attention, don't aimlessly march to your demise.
After the story concludes, Alice continues her chase with the ever so elusive white rabbit after being shrunk once again. The next obstacle in her travels appears after she runs into a garden where she meets a family of inviting flowers. During her attempt to befriend them, the child-like flowers proclaim they have beautiful singing voices and want to sing. That effort is impeded immediately by the leader (The Red Rose) who demands that they will sing "All in the Golden Afternoon" which is about all of the flowers in the garden. After the self-centered anthem, the inhabitants of the garden question what kind of flower Alice is. When she replies that she is a human being, the flowers chant in unison, labeling Alice a weed. This sparks a hostile behavior change, consensus had overtaken the group, leading the flowers to chase Alice out of their garden.
You would be hard-pressed to find someone that has not been denigrated by a larger group simply because one did not fit the same ideals of the group. Groups like the flowers act in such a supercilious matter that they only talk to people that they deem are worth talking to, or talk about people they deem worth talking about. Groups like these never have the slightest interest in what kind of flower you are, their only real interest lies in how well they can sing. Thank god flowers are only seasonal and play such a small part in our lives. It may be difficult to envision at the time, but trust me you would rather be a weed than a flower. Be authentically, unapologetically, you—not anyone else.
Look Inward and Start Asking Yourself the Big Questions:
After the exile from the fertilized cheerleaders, Alice comes across a caterpillar that is singing and smoking hookah. Alice thinks she is finally catching a break because someone is finally calm, and reticent. Yet the theme continues in wonderland, Alice’s schemas have failed her again. The calm caterpillar manifests an entirely new barometer of difficulty. To be honest the caterpillar is the epitome of what this part of the blog is, an expedition beyond the superficial. The caterpillar is someone unsatisfied with the surface of things. Someone who asks the big questions, “Who are you?” puffs the caterpillar.
Notice that he is the first creature in Wonderland alone? It’s not common to see someone who can be by themselves and enjoy it; in fact, one of my role models would call it a superpower. Growing up you are surrounded by people that are so terrified to be alone that it creates the inverse, ending up lonely. The ability to be alone without being lonely seems like a gift from a higher power. So many of my adolescent problems manifested themselves from my egotistical refusal to sit quietly in a room and reflect on where I currently am. As well as the more important question, where I was headed.
You can’t handle the truth
The Caterpillar leaves Alice with a mushroom with ambiguous instructions. Eat one part of a mushroom to grow larger and one part on the other side to grow smaller. Alice once again grows a mile tall and smashes through serval trees on her growth to the sky. During the process, a bird landed on Alice’s head screaming “serpent! You’re a serpent here to eat all of my eggs!” Despite constant verbal redirection, the bird refuses to believe that she is a girl just trying to find a white rabbit.
The inability to break the initial interpretation of something is a disease that leads to pure misery. There will be many throughout your life that suffer from this illness and there is only one treatment. Don't do anything for anyone—do it for you. Those that think you are a serpent here to eat their eggs will always think so regardless of what you do. Those that are impressed with your curiosity to find the rabbit will always be impressed regardless of what you do. So make sure your goals are your aspirations, and nobody else's.
Once shrinking down away from the myopic bird, Alice enters the Tulgey Woods. There, the most iconic character appears out of thin air—the Cheshire Cat.
He begins by offering her help with directions. Our naive Alice tries to evoke empirical answers, but he can't help himself to play the role of the riddler. The feline puppet-master continues the brandishing of his extraterrestrial abilities. After many games, he advises Alice to seek answers from the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. She, not wanting to associate with mad people, denies the advice; but, he claims that everyone in Wonderland is mad: including himself. He then slowly dissipates into thin air, laughing maniacally and singing like a loon in the process. In his next appearance, later in the film, he provides the answer he had all along. A shortcut to the Queen of Hearts.
I modeled much of this post from the Cheshire Cat. He is Alice's guide. He has the answers, but wants to make sure Alice is well tested before her final destination in Wonderland. Although shortcuts have a negative connotation, he makes sure she is ready for war with madness before allowing her to go through. Growing up, we all need a Cheshire Cat. Someone who will push us toward the path of most resistance, the path to the Queen of Hearts. The path to the Queen of Hearts provides ephemeral agony, but the end result leaves you in a sheer state of tranquility.
Madness? THIS IS A TEA PARTY
Alice visits the Mad Hatter in the middle of the most preposterous tea party ever created, whose guests include: the March Hare, and the Dormouse. They are singing "The Unbirthday Song" but are dumbfounded when Alice starts to applaud. At first, the flabbergasted behavior aires because Alice came without an invitation, but the labile stooges then become pleased when Alice compliments their singing. Alice is then welcomed to officially join the tea party. As Alice tries to explain her reasons for visiting, the Mad Hatter and March Hare keep changing the subject. Soon the party is once again interrupted by the White Rabbit, which is only the start to more complete aimless buffoonery.
The epistemic ritual that is a tea party is an event that demands social norms and a full understanding of cultural rules. One must exhibit stark class, and prior knowledge of such pompous behavior is a prerequisite. In spite of the history of this astute ceremony, the tea party is nothing but a function of chaos. In order to learn anything, you must critique the standard, even if that involves the risk of being objectionable to norms.
Alice returns to the Cheshire Cat and enters the shortcut to a gorgeous garden. She encounters 3 members of the royale guard, channeling their inner Picasso. The cards try to elucidate to Alice that they are painting the roses red because the Queen likes the color, for it fits her vibrant personality. The simple cards planted white ones by mistake, and break into song in typical Disney fashion to tell their story.
During the climax of the sob song, Incomes outlandish Nazi-like goose-stepping playing cards to see what all the ruckus in the garden is about. Unfortunately for the original 3 cards, the Queen catches on to their ruse due to a single poorly painted rose and has them beheaded.
This goose-stepping brought me to a similar conclusion from one of the most influential books I have ever read. Ordinary Men, by Christopher Browning. A story of how ordinary men become murderers for the Nazi party. This is about the progressive crystallization of the conscience. When you go against your conscience for the 1st time, it is easier the 2nd time, then easier the 3rd. You end up in the darkest of places one step at a time. Don't step like a goose: watch where you're going.
The Queen with no Self-esteem and the King with no Bling
Disney describes it the best: The Queen of Hearts is the tyrannical and deranged ruler of Wonderland with a sadistic penchant for beheadings. When Alice arrives in the kingdom and inadvertently humiliates the monarch, the Queen of Hearts becomes obsessed with decapitating the girl. Alice escapes death and finds herself at the same talking doorknob from wince she came. Crying once again, but this time with a purpose. She had seen enough of Wonderland, she wanted to go home, where things were familiar.
Wonderland will know the story of Alice. The story that a young girl stood against a tyrant, that small stood against tall, and before the trial was over, even a Queen of Hearts can bleed.
Once you learn the Wonders of Wonderland: You are All Grown Up
The Alice that entered Wonderland was never seen again. She returned out of her daze a much different individual. She returned much wiser thanks to the wonders of Wonderland. As daunting as Wonderland may seem, don't let the chaos of Wonderland tear you down piece by piece. When the pieces of you fall off, the kid in you will put them right back where you found them. Not for one second could Alice in her Innocent mental state cognize that maybe that piece fell off for a reason; that part of her, could definitely use a polished augmentation before returning it to its rightful place. A lesson only understood by those who have been welcomed to Wonderland.
Remember, those we meet along the way stay in our minds forever.
Make sure your Wonderland is a place worth chasing. It was a pleasure to be your guide, sorry for the madness.