Clamoring for Chaos

November 30, 2009

This entry was originally inspired by the following entry from Lewis Carroll’s diary:

“Query: when we are dreaming and, as often happens, have a dim consciousness of the fact and try to wake, do we not say and do things which in waking life would be insane? May we not then sometimes define insanity as an inability to distinguish which is the waking and which the sleeping life? We often dream without the least suspicion of unreality: ‘Sleep hath its own world,’ and it is often as lifelike as the other.”

So, this causes one to ponder some obvious questions: how do we know we’re awake, as opposed to dreaming? What happens when we dream? Which is reality, the world we live in when we are awake or that when we are asleep? Where do dreams come from? Are they filled with random objects, people, and ideas, are they filled with symbols of our greatest subconscious desires, or are they something else entirely? And, perhaps most importantly, why, and how can we possibly know?

I do not know the answers to all of the above questions, however, let’s assume for the time being that dreams are a result of one’s innermost feelings, desires, and thoughts. If Alice was truly dreaming, then does that mean that being in a world with no parents, no rules, and no limitations is what she longs for most? I wonder, is it the character Alice desiring such freedom, or could Carroll be acknowledging the fact that Alice Liddell most likely does as well? Possibly, he knew that young Alice Liddell longed to grow up, move out of the house, and live life on her own, and wrote the story for her around those desires in order to make Alice truly love and relate to it.

In Alex D.’s post, “Growing Pains,” he proposes the idea that maybe the part of the story in which Alice grows to a point that she is stuck inside a house and cannot get out (complete with an illustration that depicts her with an expression of great frustration and discomfort) is Carroll’s representation of the reality of Alice Liddell growing up to the point where she wants and needs to be set free and let out of her home to explore the world on her own. Alex toyed with the idea that maybe Carroll stuck his character of Alice inside the house because in reality he dreads the day when the real Alice will leave him and go off on her own, but inside he does know that this is what she truly wants.

I find that theory very interesting, and it ties into the idea that dreams show one’s true desires. Maybe that is why Carroll set the story up to be a dream, because he knew Alice longed for these things, and that nothing, no matter how hard he tried, would keep her from them. What better way to show her that than to have his character dream of it? If that is the case, then Wonderland, all of its quirks, and all of the things Alice did and people she met probably represented something. However, yet again, if this idea is anything close to what Carroll was actually striving for, then it is doubtful that Wonderland is nearly as dark as it is sometimes interpreted to be. Maybe it truly is as innocent as it seems at first glance. Then again, maybe Alice Liddell was a disturbed little girl (I, personally, would be if I had older men creeping on me), or, maybe Carroll put a part of his own dark side into the story. Or, maybe Carroll simply made the adventure a dream because dreams, as he said in the quote above, give reason to insanity. Maybe he just needed a way to bring her back to reality, either for the story’s sake or because he really wanted to bring Alice Liddell back down to reality and reason. There are endless possibilities.


  1. Good post. I like your question, “How do we know we’re awake, as opposed to dreaming?” Someone asked me the same thing the other day, not related to Alice. It’s crazy to think that what we hold to be true could be the opposite. I cannot answer that question though, I just liked it. Your question about whether our “greatest subconscious desires” are in our dreams is a good one too. I would say maybe. I think that events in our life show up in our dreams if we look for them. People that we encountered or thought of before we fell asleep typically make an appearance in our dream. Our desires may not always be present, but I think they can show up from time to time. Then there are dreams where everything is just a conglomeration of pure randomness. So Alice may have wanted to grow up and get away from her parents and live a carefree and crazy life or it may have just been one of those other dreams where not a lot makes sense.

  2. I Really enjoy dome of the questions you proposed about Alice in her ‘dream’. I like your exploration of the true desires in dreams. Carroll could easily write the story as a dream, because it aqllows him to analyze the psycology of children, as well as the boundaries of ‘rationality’. I believe that all dream have something that came be connective to the real world, even in a tangential sense. Insanity can be found in dreams in reference to the barriers we find on a day to day basis in the real world. However, all drems do not give reason to insanity, because dreams can be dismissed as a dream. This could be a major theme that Carroll is portraying in Alice. Thanks for the analysis. It provides me with alot of ideas to ponder, and you have inspired me so much. I may write my own blog about the dichotomy of dreams and reality.

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