Normality is a State of Mind

December 3, 2009

“You see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.” -The Cheshire Cat

In this quote, the Cheshire Cat is telling Alice that it is crazy because it is unlike dogs. This, in a way, reminds me of certain issues in our own society, such as peer pressure, stereotyping, and conformity. Many people truly do believe that if they are different than people around them, then something is wrong with them, and they must change. Most people within the groups of “normal” people agree with these outsiders, and brush them off as weirdos or outcasts unless they conform to be just like everyone else. How can a society function if people are too afraid of being cast off as crazy to dare to be different? How will advancements come to pass if nobody is willing to think in new ways? Of course, society is advancing, and there are individualists in the world working on new ideas, but if more people were willing to take a risk and be different, would advancement be faster? Better? No different?

This reminds me of one of the Duchess’ morals, “Birds of a feather flock together”. It is true; people with similar interests and personalities do seem to stick together and follow one another. High school is generically all about the cliques-there are the preps, jocks, nerds, emo kids, music kids, etc. Granted, not every school will have the exact same set of cliques, but cliques are always there. Now, what would happen if all of these groups intermingled with each other? Would it be absolute chaos, or would it be beneficial and rewarding for everyone to befriend people with different perspectives and different attributes than they themselves have? My personal opinion is that it would be the latter, but it seems as if most people are too afraid of being judged or mocked to try to meet new people and try new things.

Even in Wonderland, similar characters group together. The two “maddest” characters of them all, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, have a never-ending tea party together at the Hare’s home. As for the cards, all of the clubs were soldiers, the diamonds were the courtiers, the spades were the gardeners, and the hearts were the royal family. So, not only do all of the cards “flock together” at the Queen’s castle, but cards of each specific suit divide up as well. Not to mention the fact that, as per the Cheshire Cat, the maddest of the mad live in Wonderland, so all of the characters of Wonderland are a cohesive group of madmen. What if someone normal came into Wonderland? Would they be considered mad due to the fact that they are so different from the madness that is the norm in Wonderland? Does Alice fall into this category?

The point is, the rule is that similar people become friends and group up, while those who are willing to be in a group of people much different then themselves are the exceptions. Members of most groups are less welcoming to people who don’t share the same qualities that the rest of the group members share. Individuals stuck in a world of people who are different than they are are deemed mad, and they eventually can come to believe that themselves under enough pressure. Why? What defines madness? Craziness or insanity? Who are we to deem someone insane? For all we know, they could be thinking quite clearly, and it is we who are thinking senselessly. So, is insanity subjective, meaning in different societies the word has different implications and different definitions? If so, then a mad American could go to Asia, for example, and be welcomed and considered perfectly normal, relative to the majority of their population. The entire globe is divided into groups, sects, and regions all based on different beliefs, appearances, occupations, ethnicities, religions, etc. So, which of them are mad? My opinion is either everybody or nobody. That proves the Cheshire Cat’s assertion that everyone in Wonderland is mad; everyone in the entire world is mad according to someone. Or, theoretically, the madness of everyone could cancel out, and therefore nobody is mad. Either way you approach it, nobody is more mad than anybody else. So the point is, why can’t we all just get along?


  1. Many good questions! I’d like to gently challenge your thesis here. To attempt a paraphrase: insanity and sanity are entirely relative concepts, a function of culture, perspective, and worldview. Madness? Depends. You posit sanity as a state of mind rather than a mental state.

    Intriguing concept, and one that has many precedents, especially in literature—mystical insights and wisdom disguised as madness. You’re wise to pay attention to different cultural constructions of sanity, and the richness of their differences. But is that truly the end of the story? Does that wrap everything up? Aren’t there manifestations of “insanity” that truly are illness?

    Love your use of the Cheshire Cat quote to introduce your post and your idea of perspectives on madness. Worth a second reading just for the joy of it. The Cheshire Cat’s claim of madness pokes a satiric needle at the limitations (and *madness*) of a simplistic, rigid, myopic, canine-centric definition of sanity. Or definition of anything, for that matter. How delightfully odd and backwards is it that the most sensemaking character earns sanity street cred by telling us he’s mad. All of which suggests to the reader that we should be skeptical of anyone from Wonderland who claims to be sane.

    Interesting to place your relativist idea of sanity in context with the Cheshire Cat’s “definition” of madness. Same story, different tellings? I’m not so sure. Beneath the Cheshire Cat’s irreverent toying, might there be a harder point? What happens to our ability to make sense of the world if we make no distinction between sanity and madness?

  2. That is so true. Normality is just a state of mind. People are not ‘weird’ unless you believe it yourself. There is so much to explore with this theory. Why does everyone want to try to be normal? Why can’t people just accept the fact that normality does not really exist?

    Everyone is mad in their own way. I like your point that there are exceptions to every rule. So why would normality be any different? States of mind have a profound effect on how we are as individuals. So many people try to fit in, but what ties everyone together in Wonderland is the madness that brought them there in the first place. I really appreciate your use of the Cheshire Cat as the example. You’re mad. I’m Mad. Everyone’s mad. Why can that not be accepted. Society worries to much about the past and the future to worry about the present.

    If you are so inclined to be the best you can be, do it. All it can do is enhance your strongest qualities. Our state of mind can never be changed without acceptance. Accept yourself, how you are and normality will disappear. Props to your idea and concrete evidence. Great Work.

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