Analyzing ‘Alice’ – the Manifestation of Domestic Abuse

We write the things we can't always say.

There’s no doubting that Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a masterfully-written piece of literature. And while much of it describes an erratic world filled with imbalances and nonsensicalities, Carroll brings a number of universal issues to light through the use of extended and proseaic metaphor. Such issues include the struggle to find identity, internal growth, integration and equality, the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of society, change in circumstance, several mental health issues – and so many, many others. Some of these issues are depicted through narrative, others are embodied by certain characters.

The issue of domestic abuse in Alice’s Adeventures in Wonderland is brought up in a short passage in a chapter called Pig and Pepper, and is embodied in the character known as the Duchess. At the beginning of the chapter, Alice is greeted by a footman and a Fish-Footman, who declares outside the abode of the Duchess that she is invited by the Queen “to play croquet“. The Fish-Footman then leaves and the remaining footman resolves to sitting on the ground outside the Duchess’s home. He tells Alice that there’s no use in knocking on the door as “they’re making such a noise inside, no-one could possibly hear you“. And Alice observes the sound of howling and the crashing within the house “as if a dish or kettle had been broken to pieces“.

The footman then details to Alice that “if you were inside, you might knock, and I could let you out, you know” – as if the feat of leaving such a place was one to be desired and simply entering was not. The footman tells her that he would sit outside the house for days and days and days – and asks her if she reallly does want to go in: “Are you to get in at all? That’s the first question, you know.”

During this exchange between Alice and the footman – a large plate comes flying out the front door of the house and grazes the footman’s nose before shattering against a tree. When Alice enters the house, she notices the smoke all around within, the cook by a cauldron, the Cheshire Cat and the Duchess nursing a “howling” baby. The Duchess is irritable and calls the baby a “pig” with such violence that Alice jumps in surprise. As Alice and the Duchess get into conversation, the cook takes the cauldron of the fire and begins throwing everything within her reach at the Duchess and the baby: “the fire-irons came first; then followed a shower of saucepans, plates, and dishes” – supposedly with no real trigger. The Duchess responds by taking no notice, by simply absorbing the impact of the blows with no reaction, she doesn’t even sheild the child: “The Duchess took no notice of them even when they hit her; and the baby was howling so much already, that it was quite impossible to say whether the blows hurt it or not“. This is a depiction of how domestic violence is received – the recipient suffers in silence and bears the punishment in patience, for whichever reason. The Duchess’s lack of reaction – even when her baby was hurt – shows the rather shocking level of resignation she has to her circumstance. It’s certainly enough to make Alice feel uncomfortable.

The phrase that the Duchess says after this resounds with so many that have suffered from domestic abuse: “If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a deal faster than it does“. There’s so much fear and stigmatism and doubt that surrounds a person that is aware that their community knows that they live in a violent and unsafe home. Many cases are never reported, much less solved, due to this fear and doubt. The fear that their children might be taken away, the fear that their partner might punish them a great deal more, the fear that they themselves might have to venture out into a world full of unknowns. How difficult must it be to leave the only life you’ve ever known? Accompanied by the paranoia that everyone knows. Thus, the wrong yet recurrent thought is that if everyone was to leave the victim(s) alone, they could resign to suffer in silence like they intend. Every domestic violence case that I’ve had to deal with, I’ve met people that just wish that an suthority hadn’t poked their nose in – even though that authority (more often than not) wants what’s best for them and any children involved. It is a sad reality that is presented in such few words. The Duchess even goes so far as to rebuke Alice for the naivete that she shows in the violent manner of “chop off her head“, and tells Alice not to bother her further.

The Duchess herself is abusive to the “baby“, even she is nursing the child and singing it a lullaby – she gives it “a violent shake at the end of every line” of the tune. The abuse that she herself is suffering, she projects on her baby. “She kept tossing up the baby violently up and down, and the poor little thing howled so” – the Duchess feels no regard for the plight child either as she is harming it. It is not uncommon for the abused to project abuse. In the minds of so many, especially those that deigned not to resolve to put their abuser to justice, it becomes a matter of ‘I dealt with the problem, I bore that violence and hatred with patience: why can’t you?’ Over time, this sort of inhumane treatment becomes “normal” in the mind of the abused, they become acclimatised to it. And as soon as Alice offers to take the child out of pity for it, the Duchess leaves to accept the Queen’s invitation for croquet almost immediately – without a moment’s pause. This eagerness shows just how much she seeks to leave that condition, but won’t due to social standing, or fear of the unknown, or simple stubborness. Later, Alice discovers that the baby really is a pig or piglet – but this begs the question of whether it always was or it became that way due to the mother’s rebuke.

Later on in the story, Alice meets the Duchess again in the Queen’s croquet garden – and she is far more relaxed and happy. There is an air of pretentiousness to her. Anything that Alice says, she seems to attribute (or simply make up) a moral to it. This shows a level of self-righteousness that the Duchess has. She’s very patronising towards Alice, as if the Duchess knows best, and even when she is wrong – the Duchess tries to turn the words and make herself sound as if she was always right. The Duchess even rebukes Alice for thinking. In the passage, Alice says “I have a right to think“, before the Duchess responds with a snide remark: “Just about as much right as pigs have to fly” – which reinforces her self-righteousness. She states her own morals and how awfully deep and intuitive she is while discouraging free-thought. It’s an abuse in and of itself. She projects her ideals on others and disallows them having their own. Thus, she is both abused and an abuser. And many victims of domestic abuse seem to have this characteristic of self-righteousness: that by refraining from seeking actual help, this somehow makes them more pious or correct than those who do seek aid. It’s a cycle of abuse.

Now, I’m aware that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a great mess of a novel and it could have simply been a narrative in the story that meant nothing – but I feel there is a link to this character and the issue of domestic violence. The characteristics are there, the reactions and non-reactions are there. And there is a brilliance to this depiction in itself as to how accurate I feel it has made itself.

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If you found this interesting, let me know and we can totally go further into this rabbit-hole that is 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'!

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