Madness is a Place.

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Those of you who are familiar with the computer game American McGee’s Alice, will have a very clear idea of the dystopian world of Alice’s Wonderland. As someone who has been playing this game since she was a child, this version of Alice has always influenced my reading of the actual book. Even the people who have no idea about this computer game must have noticed this particular fact while reading the book- there’s a sense of sinister foreboding which persists throughout the story.

What is commonly known as the story of Alice in Wonderland, comprises of two books- ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll. The true identity of this eccentric genius is really interesting. Charles Dodgson, the man behind the mask, was a mathematician. Though we cannot say that he excelled at that job, Lewis Carroll’s non-sense verse is different from the regular nonsensical verse because of his obsession with logic. At the very core of his utter gibberish lies a perfect framework. Every single word is important and no other word can replace it. For example, when Humpty Dumpty says:

“They’ve a temper, some of them- particularly verbs, they’re the proudest- adjectives you can do anything with but not verbs- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

the word ‘impenetrability’ in the above speech has no real meaning or significance. So did Carroll just choose a random heavy-sounding word and put it there, or did he go through a list of all possible words that could sit in the sentence instead of ‘impenetrability’ and eliminated them one by one, to find out the perfect fit? It is the latter, surprisingly. The story of Alice was not set in stone. It changed a number of times before it was finally printed because this story was originally formed in the process of narrating it to the children of Dean Liddell. Experts who had tried to figure out the underlying logic of Alice in Wonderland had studied his earlier drafts and found out that ‘impenetrability’ was not the first word that had come to Carroll’s mind. He had worked hard to find the perfect word and succeeded. Though we are as clueless as Alice when she asks “But why “Impenetrability”?” , we know very well that no other word could have proved Humpty Dumpty’s own logic. Thus, it is obvious that there is a very strong underlying framework, though we don’t have the strength to unravel it in order to understand it.

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Alice’s brain is an odd little thing too. She knows that it’s a lucid dream but she does not try to wake up even when she is confronted with dangerous situations. The dangers in Wonderland are not to be taken lightly. They are as cruel as the real life. So why does she choose to escape to a place that is as horrid as the real world? The answer is simple , she did not fit into her own world. Even in Wonderland, she continuously shrinks and enlarges and the difficulty to fit into her own skin is almost literal. But there is a very obvious difference between the real world and Wonderland. She understands how Wonderland works. The very fact that Wonderland has no real rules, makes it more believable than the real world which has rules which she fails to understand. It is less complicated. This may not make sense to all of us. But we have to understand that Wonderland is not random. In fact it is directly linked to certain real life phenomena that Carroll clearly states at the ending of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Some of us prefer to sever the ties with reality in order to preserve Wonderland’s charm, which is not wrong because there can be numerous interpretations.

It would be an insult to Lewis Carroll if anyone ever successfully analyzed Alice’s psychology. Though we see Wonderland through her eyes and experience her amazement, we never really fit into her shoes. It’s impossible to think like Alice. She is the most sane person in the story perhaps but when we consider whom we are comparing her too, that really doesn’t prove much. She is mad in her own way like every other character in the books. She never once asks the real question that needs to be asked. When the White Rabbit spoke as he ran close by her, she did not find it odd at all.

“There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it was so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!(”(when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at that, but at that time it all seemed quite natural)”

She goes along with the oddities and acts as a perfect narrator by moving the story forward without pondering upon useless and reasonable questions.

Though many think non-sense verse is devoid of reason, this story has some questions that make us apply all our judgement and yet we can come up with no answer. The Walrus and the Carpenter both eat the oysters. The Walrus feels a little sorry for them, so after eating them he sobs and wipes his eyes with a large handkerchief but it is later found out that he had eaten more oysters than the Carpenter by holding the handkerchief in front to make sure that the Carpenter would not count the number of oysters that he had eaten. But even though the Carpenter had not resigned to such cheap tricks, he had still eaten as much as he could get. So who was guiltier? The answer to this question may not really be important at all but it is truly surprising that it had no acceptable solution.

Coming back to the topic of the darker undertone of Alice that is often portrayed, we have to ask ourselves- Does the undertone really exist? Or has popular media and the opinions of others influenced our own reading of it? American McGee’s Alice is in no way related to the real Alice. But when we read the story, it seems obvious that something is wrong with the whole thing. There’s a sense of uneasiness and discomfort that prevails throughout the story. As we read on, we forsake our own sense of judgement and logic and slowly start thinking like Alice. So by the end of “Through the Looking Glass”, we do not even question her decisions. It’s a brilliant mind game. Alice takes us away from reality too and introduces us to the Madness. The term Wonderland may be popularly accepted but I think the line “Madness is a place” from American McGee’s Alice, describes Alice’s world better.

Insanity will no doubt have darker undertones and Insanity does exist in Alice in Wonderland. The Queen who tries to execute everybody and the food on the plate which comes back to life- are not things which can be joked about. It may just be a lucid dream but Alice’s mind does possess a certain amount of madness that is only unleashed in her very own Wonderland.

This is why Lewis Carroll’s Alice is immortal. She represents our inner dementia. The part which we keep hidden and chained is unraveled here. Logic and Reason never escape. Lewis Carroll simply rises over the ordinary and points out that not everything has an answer. Not everything can be questioned. Not everything is as it seems. By the end of it, we start questioning the certainty with which we view things.

Madness is a place. When we follow the Rabbit to its hole, all we have to do is let go.