Children’s literature is fundamental when it comes to developing the child’s comprehension capacity, to acquire new knowledge and when interacting with other children or adults. In a few words, it can be said that children’s literature is important since it contributes to the child’s social, emotional and cognitive development (Nikolajeva, 2015). Since childhood, both parents and teachers must instil in the child the habit of reading. This first step predisposes him to a critical, responsible formation and where he forms an active part of society. Generally, children do not like to read, get bored or do it out of obligation, so the great challenge for adults is to instil the habit of reading so that they do so in a pleasant and meaningful way (Tyson, 2006). The first step towards this challenge is to teach by example (Wolf, 2010); children often imitate what the older ones do, that is why both parents and educators can demonstrate to the children that they enjoy the moment of reading and that literature can offer fascinating stories.
According to Nikolajeva, (2015) children’s literature is part of the child’s life and occupies an essential place in the process of the integral formation of the individual. Children’s literature is a response to the needs of the child. Its purpose is to sensitize and as a means the creative and playful capacity of language. Beyond any other narrowly formative purpose, its primary function is purely aesthetic, that of promoting in the child the taste for the beauty of the word, the delight before the creation of the world of fiction (Brize & Allen 2013). The child participates in the imaginary creations of a reality that are offered to him in literary creations. He makes them his own and recreates them. Understand, intuit and discover the meanings entailed in the plurisemantic character of the language. The presence of literature in Early Childhood Education and even Primary Education requires a treatment completely removed from the concept of a conventional subject. It cannot be reduced to a study program for an exam, but it must be configured as a multi-faceted activity that supposes in the first place the contact and enjoyment of children with literary manifestations through intuitive and affective (Gillian, 2011). A closed list of evaluable objectives is not specified here, let alone to judge the students with the ordinary qualifications. The pedagogical essence of Children’s Literature is its capacity to provide pleasure and to offer answers to the child’s intimate needs (Hedefalk et al., 2015).
The feminist criticism is often a misunderstood branch of literary theory which is to a certain extent difficult to summarize. Tyson (2006) gives this “bare bones” definition that: “feminist criticism examines the way in which in literature and other production reinforces or undermines the economic, political, social and psychological oppression of women” (p.83). Feminist critics integrated many other literary schools to “enhance our understanding of women’s experience, both in the past and present, and promote our admiration of women’s value in the world” (p.119). They are extremely wide ranging in scope, of interest, topics, and conclusions. The practice of feminist criticism usually entailed investigating how the gender roles of a work of literature reflect or undermine “traditional” and sexual characteristics roles (Tyson, 2006). The feminism in Alice in Wonderland is a very interesting case study for feminist critics. Although written by a man during the Victorian Era, the book’s strong female heroine and her adventures are absolute gold mine for feminist critics to revise. In fact, Little (2011) even wrote that Alice book is “almost a comic compendium of feminist issues” (p.195).
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (by Lewis Carroll) A Feminist Analysis: The Victoria age was a period of gender roles, based on the “natural characteristics” of two sexes. Women were supposedly best and suited in managing domestic matters because men were believed to be physically weak with domestic work. On the other hand, men were to work and earn money (Lewis, 1898). Alice, protagonist sees her identity has a “Little girl.” It can be argued that restrictions were aimed at controlling their sexuality as being a virgin and chaste considered “virtues” of a lady. Some critic believes the author’s appreciation of engendered childhood but, the passive femininity. Critic like Carina Garland believes Alice represent passive femininity because she is controlled by the men around her the reason the author was attracted to little girls (Lewis, 1898).
Hence a different approach to feminism became apparent in different condition of knowledge under discussion in society. This lead to a final reflection feminist challenges context of the politics of neoliberalism as it seeks to identify a feminist imminent for ‘a cleaning fire’ (Grierson, 2018).
The role of women is a social issue that Alice books seem to subvert in the society. In the Victorian era women are expected to be the “angels of the home” prudent, domestically inclined and passive. Alice is none of those things, Lurie (2005) describe Alice as impatient, active and brave, Alice is critical of her environment and the adults she comes in contact with. Lurie (2005) further argues that in the book critics have been seen in Alice as a Victorian of all women. Alice is very interesting in the light of the growing social concern over the treatment of people with mental issues. Freud (1856) explains how in the Victorian period an insane person was ‘appropriated’ to the status of a child, which was an enhancement over the status of animal as the 18th century would have it. Considering the marginal identify of teenagers, this kept them on the society edge. Alice can also be read as a radical stance for the rights and humane treatment of the insane, considering Carroll’s elevation of the child as a compassionate and ideal treatment of mad characters such as the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat and March Hatter.
An historical approach to Alice encourages us to rely on a close examination of the trends, culture, and philosophy of the Victorian period for our interpretation of Alice’s encounters in Wonderland. As you might imagine, this opens Alice up to an enormous number of focuses and approaches. Though the historical approach may seem daunting in sheer scope, it is extremely useful for us to remember that Alice was written during a specific time period with its own specific concerns and habits. New Historical commentators, as indicated by Tyson (2006), believe scholarly messages to be ‘social relics that can disclose to us something about the transaction of talks, the trap of social implications, working in the time and spot in which the content was composed’ (Little, 2011). They contend that ‘the artistic content and the recorded circumstance from which it developed are similarly imperative since content (the scholarly work) and setting (the chronicled conditions that delivered it) are commonly constitutive: they make one another’ (Tyson, 2006). In this way, a New Historical Critic would ask not just what the Victorian Era can inform us regarding Alice, yet in addition what Alice can enlighten us concerning the Victorians. The ‘Victorian’ understanding segment joins components of both the old Historical methodology and New Historicism, investigating the connection among Alice and the social, political, religious beliefs and issues of the Victorian Era.
The three women portrayed in the novel are The Duchess, her Cook and the Queen of Hearts. Carroll’s’ women are senseless and violent characters in the book. Carroll’s women are portrayed in literature as violent, irrational and frightening. The Queen of heart could be seen as “Male nightmare” women with too much power bringing chaotic dystopia (Alter, 2011). They are tremendously sexist which implies that women should be kept in docile and domestic as their animal passion could ruin the nation (Little, 1999). On the other hand, sees the violence of Duchess as natural psychological result of her being forced to fill the role of “Mother”. “The peppery kitchen is irritation seems out of demands of mother hood making soup, trending a badly trying to control a disruptive sexual passion (p.197).
Alice is seen has a feminist hero breaking out of the traditional female gender roles given by Carroll’s credit of any stereotypes. Judith and Lloyd (2011) argued that Alice is “literary ‘underground’ image of a woman resisting the system”. However, they both see Alice assertiveness activity and curiosity as specifically “un-Victorian” peculiarities which make Alice an important example of a “subversive” woman (Little, 2011). Although, in Lloyd’s opinion, an ideal role model of our society should work out their own tales, problems, expect the extraordinary, and speak out their minds. Besides, been faced with continuing mistreatments and stereotypical expectations, a today’s young woman should actually speak for themselves (p.17). Alice was perceived as a representation of a lady who has opted to break away with traditions. Although, the adjectives used to describe Alice would appear natural when also used on the opposite sex. Alice is regarded as very active, assertive and curious. Some critics consider Alice as the reality that ladies should be living as this description changes the stereotype of women in the society and literature (Roche, 2015).
Not all critics accepted Alice perceived power so unconditionally (Little, 2011). Garland (2008) argued that Carroll’s portrayal of Alice demonstrated the idea of female sexuality as a “frightening and destructive force” (p.23).The Caterpillar gives Alice the vague instruction that “one side will make you grow taller, and the other side make you grow shorter” On the other hand; Alice did not know what the food would do to her. Therefore, any control over her food and changes in her body undertakes as a result of eating (p.31). In Garlands (2008) view of Alice, the small girl represent the passive feminist which is large part of what attracted Carroll’s to his ‘Child friends’ and the book completely controls the male power around Alice.
Feminist Theory (Alice and Wonderland): Women are expected to behave in a proper manner and very prim, during the Victoria era. Lurie (2005) adaptation of Alice and Wonderland tale of Alice’s return to Wonderland, where she is able to save herself and Wonderland, defying her role as a young lady during the Era of Victoria. Alice defies her social role as a damsel in distress by challenging the feminist theory. In literature, a damsel in distress is a stereotype commonly used to narrate innocent and young women that are waiting to be saved (Little, 2011).
In Alice in Wonderland, Alice does not need a hero because she is the hero herself as portrayed. This is seen when Alice slays the jabberwocky, which assist her to discover her own destiny and saved Wonderland because Alice was able to save herself and everyone in Wonderland (Tyson, 2006). The hero is the character with noble qualities that saves people which Alice did. The role is usually performed by a male; therefore it is challenging feminist theory if a woman represents the hero. Regardless of what the society thinks is right, Alice does what she wants. For instance, Alice does not put on stockings and corset on her engagement party, she denied being what the community or society calls ‘Proper’ after being asked by her mother regarding her outfit choice (Nikolajeva, 2015). Alice constantly challenges this stereotype by establishing her future instead of the normal lifestyle everyone thinks of her. She chooses her own destiny and path, she is able to do this by explaining her entire dream (she does this through her unconscious) and defeating the battle she has established in her mind with the help of all the people she met in Wonderland (Hedefalk et al., 2015). Immediately this battle is over, Alice was able to follow her desires and dreams without being saved by any hero but herself (Adams & Gillian, 2011). Alice tests and goes against feminist theory by stereotypically as a damsel in distress and challenging her role socially. Alice was her own hero, choosing her own path in life and having her own mind-set (Little, 2011). She defies what the community or society believes its right for young woman and was able to become a true heroine by discovering her own identity (Little, 2011)
In the film we see (newcomer Mia Wasikowska) portrayed as a girl power of the headstrong daughter of an English businessman, now deceased. Alice does what she wants, regardless of what anyone or the society think is right. For instance, Alice wear her corset and stocking to her own engagement party; she refuses to be what the society call “proper” after being questioned by her mother in law about her choice of outfits (Burton, 2014). Alice continued to challenge this stereotype by creating her own future instead of everybody else creating that for her. Alice established what the audience see themselves as a modern, free-thinking and populist (Burton, 2014).
Alice in the wonderland made me discovered that there is magic in our dreams and we should believe in ourselves. Alice experienced possibly the coolest daydream in history (Waugh & Neaum, 2013). Alice in Wonderland taught me as a teenage that a dream and a little curiosity can go a long way; just look at all of the characters that Alice encountered and places she went. At Alice age, I think a lot of children are curious about life; children have dreams and aspirations, they should not be afraid to explore them. Now is the time to do so. We are young and energetic, let the magic of their dreams take them for a ride (Little, 2011). Children will never know what they may discover about their self or where they may end up.
Additionally, another lesson learnt from Alice and wonderland is that you are adaptable to any situation you may find yourself. You are resilient and clever (Little, 2011). Do not be afraid of what life sends your way or where you will end up. Alice ended up in all sorts of situations. She got stuck in the white rabbit’s house, she got made fun of by a group of flowers, yelled at by a smoking caterpillar, attended a un-birthday party, and played croquet with the Queen of Hearts. Through the entire peculiar situations, Alice found herself adapting, singing “A Golden Afternoon,” swinging flamingos with the queen, and sipping tea with the March Hare (Little, 2011). Remember to be flexible in life.
Finally, Alice made her reader to understand that life is a little nonsensical sometimes. It does not always make sense. Life can be exciting, frustrating, stressful and silly. Do not take yourself or life so seriously all of the time. Lighten up, explore the world, be brave, be yourself and live your life to the fullest in your own Wonderland (Waugh, 2013). Although, Alice became one of the youngest Disney heroines, her journey down the rabbit hole revealed lessons that even us twenty-something can learn from.
Children’s literature at an early age should generate, mainly, pleasure and help to self-knowledge and the interpretation of the world surrounding the child. If this function is fulfilled, that child is more likely to develop a liking for literary works as it grows naturally. In order for a teacher to be a good mediator between children’s literature and children, he or she must reach a sensitivity towards ‘real’ children’s literature, and know how to differentiate it from those productions that, even though they want to call literature, are, in fact, written texts at the service of the didactics that, at no time, seek to provoke in the recipient the admiration, the delight and the reason for the effort to interpret the text.
Alice is the forerunner of the artistic vanguards that, at the end of the 19th century, show us a world where chaos reigns. Forerunner of writers like Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, of the advent of a new world where man feels that all his values are in crisis and dares to explore new dimensions, where Cartesian thinking ‘I think then I am’ has no place, where unreason has invaded all areas, where logic is not enough to ‘apprehend’ the essence of the human being (Little, 1999).
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- Carroll, Lewis (1898), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, New York: Macmillan.
- Elizabeth Mary Grierson (2018) Calling for change: A feminist approach to women in art, politics, philosophy and education, Educational Philosophy and Theory, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2018.1488215.
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- Little, Judith.’Liberated Alice: Dodgson’s female hero as domestic rebel.’ Women’s Studies 3.2 (1976): 195. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO.Web. 16 Feb. 2011.
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- Lurie, Alison. Don’t Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children’s Literature. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990.
- Nikolajeva, M. (2015). Children’s literature comes of age: toward a ne aesthetic. Routledge.
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- Roché, M. (2015) Developing children’s critical thinking through picture books: a guide for primary and early years students and teachers. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
- Tyson, L. (2006). Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. Taylor & Francis.
- Unsworth, L. (2001) Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum: changing contexts of text and image in classroom practice. Buckingham: Open University Press.
- Waugh, D. and Neaum, S. (2013) Children’s literature in primary schools [electronic resource]. Los Angeles, Calif: Learning Matters.
- Waugh, D., Neaum, S. and Waugh, R. (2016) Children’s literature in primary schools. 2nd edition. London: SAGE/Learning Matters.
- Wolf, S. A. (2011) Handbook of research on children’s and young adult literature. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Appendix A: EDC 205:3 Children’s Literature: Assessment Proposal