Saturday, August 4, 2012

Laughing and Grief: My Alice Essay

Before going to bed last night, I decided to finish my essay for this week. Writing the essay is without a doubt my very least favorite part of the class (more on that in a separate post), so I just set a timer for 15 minutes, pretended it was a pop quiz in class, and wrote the thing. I had already decided last week that to try to make the essays more palatable, I was going to write on the same theme every week, giving myself some sense of continuity, even if the class is not doing anything to promote continuity (more on that in a separate post also)... and the theme I chose is IDENTITY. Reading the Alice books (which I LOVE), I was not surprised to see that there are wonderful "identity crises" in each and every chapter of both books, and it really helped me to focus my reading to keep an eye out for those moments. As for turning it into a 300-word essay, I say: meh. But that's what I say about essay-writing in general, and nothing in the class has changed my mind about that. Anyway, I've pasted in my essay below.

I've also pasted in below my randomizing script that displays 100+ illustrations by John Tenniel with accompanying quotes from the books... now that was something I enjoyed! It took me around a couple hours to make the script (harvest images, put into an HTML table, add the quotes), and I would call that time well spent (while the 15 minutes spent on the essay is time I would have rather spent reading other people's blogs or prowling the discussion boards). With 100 images popping up at random, it's not likely that you'll see the same image twice in succession - and if you do, that would be such a mightily random event that you are free to accord it supernatural importance, ha ha. There's a "more" link after each quote which will take you to a page where you can get a 200-pixel wide or 400-pixel wide script that you can add to your own blog or webpage if you want. As you can see if you look over to the right, I've put the 200-pixel version into the sidebar of this blog so that Alice is now with me whenever I am doing work for the class; I like the idea that she and all her Wonderland and Looking-Glass friends can provide a sort of blessing over the course that way. I built the script using, a tool that one of my students and I constructed years ago. The student is quite the genius fellow and he very wisely chose javascript, which is still going strong in the world of dynamic online content all these years later. Someday I need to learn how to write my own javascripts, but for now, I love using to create date-based or random widgets whenever I have a couple of hours to spare. I feel like I get a big return on that investment of time, far more so than for any essay. Enjoy! :-)

Laughing and Grief

One thing that makes Alice a "curious child" is that she likes to pretend to be two people. Someone who would "box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet she was playing against herself" is ideally suited for the weird games of Wonderland and the land beyond the Looking-Glass, where our mirror selves have lives of their own, multiplying identity into ever-expanding realms of absurdity and uncertainty. Alice habitually questions her own identity, but playfully, as if her identity crisis were a game: "Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT'S the great puzzle!" she thinks to herself, just before she bursts into tears because she is "so VERY tired of being all alone here!" Playfulness is one aspect of Alice's identity crisis; loneliness and tears are the flipside of the puzzles and the games.

At its most extreme, Alice must question not just her identity but her own reality when Tweedledee and Tweedledum torment the poor girl by telling her that she is only something that the Red King is dreaming. Alice bursts into tears, crying, "I AM real!" Tweedledum, however, persists, telling Alice that even her tears are not real. Yet Alice is "half-laughing through her tears." Good for Alice: faced with a crisis of identity, or of reality itself, you might laugh, or cry, or both - just as Alice does. When Alice returns to the world of Dinah and the kittens (her reality, a fiction for us), she is still pondering the king and his dream. "Let's consider," she says playfully to the kitten, "who it was that dreamed it all." Wonderful Alice: lonely though she may be, she is never alone. If it turns out that we too are lonely characters in someone else's dream, let's hope we might cry and then laugh about it as easily as Alice does.


  1. Laughing and crying is what keeps us grounded no matter what realm of reality we find ourselves exploring. The crisis of identity has always fascinated me, and I'm drawn to those works of art that explore it. How we project ourselves through time and space is a puzzle, maybe The Big Mystery we take up entire lifetimes to solve. "It is very provoking" as the line goes in both of Carroll's books. The theme you selected for this week's essay truly resonates with me. Thank you for igniting my imagination this morning. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Theresa - I am glad you connected with it! There are some people I've seen at the discussion boards who don't feel any kind of personal connection with Alice and they are not enjoying the books... if the essays by people who love these books (as I do) can help people to make a personal connection, esp. people who did not enjoy reading the books, that would be worth it! When I was a kid, I loved these books and now, grown up, I find even more connections... for example, "Laughing and Grief," which is a mangled reference to "Latin and Greek" (from when the Mock Turtle is talking about school) - since I teach both Latin and Greek myself, of course I can connect with that personally, ha ha. :-)

  2. I haven't finished reading Through the Looking Glass yet, but something I noticed when reading Wonderland was that she never actually laughed until the END of the book. (Unless I missed something?) I mentioned this in my most recent blog post, of course...I'm pretty certain she only started laughing once she had become more comfortable with herself (at the end of the book). Am I wrong?

    Good essay, though! Mine's going to be about her passage through the tiny door into the Queen's croquet ground. She passes through twice--once in the pool of tears and once with great self-assurance. I think that's a transformative moment. :)

    1. Oh, now you have got me curious, Rachel - let me check the Gutenberg text since it is searchable. Let's see:
      During the prize-giving after the Caucus Race she WANTS to laugh, but can't let herself ("Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh").
      She laughs at the Frog Footman and the Fish Footman getting their curls entangled (I would laugh at that too, ha ha: "Alice laughed so much at this, that she had to run back into the wood for fear of their hearing her")
      She laughs a mean little laugh when she hears about the Queen getting her ears boxed ("'She boxed the Queen's ears—' the Rabbit began. Alice gave a little scream of laughter."
      She laughs at her flamingo ("it WOULD twist itself round and look up in her face, with such a puzzled expression that she could not help bursting out laughing")
      That looks like all the laughing she does in Wonderland (god I absolutely LOVE digital texts for searching)... I bet that if I counted up the crying, there would be more crying than laughing.
      I was just about to go watch Soylent Green (ha ha, for that, see my other post)... but I might play around searching the texts for examples of laughing and crying to see what I can come up with. It would never fit in the essay, but I do like to count things! Thanks so much for the idea of comparing the sheer amount of laughing and crying. A whole POOL of tears makes a bigger impression than the occasional laughing, that's for sure! :-)

    2. Ah! I didn't think of searching. Thanks for doing that! I'll go back and modify my blog because it's inaccurate. If she laughed at the frog footman than I was totally wrong!

  3. Hey Laura

    You asked, and I wrote! Here is a guide to making a rotating image:

  4. WONDERFUL - thank you so much! I don't have photoshop, but I use the gimp, which is almost always able to imitate what photoshop does with different names for some of the commands. During this week I am preparing for my classes by doing "tech tips" and things for my students... and I will try to learn some new technology myself. I would have a lot of fun being able to make these, too. THANK YOU!



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.