Are you still trying to figure out the answer to that question, irregardless of your age? Can we find out the answer to that question from classic literature? After all—the classic literature poses that question. In the Hillsdale Classic Literature course that I posted about in my last blog, I did a study on Alice In Wonderland.
The question: Who Are You? seems to be the theme of the book. Without taking the course and listening to the video of Daniel B. Coupland’s lecture on the subject, there are so many things I could not have figured out just from reading the book alone.
First of all we have to know a little about the author, Lewis Carroll. He was a deacon in his church and a professor of mathematics. He had a stammer in his speech patterns. He got along well with children and felt most comfortable as he made up stories for them to enjoy. Mark Twain said of him “…he was the stillest and the shyest full-grown man I have ever met….”
There is social pressure on all of us to act in a certain way from childhood to adulthood and Lewis brings that issue to light throughout the story of “Alice”. The book shows how strange the adult world seems to children. As Daniel Coupland points out, it gives both adults and children an “unsettled feeling” as you read the story.
Mr. Coupland tells that home and childhood is represented by what is above ground. Adulthood is represented down the rabbit hole and the encounters with characters there. Lewis plays with big and small to represent ages.
Once down the rabbit hole, Alice finds a fan and gloves that symbolize an adult female. She fans herself, trying to live in an adult world and do adult things. How queer everything was today, as an adult. Did she change overnight? Had she taken on the character of one of her classmates and now become them? (Do we emulate others to try to fit in their world?) Alice asks “Who in the world am I?” (page 18) Do you find yourself asking that question when you do something out of the ordinary for who you think you are?
Alice is ordered around by mice and rabbits as children are ordered around, but as adult Alice, she is ordered around even while down the rabbit hole. How do you feel about being ordered around as an adult?
I enjoyed the lecture on chapter 5 titled “Advice From A Caterpillar. From the lecture, Mr. Coupland proposes this chapter is about education. He points out that even the artist (Sir John Tenniel) recognized the theme of the chapter and painted the caterpillar to have no clothes on, only what was recognized during that time period as “academic sleeves.” The caterpillar, in a young state as he has not matured into a butterfly yet, poses questions and argues but does not give any answers. He asks Alice at the beginning of their conversation and again after a short conversation… “Who are you?” Is this what our educational system has become? Being taught by the young and inexperienced, asking the question, Who Are You?, and yet having no real answers to that question? Is that what Lewis Carroll saw in the educational system of his day?
In the last chapter of the book we see the courtroom scene. The Queen of Hearts has repeatedly asked for the heads of anyone who opposes her. There is some thought as this could be a reference to Alice’s real mother. Do you know someone like this? Someone who wants to take your head off for any small opinion you may venture to give?
Alice leaves the stage at the end of the trial, as she awakes from what she found to be a “curious dream”. The book ends in Alice’s sister’s point of view. Her sister, in a dream state, recalls the characters Alice introduced her to from her imaginary trip down the rabbit hole and does not want to open her eyes and see the world as it is because then it “would change to dull reality” (p. 100). It was important to Alice’s older sister to learn how to “keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood” (p. 101). To do this she had to remember “her own child-life, and the happy summer days.” (p. 101)
The amazing thing that I am finding while learning about classic literature is… the authors went very deep with questions that embrace our heart issues. The idea of adulthood becoming “dull reality.” The imaginations of childhood leaving us. We let people younger and with less experience than us (the caterpillar), lead us on how to think, questioning everything about our lives and how we are living them. And, every person I know generally has a Queen of Hearts character living life with them in some form or shape who wants to tell them what to do, and they had better obey, or they will “take their heads off” with a barrage of verbiage.
What do these type books teach us in the end? Get out of the rabbit hole and go have a cup of tea?
Maybe the better question to ask than Who are you?–— IS— Whose are you?
That answer is found in the pages of another book:
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14
What is the most important thing that you have ever learned from classic literature that you have taken with you through life?