What is madness in Alice in Wonderland?
There are many ways people define madness. According to Google, madness is “the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.” In psychology, the closest definition to madness is insanity. Insanity is defined as, “the mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.” To others, it could mean the way people think, act, and their perspective on life is different from the norms of society.
There are different themes that come up in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, such as darkness, curiosity, madness, the emergence from childhood to adulthood, etc. From these themes, madness is the most prevalent because adaptations of Carroll’s original text have been adopted in different forms such as texts, films, music, and art and most of them represent madness in different ways. For this paper, I will be comparing the use of madness between Disney’s and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
In Carroll’s text of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there is a scene between the Cheshire Cat and Alice where there is a brief discussion of madness. The Cheshire Cat claims that Alice is mad because “’You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here’” (Carroll). From here, we are told that Alice is mad because of her curiosity to follow the white rabbit down the his hole. She’s mad before she even enters Wonderland but she becomes more ‘mad’ when she stays in Wonderland. She starts to forget simple recitals of poetry and cannot figure out easy equations. When she meets with the Caterpillar, he asks her, “’Who are you?’” and she responds, “’I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then’” (Carroll). Alice is slowly loosing herself in Wonderland and seems to be lost among all the strange creatures and environment.
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, as well as Tim Burton’s, both explores the idea of madness but through the use of different elements. In Disney, Alice’s character is portrayed as a young curious child who is fearless yet childish. She explores Wonderland with open eyes but gets easily frustrated with how the other characters such as, the Cat, the Mad-Hatter, and the Hare drive her to become mad because they don’t follow the proper norms of society and that makes her question her own insanity. In Jeffery Callen’s essay Impossible Things he states, “Alice, overwhelmed with the surrounding madness, begins to cry and wakens herself through fear of the madness” (120). She is surrounded by talking objects that sing and dance, she is told the story of the baby clams that are eaten, she is among all these creatures that challenge her to identify herself and she can’t.
Deborah Ross’s essay on Escape from Wonderland: Disney and the Female Imagination, she claims, “The cat responds that everyone in Wonderland is mad, but he does not go on to say that Alice too is mad, so that already Disney’s Alice is presented as out of her element, the lone sane and rational creature among lunatics.” I disagree with this statement because even though the cat does not explicitly state that Alice is mad, it is implied that she soon will become mad with his sarcastic tone and laugh in the film.
The Disney’s version is similar to that of Carroll’s in the fact that they give the impression that Wonderland is what drives Alice to become mad. Even the scene when the flowers sing a symphony, after they are done with their performance, they call Alice a ‘weed’ and the weeds are usually associated with an object that makes the environment ugly and nobody wants them. It seems as if Alice is not wanted in Wonderland because she is normal; this makes her different, which makes her ‘mad’ and even drives her to leave Wonderland.
In Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland, it is important to note that Alice is older, around the age of 20/21 and is in that ripe age for marriage. She falls into the rabbit hole because she needs to think about her perposal. When she again falls in the rabbit hole, she is reunited in a different and dark Wonderland that is not so wonderful. Burton emphasizes the darkness and madness of Wonderland through the choice of dark lighting, the semi-scary creatures, bizarre make-up, and creepy music. Wonderland has become a place where if you aren’t mad, the Queen will ‘off with your head’. This takes an interesting turn in Carroll’s version because in Burton’s version, the characters are forced to be offsetting, weird, or have a dysfunction, because the Queen of Hearts has an abnormally large head.
Alice is older and seems to be more mature, she starts to let go of her childish attitude but still tries to search and define who she is. The struggle of identifying oneself, either through being challenged of the norms and being forced to think beyond usual boundaries, or accepting your fate for who you are and who you are supposed to be. Callen claims, “Alice’s finding her way back home as it is of her becoming a “self” through being with madness” (120). Alice in Tim Burton’s Wonderland stays until the end so that she can discover herself; find her “muchness” as the Mad-Hatter calls it. Because of this, normality becomes madness.
Callen, Jeffrey C. “Impossible Things.” Administrative Theory & Praxis (M.E. Sharpe) 34.1 (2012): 120-124. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
Deborah, Ross. “Escape from Wonderland: Disney and the Female Imagination.” OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Wayne State University Press, 2004. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
Carroll, Lewis. “Chapter 6.” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. N.p.: Project Guttenberg, n.d. N. pag. Web.