"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass": A Menippean assessment and rhetorical analysis of Carroll's Alice books
Since Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland in 1865 and Through the Looking-Glass in 1872, critics, psychologists, philosophers, and the general audience have sought to isolate and categorize his stylistic form. Called by a critic in 1865 "loose-ended, inconsistent dream stories" that were "stiff and overwrought" (844) and by Hilaire Belloc in 1898 "skin-deep narratives" (310), the two Alice books have defied proper identification and, consequently, appreciation. Although contemporary critics such as Van Wyck Brooks and Northrop Frye have recognized the books' unusual qualities, qualities that transcend children's literature, no one has yet carefully identified the literary expertise underlying the texts. Amid the myriad of analyses that exist, however, that Carroll employs a classical satiric format has eluded many. When one reads these books as Menippean satires rather than as Juvenalian or Horation and rather than child's simple nonsense, then, a deep-textured purpose and expertise and control evince themselves slowly, consciously, methodically.
This paper examines in Chapter One many of the prevalent analyses of Carroll's narratives. Representative criticisms ranging from the Alice books as children's literature exclusively to works revealing aspects of Carroll's inner personality are reviewed and assessed.
Chapter Two defines Menippean satire from its earliest origins with Menippus, Varro, and Apulieus. The chapter also includes other contributors such as Rabelais and Swift and delineates what each writer contributes to the genre. The chapter finally proposes that Carroll's works yield themselves to coherent and cohesive comprehension and to deep-structured analysis only when viewed from a Menippean perspective.
Chapters Three and Four provide Menippean analyses rhetorically. Such an approach enables the reader to understand clearly the Menippean intent, motivation, and philosophical stance the two books contain.
Chapter Five, finally, provides an overall summative reiteration of the thesis and arguments. This chapter also asserts that some technical aspects previously critiqued as weaknesses are in actuality strengths when viewed in the proper context.