Psychoanalyzing Alice—Carroll’s Take on Self-Concept and Identity

In Alice in Wonderland, Louis Carroll comments frequently on the topic of identity as it relates to self-concept. He often achieves this by presenting the reader with an internal-dialogue, where Alice seems to be talking to herself. This type of depiction gives insight into her most personal state of mind in terms of how she perceives her environment, both spatial and temporal. Shortly after Alice enters Wonderland, she begins to question the nature of who she is in relation to an apparent passage of time:

“Dear, dear! How queer everything is today! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Alice remarks at how queer everything is today, as if her perception of time has an influence over who she feels she used to be, rather than who she thinks she is in the present now. Such feelings are well understood in the current field of psychology, known as self-concept theory, which dissects the self-schema into three primary functions: past-self, present-self and future-self.

Reading the passage through this lens, we see that Carroll presents Alice’s self-concept (or self-identity) as a dynamic principle. However, her perception of identity is not only dictated by her past, present, or future conceptions of self, but by who she feels she is in the world. She states that if she is not the same (in terms of her self-schema) then, who in the world is she?

This denotes an important step in human-development that orients the individual toward identifying themselves with more generalized physical or mental identifiers (hair-color, intelligence, gender, etc.). Such identifiers often mold our self-concept around how other people view us in society.

Building on this idea, consider this last addition to Alice’s internal-dialogue:

“And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them.”

Alice suggests that there may be a difference between how the children used to see her and how she supposes she is now. This is the key-question of the passage, which asks, “If Alice’s self-concept and self-identification are changed in some way, are these changes audible to those around her?”

Carroll cleverly weaves all of these concepts into one short paragraph. The notion that Alice is not quite who she was yesterday, or that she does not yet know who she is to the world is a question that every person is said to deal with at some time or another according to the conventions of modern psychology. In this way, Carroll could be seen as explaining certain aspects of the human psyche (of Alice especially, who is still a child) as they relate to self-concept and identity.

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