What have we learned from English 203?

          As the fall semester comes to a close, it is important to ask ourselves what we have learned in English 203 . The purpose of Reader and Text has been for students to understand the practice of literary criticism and the questions that practice engenders. I believe this goal has been met and that we have learned lessons that went beyond the description on the syllabus.
          Through our countless class meetings, Professor Schacht has stressed the importance of redefining the texts we read. By studying movies, songs, poems, and books, we have learned that texts can be written in endless forms . When readers understand that texts can include more than long novels, they have the power to view the world comprehensively. In relation to this lesson, our class has also learned to redefine the texts we have read. When our class took the time to deeply understand what authors wrote in literary pieces, we were able to develop a deeper comprehension of the evident themes and lessons they presented.

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Understanding Individual Identities

Lewis Carroll repeatedly incorporated the idea of Alice realizing her identity into his works. However, there are instances in the Alice book series when the other characters in the book have trouble realizing her identity. While reading Caroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, this idea became clear to me in the following passage:

‘Besides, if I’m only a sort of thing in his dream, what are you, I should like to know?’
‘Ditto’ said Tweedledum.
‘Ditto, ditto’ cried Tweedledee.
He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn’t help saying, ‘Hush! You’ll be waking him, I’m afraid, if you make so much noise.’
‘Well, it no use your talking about waking him,’ said Tweedledum, ‘when you’re only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you’re not real.’
‘I am real!’ said Alice and began to cry.

Upon reading this passage, a question regarding identity arises. How might an individual be affected when others refuse to see them how they would like to be viewed?

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Growing Up Within Minutes

As our class digs deeper into the meaning of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we have briefly explored the moments in which he mentions Alice growing and shrinking. We have assumed that her height change is only associated with her consumption of different food and drinks. However, I have started to wonder if this theme is related to a feeling she has in life outside of Wonderland.

Throughout the book, it is easy to recognize that Alice often feels lost and unsure of why certain things are happening during her adventure. Things that she is unfamiliar with occur continuously, causing her to become confused about herself and her circumstances. In chapter two, she asks “who am I then?” Along with the changes occurring in her daily life, she begins to go through many physical changes. She is confused as to why she grows and shrinks whenever she consumes certain things. It is unclear to her why she cannot stay the same size. All of these drastic changes cause her to feel different, and she is unsure how to feel about this.

After studying this text, I have questioned if Alice’s desire to remain the same size in Wonderland was also true in her real life. After all, some children find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that they cannot remain a child forever. At the age of eight, children begin to recognize a shift in how they are viewed by others. It becomes clear that they must become more independent and deal with certain issues on their own. We see this in Carroll’s book when Alice is put into a new world without the guidance of an adult. It is up to her to find her way and make her own decisions, which is not something most children enjoy doing. It is likely that Alice was being encouraged to become more independent at the time her father wrote this book, which could have caused him to incorporate this idea into his story.

It is my belief that Carroll’s inclusion of Alice’s changing height in the story is influenced by her uncertainty of growing up. This idea is visible when it is stated that “she went on growing, and growing, and very soon had to kneel down on the floor: in another minute there was not even room for this, and she tried the effect of lying down with one elbow against the door, and the other arm curled round her head.” This quote makes the reader wonder if Alice is uncomfortable with the idea of growing up so quickly. Even though she grows within minutes of eating in the book, it is likely that she feels as though she is growing at a very fast pace in real life. 

Given that Lewis Carroll wrote this book for his daughter, Alice, it is quite possible that he included certain events that were relevant to her life at the time. Although he wrote about her growing in an abstract way, I believe this theme was influenced by her unease towards becoming older.

Thoreau’s Unconventional Viewpoints

    During the 19th century, most Americans did not have Henry David Thoreau’s transcendental philosophies which made him behave as he did. It is likely that he was one of the few people who disagreed with the word of the government and viewed slavery as wrong. In paragraph seven of “Resistance to Civil Government,” Thoreau states that he could not “for an instant recognize [the American] political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.” From this passage, I theorize that his hatred of enslavement influenced his opposition to the state. Thoreau disagreed with the government’s policies even though they were widely accepted because of the amount of power the state held. Slavery was one of the policies he despised most because he could not understand how one human could own another without feeling guilty about it. He also pitied the state because it allowed people to partake in the act of slavery. Although Thoreau felt as though the government held too much power over its people, he made it clear that they did not show concern for slaves. In fact, the state did nothing to protect them from being wrongfully treated. These situations were some of the main reasons he moved into the woods and lost respect for the government. When I consider his stance on these issues, I begin to question how he developed these modern ideas when they were quite unpopular among other Americans.

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