Over the course of the semester, the question “What is this about?” has frequently popped up. In fact, that single question pretty much captures the whole theme of the class. With everything we read, we always asked the question “What is this story about?” Since this class is an English class, it only makes sense that we would ask such a question. However, we didn’t only address the most basic aspects of a story, which would be the easiest way to answer this question. Instead, we dared to look beyond the surface level of the text and dive into the meta aspects of each text we read.
Throughout Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking Glass, he constantly reinforces the idea of identity. In Through the Looking Glass, Carroll not only discusses the idea of self-identity but also how objects are identified. In the passage, Alice experiences identity confusion not only with herself but with the objects around her.
For starters, before Alice even enters the wood, she considers what will become of her name when she loses it. In Alice’s mind, she will be given a new name- “almost certain to be an ugly one.” This could be Alice trying to see who she will be without her name as her identity. Once Alice finally enters the wood, she forgets what it’s even called. In fact, she wonders what it calls itself. This relates to the idea of the identity principle in mathematics and logic because for anyone to call the woods the woods, it had to originate from somewhere. Not only does this relate to the identity principle, but it also relates to self-identity. Because Alice personifies a tree, the shade, and the woods she questions the objects’ self-identity.
Once she forgets her name, Alice immediately panics. She questions her identity without having a name. To Alice, her name represents everything she is, thinks, feels, and believes. Without a name to identify herself, she no longer has a grasp of these things. Although she was determined to remember her name, she failed to identify herself.
Alice forgets her name because, according to the gnat, “further on, in the wood down there, they’ve got no names.” The question raised in this passage is focused on what names mean to people. Does it represent a person’s individual ideas, thoughts, actions, etc.? Carroll is trying to get the reader to consider this thought process, while causing the reader to have an identity crisis themselves. Alice states that it would be fun “trying to find the creature that had got [her] old name.” She most likely finds this intriguing because she is still searching for an identity that she will keep when she grows up. Alice could be implying that she will use her name loss to try and see who she will become by ‘trying on,’ so to speak, different identities. However, he excitement soon fades when she can’t remember the name of anything. She longs for the comfort of her name and her identity.
Carroll is trying to convey the fact that a person or objects name is more than just a way for other people to identify it-it’s a way that the person identifies themselves. A name is much more intimate than it seems.
Recently in my psychology class, we talked about adolescents dealing with their self-concept and identity. Self concept is a conscious, cognitive perception and assessment by an individual of themselves. Identity is defined as ones life story. Compared to identity, self-concept is more limited; identity is more complete, coherent, and forward projecting because it includes long-term goals.
Throughout Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice is constantly confused about her identity. Alice is most likely experiencing an identity crisis. Her confusion begins after she becomes small and then big. She starts to question who she is. Alice tried to prove that she is still the same Alice by repeating her lessons-only to find out that she cannot say them correctly. As a result, Alice starts to go through her friends and decide which one she must be because she is obviously not Alice anymore. Alice decides that she is her friend Mabel, because she cannot remember her lessons. When Alice grows larger, she becomes confused about her age as well, stating that she’s “grown up now,” even though the only thing that changed was Alice’s size. She also experiences confusion when the caterpillar directly asks her “Who are you?” and she cannot seem to come up with an answer-not even her own name. Alice again confuses herself with someone else when the White Rabbit mistakes her for Mary Ann, his cleaning lady, and tells her to “fetch [him] a pair of gloves and a fan.”
Although Alice is not an adolescent, she is still struggling with her identity. Alice is having a tough time trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into society in Wonderland. Since she doesn’t understand the new world around her, she finds it harder to understand how this ‘new Alice’ fits into it. Alice even admits that “it was much pleasanter at home” but that Wonderland is “rather curious.” Although she is confused about herself and her surroundings, she can’t help but be intrigued. This confusion shows that Alice is not yet set in her identity and therefore is able to test different roles and identities until she finds one that fits her.
In paragraphs 14 of Where I Lived and What I Lived For from Thoreau’s novel Walden, he discusses being aware, a topic we recently talked about in class. In Thoreau’s opinion, “the morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour.” What he means by this is that in the morning, when the Nature that is awake and alive, makes him aware of himself, his thoughts, and the life that is happening around him. He begins telling the reader about how he takes his morning bath in the pond, as “a religious exercise,” in order to renew himself. He says that “the faint hum of a mosquito” is more impressive than “any trumpet that ever sang of fame.” Being surrounded by Nature allows Thoreau to be consciously aware of his surroundings and his self. Thoreau says that the morning was cosmical; it made him feel connected to something bigger than himself and his surroundings. Thoreau states that “there is least somnolence in us” meaning that in the morning, for a brief amount of time, we are fully conscious because the part that is always asleep, finally wakes up. He makes the switch toward the end of paragraph 14 by asking the reader “Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they had not been slumbering?” Thoreau answers this question by stating that “The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion,” and that “To be awake is to be alive.” Thoreau is implying that nobody is ever truly awake, rather we are all just sleepwalking. Thoreau makes this shift because he wants to wake people up, so to speak, and show them that they are sleeping while life happens around them. It’s a necessary move because Thoreau is trying to show the reader how just a simple bath in the morning was able to wake him up. Thoreau even tells the reader the he has been asleep, since he has never seen a man who is truly awake because he has not been conscious enough to see him. He opens the paragraph up with his daily ritual to get the reader to relate and then asks the question to make the reader think about what he is theorizing. I find it interesting that Thoreau uses a question to make the switch because it is a clever way to engage the audience and actually make them consider what he’s really saying.