Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Alice's Adventures in Drugland

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Lewis Carroll’s remarkable storybook, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, has brought much joy and entertainment to readers of all ages for several generations. Although it could be analyzed a number of ways, one possible means of interpretation is that this children’s fantasy is a tale that parallels drug use and addiction. Perhaps this is one reason audiences both young and old enjoy Carroll’s story; on one hand, little children love the fantasy Alice encounters throughout her journey, but on the other hand, adults find humor in or take notice of the effects that mind altering drugs have on the main character.

At the beginning of her adventure, Alice is confronted with an odd bottle of liquid with no label explaining what the fluid is except the message “drink me.” After some hesitation, Alice “…ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice…she very soon finished it off” (Carroll 4). As a result, she finds herself shrinking. Under normal circumstances, a human shrinking in size is near impossible, but if one were to consider that the drink contained a drug, then it is easy to understand why Alice believes she is getting smaller and smaller. Likewise, the reader soon finds Alice growing to huge proportions after eating a cake (5-6), which was likely made with some substance to give its consumer such a feeling. Later on, Alice ends up in the White Rabbit’s house and sees another bottled beverage in one of the rooms. By this time, she figures, “ ‘I know something interesting is sure to happen…whenever I eat or drink anything so I’ll just see what this bottle does….’” (41). At this point, one can see an addiction forming as the girl no longer hesitates and expects something to happen as a result of drinking whatever is in the bottle. There is still yet another instance where Alice is seen to eat parts of a mushroom in order to achieve a certain effect (54). This can be paralleled with the psychedelic mushrooms in the real world, which are used to attain a “high” state. Towards the end of the book, tarts are the issue of debate in the royal courtroom, and Alice finds herself wanting to eat them as soon as possible, thinking, “ ‘I wish they’d get the trial done, …and hand out round the refreshments!’” (10). It becomes apparent that the main character has now formed a full addiction to these drugged provisions.

Other effects from being under the influence (besides the changing of size) take their toll on little Alice as she ventures trough her world of strangeness. In one instance, Alice tries very hard to recall things that she had learned from her lessons, only to find that she cannot remember them at all, “Let me see four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen….London is the capital of Paris, and Paris is the capital of Rome…” (8). The inability to remember simple facts is a common side effect of drugs such as narcotics, and Alice seems very much induced by such substances � she even has a hard time figuring out who she is, and decides that she has been transformed into someone else; “Who in the world am I?…. I’m sure I’m not Ada….I’m certain! I must have been changed to Mabel!’” (8). Further examples for when Alice’s memory fails her is when she is faced with the challenge of reciting simple lines from passages, and discovers that she no longer remembers the words, “ ‘Not quite right, I’m afraid,’ said Alice timidly ‘some of the words have got altered’” (5). This happens several times throughout the book (8, 50-5, 101).

Under the influence, Alice also appears to experience hallucinations as well. The whole episode of her meeting the hookah-smoking caterpillar (48-54) could just as well be Alice, smoking an opiate, envisioning herself as, “…a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on the top, with its arms folded…taking not the smallest notice…of anything else” (48). This would greatly explain why the conversation between “the two” seems to go in circles (she is not talking with somebody, only to herself). Hallucinations would also explain why Alice encounters a “grinning” Cheshire Cat and its vanishing into thin air, a baby turning into a pig, and a puppy that is lager than life.

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In this Wonderland that little Alice as entered, everything she swallows seems to lead to an effect that only a mind altering drug would have (i.e. short term amnesia, speech impediment, hallucinations). Carroll formulates his book so that it tells the story of events which lead to the main character both forming an addiction to mind altering drugs, and experiencing their effects. These are the bits and pieces that the younger audience may not notice, but adult readers pick up on � and maybe even enjoy the story because of it. Perhaps publishers should make a version of Carroll’s classic for adults, calling it Alice’s Adventures in Drugland.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. New York Signet Classic, 000.

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